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Table of Contents
Focus Text: John 10:11-18
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own 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 do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.
Focus Text: John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own 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 do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
Scripture Commentary by Marcus A. Steer, Duke Divinity School Intern
“Jesus is the good, true, and ideal shepherd, for he is able to both lay down his life for his sheep and continue to protect them by being raised up again.”
Pastoral Reflection by Marcus A. Steer, Duke Divinity School Intern
Interfaith connection is not about theological debate; it is about sharing life with one another. It is about acknowledging that God has sheep that are not of our own fold. Theological differences are real, and they should not be swept under the table, but theological differences were also real between the Jews and the Gentiles when Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” Regardless of theological or religious convictions, we all have something to share with one another, and love should never stop at the borders of our own flock.
Personal Vignette by Mark Sills
Mohammed and I were talking about our mutual friend Joe. Joe is a very giving person who frequently goes out of his way to help someone in need. “Joe is the best Muslim I know,” said Mohammed, much to my surprise. “But Joe is a Catholic,” I replied. “The definition of a Muslim,” Mohammed said calmly, “is to be submissive to God, and I don’t know anyone more submissive to God than Joe.” The essence of interfaith work is to create such a level of mutual respect and trust that individuals can see the best aspects of their own faith tradition in the lives of their neighbors who are of other faith traditions. And then, they can learn from one another.
Some people argue that the Golden Rule is the most consistent, moral teaching throughout history. Known also as the Ethic of Reciprocity, the Golden Rule is found in most religions and cultures.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
But wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho , and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and [God] allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for [God] and find [God]—though indeed [God] is not far from each one of us. For “In [God] we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are [God’s] offspring.”
Scriptural Commentary on John 10:11-18
In this pericope, Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. The word that is usually translated as “good” in this passage is καλός. Unlike ἀγαθός, which is the more typical Greek word for “good,” καλός carries the meaning of “ideal” or “true.” Thus the nuances of the word καλός do not come across in most English translations, for these translations typically translate καλός as if it were ἀγαθός. This is not to say that “good” is not a true meaning of καλός, but the reader should acknowledge that “good” may not adequately express the writer’s choice for καλός instead of ἀγαθός.
Jesus addresses the Jewish people, identifying the Jews as sheep and himself as their shepherd. The imagery of shepherd and flock was a familiar one in the Hebrew Scriptures (Jeremiah 23:1-4a; Ezekiel 34:11-12; Micah 2:12-13). Many of these references refer to God as the true shepherd of the Israelites. Jesus’ teaching that he himself is the true shepherd can be seen as a reference to his own divinity and location as the second member of the Holy Trinity. He takes a familiar image for God and uses it for himself.
The Jews considered themselves to be God’s own flock, and those outside this flock were not chosen by God. However, Jesus points to the inclusion of the Gentiles by saying in v.16, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” In the same way that Jesus tweaks the Jews’ understanding of the shepherd by pointing to himself, he changes their perception of the flock by including those who are not Jews. He also foretells his coming death and resurrection by speaking of laying his life down and taking it back up again for the sake of his flock (v.17). Shepherds would put their lives on the line to protect their sheep from dangerous animals or threatening terrain. However, if a shepherd dies for his sheep, the sheep will have no one to protect them. For this reason, Jesus is the good, true, and ideal shepherd, for he is able to both lay down his life for his sheep and continue to protect them by being raised up again.
– Marcus A. Steer, Duke Divinity School Intern
 Neyrey, Jerome H. “The “Noble Shepherd” in John 10: Cultural and Rhetorical Background.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 120, no. 2 (June 1, 2001), 267.
Pastoral Reflection on John 10:11-18
In the Old City of Jerusalem, there is a shopkeeper named Moshe. Like many of the other vendors in the Old City, Moshe stocks his store with souvenirs from the Holy Land. Jewelry, postcards, books, pictures, etc., all of it can be found in Moshe’s store. Despite the similarity in products being sold, there is something that makes Moshe stand out from the other vendors. Moshe (and his twin brother) are Orthodox Jews from Canada who moved to Jerusalem and opened up a shop. But it is not Moshe’s ethnicity that sets him apart (nor is it his apparent duplication when his brother is around); rather, what makes Moshe stand out is his eagerness to encounter people of other faiths. I entered his store with a group of Christians, and when he discovered that we were Christians, he put a “closed” sign on his door, offered us places to sit down, and began discussing faith with us. Instead of trying to convert us to Judaism or convince us that Jesus was not the Messiah, Moshe was interested in sharing together our various experiences of God and the ways in which we can show our love for God and one another. I learned more about love and devotion to God in twenty minutes with Moshe than I had in years of Sunday school and sermons.
