“Sheep & Shepherds” 04.26.2015 Sermon

John 10:11-18 • April 26, 2015

Visit Good Shepherd Lutheran Church’s YouTube page to view a video recording of this sermon.

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

I first looked at the scripture readings for this weekend about a month ago. And I have to honest, I was disappointed that these were going to be the scripture readings for our last worship together before I leave on sabbatical.

You and I actually hear scripture readings with shepherd imagery every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter. And, if you attend a funeral once in a while, you probably hear some of these readings far more frequently. But, just because we hear texts about the Good Shepherd many times a year, doesn’t necessarily mean that we actually hear them?

There’s a great old story about a pastor who loved to share stories with children. One day while he was sharing a story with them, he said, “Boys and girls, I want to tell you a story about someone who lives in the woods, but sometimes we can see him in our yards. He has a big bushy tail, and likes to eat nuts. Anybody have any idea who I’m talking about?”

No answers. Silence. Blank stares.

The pastor offered a bit more detail. “I’m talking about a creature that lives in the woods, sometimes in our yards, big bushy tail, eats nuts, likes to climb trees, jumps from tree to tree – now, does anybody know who I’m talking about?”
Finally, one boy raises his hand to take the pastor out of his misery. “Do you know who I’m thinking about?” asked the pastor. The boy said, “Yeah, I know that the answer should be Jesus, but it sounds a lot like a squirrel to me.”

My initial disappointment with today’s scripture readings stems from that story’s point – I know the answer should be Jesus, but it sounds a lot like something else. I mean, I’ve never herded sheep. I’m guessing that is true for most of us. And in fact, I’ve never actually met a shepherd. I’m guessing that is also true for many of you too. And, I’ve never fought with a wolf before. My only contact with a wolf is watching them through some sort of protective barrier at a zoo. Again, I’m guessing that is the case for most of us.

The challenge that the shepherd texts present for us today is that many of us don’t have any direct relationship with shepherds or sheep. And since the early days of the Christian church, this lack of relationship forces us to interpret these texts in a way that turns our pastors into the shepherd. To take this interpretation further pastors are shepherds of their flocks and therefore, in some important way, are “like” Jesus, or at the very least striving to be like Jesus.

Pastor Kathryn Matthews offers that, “Perhaps, when we focus on pastors, as shepherds, we fail to think of ourselves as the sheep, or to think about the Good Shepherd himself.” I like her thoughts and what to add that if our focus is only on pastors as shepherds, we fail to remember that pastors are sheep of the Good Shepherd too. Just like everyone else.

I am – even as I live out my call as one of your pastors and try to uphold the vows of ordination that I made before God and the church – I am, a sheep of the same flock that each one of you are part of. That doesn’t mean that I don’t serve as a shepherd of the congregation where I am called to be a pastor. That doesn’t mean that I don’t serve as a shepherd for my friends or family at times. All of us can think of times when we are called to serve as a shepherd in our relationships in the communities in which we live. But even in times when we are called to be a shepherd, we are never the Good Shepherd. You and I are always sheep. And we will always be sheep. Jesus is the shepherd. And will always be the Good Shepherd.

Furthermore, being a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock, being known and loved and protected by this shepherd, means that our relationship with God isn’t about individual accomplishments or a just-me-and-Jesus kind of salvation. The great theologian Karl Barth once said that, “there is no such thing as an individual Christian.”

Barth’s idea of no such thing as an individual Christian couldn’t ring more true in the scripture readings about the Good Shepherd. Note that there is no separate singular form of the word sheep. What do you call one? Sheep. What do call many? Sheep. Maybe that’s why there is so much of the Bible devoted to sheep and shepherds – to help us understand just how much you and I belong together and that, because of the Good Shepherd, we are never alone.

So, as part of the Good Shepherd’s flock living out our faith through this part of the flock known as Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, what do sheep look like as the Good Shepherd leads them?

Maybe it’s the sheep of this congregation, part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, overwhelmingly supporting our youth through financial gifts and prayer as they get ready to embark on summer mission trips that will take them from Detroit, Michigan to Gethsemane, El Salvador.

Or maybe it’s the sheep of this congregation, part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, who are eating M&Ms this month and returning the empty containers filled with money in order to bless our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in the Central African Republic. Even though these brothers and sisters live half of a world away, they are sheep of the same flock.
Or maybe it’s the sheep of this congregation, part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, who will donate glue sticks and peanut butter and toilet paper to bless hundreds of children attending summer bible camp at Camp of the Cross. Summer camp children who are sheep of the same flock.

Or maybe it’s the sheep of this congregation, part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, who are stepping WAY outside of their comfort zone this weekend and making May Day baskets that they will give away on May 1st. A simple basket that will remind someone that they are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock and loved unconditionally.

You know what…I think I need to let go of the disappointment I had a few weeks ago regarding the scripture readings for today. How can anyone be disappointed when these texts help you and I to remember that we belong to God and are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock forever?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, later this week I begin a three month sabbatical. I’ll be back with you in August. I’m thankful for this time of sabbatical and pray that it is a blessing not only to me and my family, but also to every sheep who calls Good Shepherd Lutheran Church their faith home. You can read more about what I’ll be doing on sabbatical in the May newsletter.

And as I enter this time of sabbatical, I want you to know how grateful I am to be a sheep with you in the Good Shepherd’s flock. And, finally, I want to tell you one more time just how much you are loved. Not only by me as one of your pastors, but most importantly by God, the father of the Good Shepherd – our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.


Palm/Passion Sunday Sermon 03.29.2015

Click here for a video recording of this sermon.

