SERMON from 4-29-12: “I AM the Good Shepherd”

John 10.11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 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. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 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.”

I AM the Good Shepherd

I do not and do not believe I ever will be one of those preachers who talks politics from the pulpit. Honestly, that’s not what we are here for. It’s destructive and takes away from the mission of the church in God’s world. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy paying attention to the political world.

The way I do this is through talk radio. I am addicted to it. Some people don’t like it. For me–a history major with an affinity for popular culture–it’s so good. For those of you who don’t pay attention to it, political talk radio is like all the deep-fried food that blesses the landscape of fairs and festivals throughout the summer. Think deep-fried Twinkies or deep-fried butter. It is so good, but you know it’s going to kill you. Maybe not now…but soon!

Have you ever seen someone eat deep-fried butter? All of that cinnamon-sugary, melted goodness oozing down into that little paper tray, then you tip back the paper tray to finish off the melted remainder. All I can ever think is, “I hope EMS is nearby.”

Well, I am going to change things. My last dose of political talk radio was this past Wednesday. I am going cold turkey on people who love figuratively cold-cocking their ideological rivals. I will still pay attention to the news–as any good pastor should, but no more destructive talk radio. It is just absolutely too much to handle–especially for truly thinking people. I have really only been listening to these people for 10 years, but I’m sure things have been like this for a long time.

You know what finally sent me over the edge–figuratively speaking? The fact that two people can look at one fact and see two different facts. For example, last winter, Washington D.C. And New York experienced record snowfall at weird times of the year. Some people said things like, “so much for global warming.” Still, others said, “this massive snowfall is proof of global climate change.” One fact, many interpretations. It’s maddening!

We don’t do this as Christians, do we?

Of course, I am being factious. We do this. We do this plenty. We do this because we all have minds that can think independently from the person sitting next to us. From that point on, there are literally millions of different directions one might go. Therein lies the crux of the this.

Take Jesus, for example. The Jesus of Matthew 25 and of “turning over the tables of the moneychangers” fame is touted by those who believe that the poor, sick and imprisoned should be given special privilege as those who should be cared for and taken under the wings of Christians. The Jesus who talks about how he is the only way and how even looking upon a woman with lust is adultery is touted by those who think the idea of heaven and hell is the most important thing about the faith. One person, many interpretations. It’s maddening!

Anyone know why it’s significant to be a United Methodist this week? That’s right! Our General Conference is meeting this week for its every-four-years-we-do-some-legislating pow-wow in Tampa Bay, Florida. As we speak, there are worship services happening on beaches, in churches and on street corners. There is also some important business being discussed these two weeks. There will be voting on whether or not clergy will be guaranteed appointments. There is a petition being voted on that will change the church’s mission statement. But the most discussed–if not the most important–issue that will be voted on will be the relationship between the church and the homosexuals which seek to commune with it.

I have found that the easiest way to get information about what’s going on at General Conference isn’t through the United Methodist News Service, the General Conference Website or the slick app the church put out for your iPhone or iPad. It’s Twitter! For those of you who don’t know, Twitter is a social media site that allows you to share information in 140 characters or less. This allows someone to share up-to-the-second information that will hit hundreds to thousands to millions of people nearly instantly.

As I am doing some other work at my computer this week, one half of my screen is open to Microsoft Word and the other is open on Twitter. If there is a vote taking place in a specific committee, I know almost faster than the UMNS–who’s job it is to share that news. This isn’t just for one committee, it for them all. It’s fantastic! I, as always, highly recommend to anyone that they join when they get home today!

Unfortunately, I also got to see the great divisions which exist in the church. You will see excessively negative comments from one person. There will be an argument developing between two more. There was even real-time reports of vicious name-calling happening in the midst of a process which is supposed to be called “Christian conferencing.” It all stems from this side seeing it one way and this side seeing it another. One church, many interpretations. It’s maddening!

Out of the midst of this madness, let me call you to the countryside. These are the fields and meadows where Jesus says to us, “I AM the good shepherd.” Imagine, if you will, this meadow. A light breeze rustles the brush that reflect the setting sun. The flock is cared for by the calm man with a steely resolve. Shepherd’s crook in hand. He is the good shepherd to all of us–the sheep.

The shepherd/flock metaphor is an effective one, used throughout scripture. Psalms tells us of the shepherd who ensures we want for nothing and has us rest in green pastures. Jesus tells us of the shepherd who goes looking for the one lost sheep at the expense of the immediate safety of the others. In ancient times, shepherd imagery was used to describe kings, ship captains and anybody who cared for anyone or anything else. It symbolized care, protection, unity of the flock and love.

So, Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd as he further goes on to explain the significance of his death and resurrection. He speaks about the dangers that face the flock from those who would scatter it–and his continued care in the midst of this madness. And that’s what he does.

The world in which we live is always going to be at odds with itself over any number of issues. The relative danger is always going to range from disenfranchisement of some to bodily harm and death of others. One commentator I read this week said that belief in Jesus will always cause division. This isn’t a division that will be just between the “world” and the church–it will also be within the church. The mere fact that there are so many ways that we can be called Christian is proof in itself. This division will also be experienced between sister and brother, father and son and husband and wife.

The flock–if you will–will experience hardship and division from within and without. Always and for the rest of time.

Let us not forget–however–the importance, power and love of the Shepherd. The believer can always count on the steely resolve of the shepherd. With crook in hand, he can gather and move his flock as he wills. Jesus wills–as we have seen in our study of his I AM statements–that we understand that God (the Great Shepherd) has sent his son to be our shepherd. That the love and sacrifice of the shepherd should call us away from the madness to which we seem so drawn, and into a greater understanding of and reliance upon the love of God.

Yes! Even in the midst of madness.

Honestly, there is probably a couple of different ideas floating around this sanctuary having to do with how well this scripture has been opened up. Why didn’t we hear more about how Jesus is going to protect us from attacks by “wolves?” Why didn’t we hear more about why Jesus took this metaphor and applied it to his death and resurrection? While that might not rise to the level of madness happening in Tampa this week, it’s still proof that madness can present itself to us at any time.

It is at that point that Jesus says to us, “I AM the good shepherd.” You shall not want. I’ve prepared a table before you. Come, my sheep, to graze in my love.

Thanks be to God for that.

AMEN.

 

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Hitler, Obama And The UMC: Three Peas In A Pod” | Notes from the Pastor's Office - May 16, 2012

    […] have already pledged–in a recent sermon (found here)–to avoid the destructive medium of talk radio.  Today, I pledge my blog to be a force for […]

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