Apr22SunPastor Carey's Sermon for Good Shepherding Sunday April 22, 2018
Good Shepherding Sunday comes faithfully each year.
The Lord our shepherd knows, protects and sets a place for us at the table, with a cup overing flowing, leading us to places that restore our soul, following us with goodness and mercy.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. To know of a good shepherd there also must be awareness of a bad shepherd. Actual shepherds of sheep were common in the land. For the community of believers John was writing for around 90ce, scholars believe the passage was written for the faithful who were being harassed by the bad shepherds, the religious leaders of the Synagogue and the Pharisees who had abandoned their people during the siege and destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 ce, leaving for a neighbouring village.
Jesus - the good shepherd is likely being compared with these bad shepherds. The Gospel cuts to the chase about what is different about Jesus, and what defines the life of a good shepherd. We hear in the Gospel, one phrase is repeated with urgent frequency. In fact, 5 times in these 8 verses, Jesus refers to the life of a good shepherd.
In the first line of the Gospel (v. 11), Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Again, in verse 15, Jesus says, I know my own and they know me. Jesus talks again about laying down his life for the sheep. Next, in vs 17, Jesus speaks of bringing other sheep that did not belong into the fold. In this he is laying down his life and taking it up again. And finally, in vs. 18, Jesus talks about how laying down his life and taking it up again, is done on his own accord. He has the power to do this.
As people of faith we get the laying down of the life Jesus speaks of and lives. This life - death - new life narrative is the crux of why we are Christian. And yet, the finality of laying down ones life challenges us. We are not going to die on a literal cross, like Jesus. That’s why, fortunately, this text has more to do with how we live out our Christian faith in the day to day, the here and now.
A little Peanuts comic caught my attention this week.
Charlie brown says, One day we will die Snoopy. Yes, responds Snoopy, but every other day we will live.
Laying down ones life takes many forms. Since the day you were baptized, you’ve been laying down your life. Called into a community of saints that today we recognize, not because we need recognition but to affirm God’s good work through each of you. All of the ministry you have been a part of - here in this place is how we lay down our lives over and over again. All of the good work you have done in your communities, in your family because of the gift of faith. This is what laying down our life is all about. And it takes the body of Christ to live out this calling.
In serving others, we lay down our life.
In offering compassion, we lay down our life.
In leading with an open and generous spirit, we lay down our lives…
In acting boldly because of faith, we lay down our lives…
In rising after a fall, we lay down our lives
In each step, we lay down our life.
We lay down our lives, over and over and over again.
Laying down our lives, is so much more than a one time deal with God. Jesus laid down his life over and over again. Even today in the little ones, the least of them, God lays down his life. Sometimes still crucified among us. Laying down our lives is done each day. Running the race to which we have been called, using whatever part of us is able to run. It might not be our legs, but our minds, hands, voice or prayer. And at the end, we hope to hear the words, Well done good and faithful servant, like the beloved people who have gone before us.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life, and we lay down our lives, because God continues to call us into the journey of faith. Not only does the Good Shepherd lay down his life for us, the narrative of the Good Shepherd holds much meaning and impacts our lives today. The Good Shepherd tells us this about who we are in relationship with God: We are Known and We Belong. And these two characteristics gives us a very strong identity.
In a world where many people are isolated and alone, seeking refuge or on the fringes of belonging. This nurtures back into the connectedness in which God’s creation is meant to live. A connectedness that seeks the well being of humanity and creation. A connectedness that is so bold as to lay down ones life repeatedly, to take it back up again. So, that all of creation might know what it means to be known and loved, cared for, and to belong.
There is a lovely story about this church down south, that worshipped for a very very long time each Sunday morning. A guest asked the pastor why their church worshipped for such lengthy periods of time. This was a church in an area where unemployment rates were far too high. Why are your services so long. Three hours is a very long time to worship. It leaves you exhausted. The pastor answered, I need three hours to get rid of all the negative that has been piled upon my people throughout the week. All the identities that deplete, all of the words that hurt – all of that which says you can't, you won't, or you aren't worthy. By the end of the three hours, they are leaving knowing that they are loved by God, they are worthy of this love, they are connected. They leave with their god given identity, restored and intact.
Jesus the Good shepherd, lays down his life and takes it up again. Reminds of who we are, and who we are created to be. Created in connection with all of creation. And it’s the connections which gives life. This my friends is the Easter message of this Gospel – of the Good Shepherd. God lays down God’s life so that the world may know what it like to be truly known, abundantly cherished, and to belong. This is what we are called to give to others. This is what God has first given us.
Thank be to God!