Good morning, Friends!

Thank you all for coming today. I just got back from vacation Tuesday night. We had a good time!

I hope that worship went well while I was away. We had a lot of pretty good speakers here! We also had some first-class special music. hope you all enjoyed them.

Thank you to everyone who kept things running while I was away. It takes a lot of details every week. I appreciate everyone who worked so hard to keep the meeting going.

My heart is always very full whenever I come back from vacation. I hadn’t had a real break for two years, because of the epidemic.

There’s a beautiful phrase people use around here. People talk about going back to the “home place.” You may not realize, but not everybody in other parts of the country uses that phrase.

As you all know, people in my line of work have to move around a lot. We go wherever the ministry calls us. A lot of pastors don’t even own a home. We don’t get a chance to put down roots. So, being able to go back to our family’s home place, means a lot.

I put some pictures up on Facebook of where we went. It isn’t much – just a cabin in the country. It’s been in our family for 80 years.

There’s no insulation, so we can’t stay there in the winter. All the pipes would freeze. Actually, it was so cool up there in the mountains that we had to keep a fire going in the wood stove in the morning and the evening. Imagine that – a fire going, in the middle of July!

It’s on a dirt road – when I was a boy, there was always grass growing up down the middle of the road. It used to be one lane wide – now it’s wide enough for cars to pass.

There’s no landline, no cable TV, no cell phone reception because of the mountains. Closest neighbors are over half a mile away.

What there is, is peace and quiet. I spent an hour or more ever day, just sitting out on the screen porch, watching the trees and the sun, and listening to the birds and the sound of the wind.

Saw my cousin, and my older brother, and my niece, and a few friends. If you spend your life moving around and don’t have roots, it’s great to go back to a place where people recognize you on the street.

One evening we were out for a walk, going up to the beaver pond, and a car pulled up. Guy looked at me and said, “Are you Josh Brown?” He was my camp counselor, from back when I was ten years old. Hadn’t seen him in all those years, and he knew me.

I love you all, you know, but I miss that. Being recognized is something we all take for granted. Always being a stranger is something I live with. Being able to go home, and to be recognized, and to fit in, is such a blessing.

It makes me think about the millions of people, all around the world, who are homeless and have no home place to go back to, because of war or famine or eviction. We don’t know how blessed we are.

We just enjoyed ordinary things – seeing our friends, listening to how it was for them this past year. Going to the library book sale, the farm store, and the ice cream stand.

We also got to spend a few precious days with our son and his wife. We stopped over with them, coming and going, because it’s too long a drive to make it up to Vermont in one day. It’s close on to a thousand miles.

Anyway, we loved seeing our son again. He and his wife like to hike, and they took us to some of their favorite parks. Syracuse is a big town for foodies, and we had all kinds of special food you just can’t get here in High Point.

I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but people in North Carolina simply don’t know how to make pizza. It’s like, here in North Carolina they make the best barbecue in the world, and everybody knows it. People elsewhere try to make barbecue, but it just isn’t the same. You’ve got to go home to North Carolina to get the real thing.

Well, New York pizza is just different. And it’s better. And we loved it! We brought home maple syrup from our family’s sugar operation. Some of you know about King Arthur Flour – we went to their factory store, twice, and bought a whole box of baking stuff. It was fun!

Anyway, thanks for the vacation. We truly needed it. And we really appreciate it. It means so much to us.

Today, for our Scripture, I’ve got something very simple and very familiar.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

John 10:14-16

A lot of people today seem to be a state of confusion about who Jesus is, and why he came, and what he did, and what he continues to do.

This isn’t a new confusion. People have been arguing about this stuff for a couple of thousand years.

It’s no different today. It ought to be so simple. But it’s like there are crowds, getting in the way, between us and Jesus. You hear preachers with different ideas, and books, and different church groups, and people making money, and it’s like the real Jesus gets lost and shouted down somehow.

A lot of the time, if feels like we’re in a huge stadium, and Jesus is way off down there, and he’s so tiny we can’t hardly see him. And half the time, everybody’s standing up and shouting. They’re going, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” And you wonder if half the people shouting, even know him.

The same thing was true, back in the early days. A few people actually walked with Jesus. They walked with him every day, and got to know him. They sat down, and ate with him. They listened to Jesus, every day. And even they managed to get it wrong part of the time.

The thing is, that if you have your Bible, and read the gospel, it’s like all the noise and the crowds and the shouting, just melt away. If you have your Bible open, it’s like you’ve got a front row seat, in the special guest section. And Jesus is talking directly to you.