Christians believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, as John 10:11-18 tells us. For many of us, this is a comforting image of a loving Savior who guards his sheep in a personal and intimate way. We acknowledge that, like sheep, we Christians are prone to wander into dangerous territory. Because of this, we are grateful for the guiding voice and protecting rod of Jesus. The Good Shepherd of the Church is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, and he truly loves his flock. Yet we often forget Jesus’ words in John 10:16, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” When Jesus spoke these words, he was speaking to Jews who considered themselves to be the exclusive flock of God. The idea that God might have other sheep from another flock seemed preposterous. But we know from the book of Acts and other New Testament writings that God did indeed have sheep among the Gentiles, not just the Jews.
Many of us who are Christians are now in the place of the Jews who thought they were God’s exclusive flock. Those of us who are Gentiles tend to forget that we are the sheep that were outside of the flock Jesus mentions in John 10:11-18. It seemed wrong, even blasphemous, to suggest that non-Jews could be part of God’s flock, and yet Jesus says to the Jews, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” It is the shepherd’s role to determine who is part of his flock and who is not. The sheep do not make that call. Sheep can be oblivious, and thus they may not even be aware of the ways their shepherd is protecting them. It is not just Christians (or Jews for that matter) who are like sheep; it is all people. And as sheep, we do not always know how our shepherd is guiding sheep other than ourselves. Our vision is narrow.
In his little shop in the Old City of Jerusalem, Moshe engages in loving dialogue with sheep of another fold. Through my encounter with Moshe, I saw how interfaith connections can deepen my love for other people and strengthen my zeal for God. Interfaith connection is not about theological debate; it is about sharing life with one another. It is about acknowledging that God has sheep that are not of our own fold. Theological differences are real, and they should not be swept under the table, but theological differences were also real between the Jews and the Gentiles when Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” Regardless of theological or religious convictions, we all have something to share with one another, and love should never stop at the borders of our own flock.
– Marcus A. Steer, Duke Divinity School Intern
Worship Aids about Interfaith Connections
Call to Worship
God is the creator of all things and will weld them together at the end of time. Worship God who takes on all forms, who becomes Becoming.
Worship the God who dwells in our own thoughts, the One God, hidden in all creatures, the Inner Self of all Beings.
In this Great God the finite and the infinite meet, and all opposites are reconciled. All peoples will come to see their kinship.
In the days to come, the Temple of Yahweh will be put on top of the Mountains. The peoples will stream to it. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.
Love will be our law. Compassion will be the standard of holiness.
(From Svetasvatara Upanishad 6:5, Micah 4, arranged by Denise Cumbee Long)
Affirmation of Community
We believe that all people are God’s people, that every child is holy, that every person is a part of the sacred family.
We believe that God’s love embraces all, and that to exclude any person would be contrary to the message of Jesus.
We proclaim that this community of faith, [name of your congregation], will strive to be as open as the radical realm of God, and as liberating as the love of Christ.
And so we journey into our hopeful future with joy, pledging to offer each other welcome, compassion and care.
May God grant us wisdom, grace, and guidance in our life together.
(by Douglas S. Long, weekly affirmation used at North Raleigh United Church of Christ, Raleigh)
Everyone Who Is Called By God’s Name
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God . And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
For all the nations?
For all the nations.
Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Everyone who thirsts come to the waters.
Everyone who thirsts?
Everyone who thirsts.
Thus says God, “I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up,’ and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name.”
Everyone who is called by God’s name?
Everyone who is called by God’s name.
(from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, www.e-alliance.ch/wad_resources.jsp)
A Litany of Commitment
In the light of our reflections on Christian discipleship, we can discern ways to approach the challenges of our multi-religious society.
We will serve faithfully, meeting others with open hearts and minds.
