The Rev. T. Stewart Lucas
The Church of the Nativity
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter April 26, 2015
“Two men were called on, in a large classroom, to recite the Twenty-third Psalm. One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama. He repeated the psalm in a powerful way. When he finished, the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. “Then the other man, who was much older, repeated the same words—‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…’ But when he finished, no sound came from the large class. Instead, people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.
“Then the first man, the orator, stood to his feet. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he said. ‘The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm, my friend knows the Shepherd.’”
This morning I wonder if we really know the Shepherd.
Every fourth Sunday after Easter we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. The 23rd Psalm is what 90% of you would choose right now if you were planning your funeral. It is a feel good have a nice day gospel passage from John like the sweet image on the cover of your bulletin. But as always there is much more to the story.
The gospel passage actually begins back in chapter 8 when Jesus is accused of being a demon. And in chapter 9, Jesus has just spit in his hand with some dirt and healed the blind man at Siloam with mud on the Sabbath. Now Jesus is defending himself to the Pharisees who don’t think he’s presenting himself as the real Messiah should be. They couldn’t believe that Jesus had power to heal.
Jesus defends his actions saying, “I am the Good Shepherd.” It was certainly a more relevant image for the listeners then. For us though, it might be like Jesus saying “I am the Good Migrant Worker.” That would get our attention. Like the Pharisees, we would say “This is a crazy man. Why should we listen to him?”
There are many other voices out there that we know better. The voices we hear on the news or the radio telling us the details of the crisis in our own city streets or the devastation after yesterday’s deadly earthquake in Nepal. Other more pleasant voices singing our favorite tunes distract us. If not those voices, then surely one of the politicians of the day will solve my problems. They understand and know what’s best for me. And if not one of those voices perhaps it is one of the many voices in your head reminding you of your past, shaming you, knowing you can do better or enticing you to give in to temptation.
Alas all of these different voices easily distract us. Make it stop!
We turn to those voices regularly though as if they can solve the challenges of what we call life. We turn to them to fill our emptiness. We turn to them for validation of our poor choices. We turn to them for approval and comfort. We turn to them for answers to our problems, but we always find out that they are only fleeting solutions. The volume of these voices is loud, and the temptation to turn and pay attention to them is great. Yet we realize just as quickly that these voices only provide temporary fixes to our eternal questions.
Since Easter Day we have been hearing the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the Resurrection. There was an earthquake. The stone was rolled away. He was no longer there the angels said. Go and tell everyone. He appears to the women and disciples in the midst of their fear and grief in that upper room and on the beach and in the garden and on the road to Emmaus. They find it hard to comprehend what he has done. Did he really love them so much that he would lay his life down for them? And so we have this Good Shepherd imagery today to remind us. This is the ‘why’ to the Resurrection. Jesus loved us all so much that he was willing to open himself up and pour himself out for each of us.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. But Wednesday is the birthday of Duke Ellington, the great jazz pianist and big band American music composer. He was born in 1899 and died at the age of 75. He always said goodbye to his friends and closed his concerts with three words, “Love you madly.” Love you madly.
That’s what Jesus says to us this morning. I love you madly. It is the message we cannot comprehend, that each of us, broken, unlikeable, imperfect and annoying is as precious to Jesus as one of his very own sheep. We are his prized possession, and there isn’t a thing he wouldn’t do for us or a place he wouldn’t go to bring us back home. It is a voice that is hard to interpret in the midst of so many others telling us just the opposite. And yet it is the voice that we most long to hear and be reminded of in the midst of the chaos of our lives and the brokenness of our world.
And there is more good news. Jesus is not done yet. The Good Shepherd loves us so much that he is not done yet. He has sheep that do not belong to the fold yet, and he’s going to bring them also. That is good news for us and yet it is a challenge to us. Because we have to help.
“English farmer, James Metcalfe, has brought a whole new meaning to the term “branding”, after using his sheep to advertise a business venture.
After authorities denied his request to erect billboards near the A1 highway, because they could distract drivers, Metcalfe, from Dalton, North Yorkshire, decided to advertise his turf company using 20 of his sheep as living banners. Sheep marker comes in spray cans so it was quite easy to write Tyas Turf on the oblivious animals, and since the fields they graze on are right next to the A1, they’re just as good as any billboards.
Asked if he considers expanding into the advertising business, and renting his sheep as advertising space for other companies, Metcalfe, who partly owns Tyas Turf, said he doesn’t reckon his shepherd will go along with the idea, since he barely convinced him to let him spray-paint the 20 sheep.”
Jesus has branded us with his love, and he’s still not finished with his love. He has more sheep to gather into his fold, and it seems to me the job is ours to help in this effort.
We still have work to do, both as the sheep, continuing to graze and search for the meaning to our questions. We are called as sheep to tell other lost sheep that there is a greater shepherd who knows better places to eat and drink. Last night I watched as a group of young lambs roamed the streets of Baltimore throwing trashcans, destroying police cars and breaking windows. There are no easy solutions to the problems we face in Baltimore. But all I could think was that these young lambs do not have a shepherd. They want their own voices to be heard. And I wondered if a shepherd, any shepherd has ever told them how madly they are loved. That they matter. That there is more than violence. That there is another future.
We are called to seek out the other lost sheep and show them the way to enter into the journey. We are called to care for those in need, to speak up for them to bring justice and to reach out and show that there is abundance and love in the grace of God.
We go forth from this place every week wearing the advertisement of Jesus Christ given to us at our Baptisms. Sometimes we don’t want to wear it. We find ways to take shrug it off thinking we have found mad love elsewhere. We throw another cloak on top of it to cover up who our shepherd really is. We are afraid of what the other sheep will think because we are a different color, or have different rules, or follow a different way, because there is a risk in wearing this mad love of Jesus openly, the risk of abandonment or humiliation. But we have made a vow to take that risk. As sheep we are called to tell the story of our branded love and invite others to follow our shepherd and receive the gift as well for raising our voices is are part of the solution.
If we depend on the shepherd, the way will be made known to us. A way that will eventually lead us to that place where we do not want. A place void of any evil. A place where no one hungers or thirsts. A place where the one-size cloak fits all. A place where all feed at the banquet table. A place where the food and the grace is unending and overflowing.
So this morning we continue our Easter celebration of the What, How and now Why of the Resurrection. You know the story, and you know the answers. The question remains, do you truly know the Good Shepherd? I hope so because he loves you madly. Amen.
Carr, Alan. http://www.sermonnotebook.org/new%20testament/John%2010_1-16.htm