I don’t pay attention to people who wave the Bible around, and try to smack each other over the head with it. I just open my Bible, and listen to Jesus. And he speaks in my heart, more clearly and quietly, than all the preachers I’ve ever listened to.

If I encourage you during the year to read your Bible, or come to Bible study, or pay special attention to a verse or a story, it’s because I want you all to have the experience of hearing Jesus as directly as possible.

In today’s Scripture, Jesus says something very important about himself. He says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Any time we’re in any confusion about who Jesus is, where he came from, what he did, why he did it, and what he continues to do, just come back, right here. For Christians, this is the home place.

Jesus is a lot of things, to many different people. He’s the king of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He’s all those things, and so much more.
But most of all – and he tells us this himself – he’s the good shepherd.

There are a lot of shepherd verses and stories in the Bible. You don’t have to look very hard to find them.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are beside me. Your rod and staff they comfort me.

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23

That’s Jesus. That’s who he is. That’s what he does. That’s the home place for Christians

There’s a story Jesus told, about a shepherd who had 100 sheep. Had to keep track of them, and look out for them. One day, Jesus said, one of the sheep wandered off and got lost.

What did the shepherd do? Just say, “That’s too bad,” and give it up for lost? Write it off as a business loss?

No. Jesus said the shepherd left the 99 sheep that were left, the good ones, the ones that weren’t in trouble. And the shepherd went off and hunted everywhere, over mountains and valleys, looking in all the bad places and the unlikely places, looking everywhere till he found it again.

That is who Jesus is. And that is what Jesus does. Jesus is the Savior. But Jesus saves people, one by one.

Most of us think of ourselves as the good people. We’re the good sheep. We don’t walk too far away. We don’t do real bad things.

Well, that’s mostly true. But almost every one of us, at some point of our lives, we make mistakes. We mess up.

We lose our temper. We put other things first, instead of Jesus and God’s kingdom.

We may not cheat or lie, but we fudge stuff. Everybody fudges.

We get lazy, when we should be spiritually active or when we should be helping. We judge other people, all the time, which is one of the things Jesus specifically told us not to do.

We write people off, even though in Jesus’ eyes, every single person is a precious gift from God. If Jesus doesn’t write anyone off, even the most foolish, stupid, stubborn, self-defeating person – wait a minute, that’s me! – if Jesus doesn’t write anybody off, then we’re not supposed to, either.

Jesus doesn’t care if we’re red or blue, white or black, straight or gay, you name it. We are his sheep. He cares for every single one of us. Including you. And including the person you absolutely don’t get along with. We are all his sheep, together.

” I know my sheep and my sheep know me. . .” Jesus knows who we are. He knows us, down the bottom. And we know him. We know Jesus is to be trusted. We know Jesus is to be followed.

If we get off track – which is almost guaranteed! – he will reach out, and call us back. If we listen to him, he’ll bring us safely home.

Jesus would do anything for us. Even lay down his life for us. Because that’s part of who he is. That’s part of what he does.

I think about all the people who have risked and even lost their lives this past year – the health care workers in the hospitals, the scientists and technicians who created the life-saving vaccines – as well as all the people who put their life and safety on the line for us every day.

Whether they know it or not, these people are all inspired by that line, “I lay down my life for my sheep. . .”

Plus teachers, working under impossible conditions. Plus people who brought food to our tables. Plus people at COAT who sent food home with children from school every week, because their parents were broke and there might not be anything at home.

Jesus laid down his life in a big way, which none of us can duplicate. But people who follow Jesus, follow in the way of the shepherd.

There’s one more line in today’s Scripture, which means a lot to me.

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. . .”

We always care about our own family first. We care about the people we know, the people we’re close to. Nothing wrong with that.

We care about our own church, which is like an extension of our family. Springfield means a lot to you all, just as it means a lot to me.

But Jesus keeps saying that he has other sheep. Other people who hear his voice, and listen to him.

It’s OK for people to be different. It’s OK if they’ve come to Jesus by a different path, or if they don’t look or sound exactly like us.

Jesus loves them, just as much as he loves me and you. Being’ different is not a sin. Jesus doesn’t draw lines the way we do. And if we want to be like Jesus, we need to learn more about what it means for us to belong to a much bigger group.

We are part of Jesus’ flock. Jesus is our shepherd, the good shepherd, the best shepherd of all. Jesus would do anything for us and for our sake.

But Jesus has his eye on all of God’s people. Jesus’ goal is not to lose a single one of us. Not one.

We may always be different. Our differences are part of who we are. But Jesus sees us as one people. And his goal is that all of us will come back to the home place, and be saved, and fed, and welcome.

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