All relationship begins with meeting. In our everyday lives, we will meet and form relationships with men and women of other religious traditions. At times these may be difficult relationships, based on bitter memories.
However, we have been created for loving community and will not disengage from trying to build bridges of understanding and cooperation throughout the human family.
True relationship respects the other’s identity. We encounter the image of God in the particularity of another person’s life.
We will meet others as they are, in their particular hopes, ideas, struggles and joys. These are articulated through their own traditions, practices and world-views.
True relationship is based on integrity. If we meet others as they are, then we must accept their right to determine and define their own identity. We also must remain faithful to who we are; only as Christians can we be present with integrity.
We will not ask others to betray their religious commitments, nor will we betray our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
True relationship offers an opportunity to serve. Jesus comes among us as a servant. We too are given the opportunity to serve others, in response to God’s love for us.
We will join with those of other religious traditions to serve the whole of God’s creation. Through advocacy, education, direct services and community development, we respond to the realities of a world in need. Our joining with others in such service can be an eloquent proclamation of what it means to be in Christ.
(Adapted from a liturgy by Margaret Orr Thomas, www.ncccusa.org/interfaith/ifrliturgy.html)
Children's Sermon about Interfaith Connections
Jesus shepherds all sheep, even those of a different kind–John 10:11-18
Theme: If you love God, you will love your brother also, no matter who that person may be.
Object: Picture of a shepherd with sheep and photos showing people of a variety of races and religious beliefs.
Scripture: I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen, I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd. John 10:14-16
Ask: Have you ever seen a herd of sheep? Show picture. Sheep are followers. They bunch together and where one goes, most of the others follow. But sometimes there will be a sheep who is different. He or she may decide to break away from the herd and have his own ideas about where he should go. That is why sheep have a shepherd. The shepherd takes care of all of the sheep, even the ones who are different.
Can you tell me about what the sheep might need from the shepherd? (May relate to caring for their own pets). Water, food, shelter, comfort, medicine, and guidance to all of these good things.
Read verses 14-16. Explain that we are like sheep and Jesus is our good shepherd. But there are also lots of people who have other faiths. They may not believe in Jesus or they may not believe in him as we do. They are still deserving of love.
Challenge: As followers of Jesus, we should try to be good shepherds to everyone, no matter who they are or what they believe. We can share with everyone how much God loves every person. We can do that by respecting every person and their faith, seeing the best in people, and learning from everyone we encounter. This week, be aware of people who are different and treat them respectfully.
Prayer: Help us to respect every person and to respect every person’s belief. But also help us to show everyone that Jesus is a good shepherd and cares for us and for them. Amen.
Suggested Hymns about Interfaith Connections
In Christ There Is No East or West
United Methodist Hymnal 548
New Century Hymnal 394
Baptist Hymnal 385
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 687
Presbyterian Hymnal 439
The Hymnal (1982) 529
Many Gifts, One Spirit
United Methodist Hymnal 114
New Century Hymnal 177
O For a World
New Century Hymnal 575
O God of Vision
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 288
Shadow and Substance
New Century Hymnal 398
Quotes about Interfaith Connections
Something happens in the course of understanding another’s truth that irradiates and lights up one’s own tradition and on rare occasions may even give a hint of a truth that embraces both, a hint of a hidden convergence.
Douglas Steere, Mutual Irradiation
If dialogue is to succeed as a practical reality, it must take place between persons of different faith perspectives, not between faith systems and their official representatives, a subtle but important distinction. That is to say, dialogue must be a living experience of women and men, who though they encounter each other out of the framework of their own theological positions, nevertheless meet, not as entrenched defenders of particular systems, but as people of faiths that are constantly developing.
H. H. Hoehler, Christian Responses to the World’s Faiths
Every tree is to be known by its fruits: not by its dead wood or thorns or parasites, but by the fruit of its own inner life and nature. The flowers of unselfish living may be found growing in other people’s gardens, and… rich fruits of the Spirit may be tasted from other people’s trees.
Marjorie Sykes, Sharing our Quaker Faith
Some Hindus have an elephant to show. No one here has ever seen an elephant. They bring it at night to a dark room. One by one, we go in the dark and come out saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk. “A water-pipe kind of creature.” Another, the ear, “A very strong, always moving back and forth, fan-animal. ”Another, the leg. “I find it still, like a column on a temple.”