Palm Sunday Reflection – Mark 11:1-11

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

As the introduction on the front page of our bulletin this week states directly – “How can we Americans grasp what it means to have or want a king when we reject the notion that bloodline conveys the right to rule?” This is a pretty profound statement isn’t it? I mean we reject the notion of a monarchy, but are obsessed with the British Royal Family. We reject the notion of overwhelming political power, but have created a culture in which politicians remain in power for generations.

There are two contrasting kingdoms in Jesus’ time – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. Two of the greatest theological minds of our time, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, wrote an incredibly important book about Holy Week called The Last Week.

In this book they suggest that there are two parades in Jerusalem on this day. The two parades reveal the presence of two kingdoms in a very dramatic and powerful way. Borg and Crossan offer that on one end of Jerusalem there was a parade taking place with cheers and celebrations for the kingdom of Caesar. A kind of parade that took place frequently in order for the Roman Empire to show off its power and might over the people. But, on this day and at the same time, on the other end of Jerusalem there was another parade taking place. This one with palms waving and crowds cheering too. But this parade was celebrating the kingdom of God.

Each year, our Lenten journey takes us to this day of worship, Palm Sunday. A day that leads us into the holiest week of the year in the life of God’s children who try to follow Jesus. I wonder how different you and I are today in comparison to the children of God living in Jesus’ day. In many ways, we’re much the same, aren’t we? Which kingdom are we cheering for as we enter Holy Week this year? The question that I ask myself every year on this day is this – which end of the city will I be cheering? How about you, which end of the city are you at cheering?

Now, in addition to making the claim that two parades were taking place on this day, Borg and Crossan also believe that the term “Kingdom of God” is a political as well as religious metaphor in Mark’s gospel.

Pastor Nancy Rockwell says that “Jesus didn’t start a protest movement, he started a here-on-earth-God-with-us-movement. He didn’t start a political movement. But everything he said and did had political implications. He deliberately used kingdom language, knowing he was challenging the other kingdoms.”

Even though you and I live in a time and place that is 2,000 years removed from Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, we live as children of God who are being invited each and every day of our life together as part of the body of Christ to participate in the here-on-earth-God-with-us-movement.

Wave your palms brothers and sisters in Christ! Shout Hosanna – here is our king! at the top of your voices! Together, let’s celebrate the Kingdom of God’s unending reign. Brothers and sisters in Christ, who is your king?

Passion Sunday Reflection – Mark 14:1-15:47

Our worship now takes a significant turn. Within the time allotment of one worship service, you and I sing Hosanna! at the triumphant entry of king Jesus into Jerusalem and quickly move to shouts of Crucify Him! toward this same king Jesus. In the historic Christian church, this dramatic shift in the same worship service is not supposed to happen.

Worship leaders and pastors around the world despise this type of movement in a single worship event. You and I are supposed wave palms and celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem today which then moves us into Holy Week. We are to walk together through the passion story of Jesus as we gather for worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. I long for the day when people will gather for worship in Christian churches in just as great of numbers on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday as they do on Easter Sunday.

Good Shepherd, just like tens of thousands of other Christian churches this week, will offer worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. And our worship attendance during Holy Week will only be a tiny percentage of those who will worship on Easter next Sunday.

If we don’t experience the passion story in today’s worship, then the majority of people who worship at Good Shepherd, or any other Christian church for that matter, will only hear the celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the celebration of the empty tomb of Easter. They will miss the climactic point of the Jesus story entirely. 

Jesus is the beginning and the end and the every middle in between of the here-on-earth-God-with-us-movement that began at creation. Hearing and experiencing the passion story of Jesus each year during Holy Week connects us together deeply and intimately to that ancient story – an ancient story of God’s unending love for all of creation that you and I live out in the world today. We simply can’t skip over it because it’s too difficult for us to hear or because we’ve heard it before or because we really don’t think we can fit three additional times of worship into our schedules this week.

One of my favorites pastors serving the church today is Nadia Bolz-Weber. Her thoughts on Holy Week worship have touched me very deeply this week. I want to share them with you now.

Pastor Nadia wrote, “Two thousand years ago in the Middle East, there had to have been crowds who shouted praise and friends who betrayed and followers who denied and women who wept and soldiers who mocked and thieves who believed. It would have happened like this even if the Jesus event were happening now instead of then. Even if we knew everything in advance – were we the ones on the street we too would shout Hosanna and a few days later shout crucify him. And that’s the good news when it comes down to it. Because these people of the Holy Week story are we people. And we people are the likes of which God came to save. God did not become human and dwell among us as Jesus to save only an improved, doesn’t make the wrong choices kind of people. There is no improved version of humanity that could have done any differently. So go ahead. Don’t wait until you think your motivations are correct. Don’t wait till you are sure you believe every single line of the Nicene Creed (no one does all the time!). Don’t worry about coming to church this week for the right reasons. Just wave branches. Shout praise for the wrong reason. Eat a meal. Have your feet washed. Grab at coins. Shout crucify him. Walk away when the cock crows. Because we, as we are and not as some improved version of ourselves…we are who God came to save. And nothing can stop what’s going to happen.” (Not Sure if You Want to Go to Holy Week Services)

As you leave worship today, I invite you to take the palm branch you are holding with you. Put it on the front seat of your car, or your nigh stand, or on your desk at work, or underneath a magnet on your kitchen refrigerator. May this simple palm branch and the words we are about to receive from Holy Scripture remind you that you, yes you, are the reason why God came into the world and who God came to save. You.

So, as brothers and sisters united as one in the body of Christ, we enter into this year’s reading of the passion story of Jesus according to Saint Mark. I invite you to close your eyes if you want or open the red pew Bible to the 1st verse of the 14th chapter of Mark. Take a few deep breaths. And receive these holy words from God on this day…


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