Another touches the curved back. “A leathery throne.” Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk. “A rounded sword made of porcelain.” He is proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place and understands the whole in that way. The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant. If each of us held a candle there, and if we went in together, we could see it.
Barks, The Essential Rumi
Vignette about Interfaith Connections
Seeing That Of Christ
“Mohammed and I were talking about our mutual friend Joe. Joe is a very giving person who frequently goes out of his way to help someone in need. ‘Joe is the best Muslim I know,’ said Mohammed, much to my surprise. ‘But Joe is a Catholic,’ I replied. ‘The definition of a Muslim,’ Mohammed said calmly, ‘is to be submissive to God, and I don’t know anyone more submissive to God than Joe.’ The essence of interfaith work is to create such a level of mutual respect and trust that individuals can see the best aspects of their own faith tradition in the lives of their neighbors who are of other faith traditions. And then, they can learn from one another.
I know that I am a much better disciple of Jesus because of my many years of involvement with Jews, Baha’is, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and other faithful people. Many times, I have been encouraged to revisit my own beliefs in order to reach a deeper and more meaningful understanding because of something I’ve heard or observed in the lives of my friends and neighbors from other religious traditions. Muslims have taught me much about obedience and submission. Buddhists have taught me much about the importance of silence and ‘emptiness’ in prayer, so I can listen to God and not just talk to God each day. Baha’is have taught me about the power of inclusiveness and multicultural community. Jews have taught me much about the foundations of my own tradition which cannot be fully understood apart from that tradition in which it was born. Over and over again, my capacity for worship and praise has been strengthened by the time I have spent in synagogues, mosques, temples and gurudwaras.
There are some who fear exposure to other faith traditions. Such fear is rooted not so much in a lack of respect for others as it is in a lack of true faith in one’s own tradition. Because I have absolute faith in the way of Jesus, I not only do not fear exposure to other religions but go into such encounters in the knowledge that my own faith will be enriched by such experiences. Because I follow Jesus, I do hope that some devout Muslim will see something of Islam in me, and perhaps a Buddhist will recognize that of Buddhism in me as well. Indeed, because I follow Jesus, I believe that I can be at home in any house of worship, and can be in true fellowship with any person of faith. And when I see a Gandhi, or a Thich Nat Han, or even a Dr. Seuss, I not only see a deeply devout Hindu or Buddhist or Jew, but also that of Christ. ”
By Rev. Dr. Mark Sills, Executive Director, FaithAction, Greensboro
Contacts & Resources for Interfaith Connections
While Christian unity is modeled and promoted through all of the Council’s work, the Christian Unity Committee is the one entity whose primary responsibility is to further Christian unity or wholeness. This includes bringing people together across lines of denomination to realize that we are more alike than different and that we can be enriched by many of our differences.
FaithAction International in Greensboro offers assistance to immigrants, cultural awareness training, and interfaith programs and resources.
Triangle Interfaith Alliance hosts lectures on world religions, interfaith prayer services, music and art festivals while offering resources to faith groups.
My Neighbour’s Faith and Mine: Theological Discoveries Through Interfaith Dialogue is a thoughtful study guide published by the World Council of Churches
Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue contains messages to other faiths from the Vatican .
The Interfaith Alliance is a national non-partisan advocacy group promoting democratic values, defending religious liberty, challenging hatred and religious bigotry and reinvigorating informed civic participation.
The World Congress of Faiths publishes the journal Interreligious Insight.
The Pluralism Project has the mission to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research and outreach. It has North Carolina-specific articles.
Scarboro Missions is a Canadian Catholic Society with the excellent resource, Principles and Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue.
Facts and Reflection about Interfaith Connections
Some people argue that the Golden Rule is the most consistent, moral teaching throughout history. Known also as the Ethic of Reciprocity, the Golden Rule is found in most religions and cultures. It can also be found in many ethical systems, indigenous cultures, secular philosophies and even in the physical sciences (the golden mean). Its omnipresence throughout history gives it tremendous moral authority. To see the Golden Rule in 13 different religions, click here.