A sermon from Good Shepherd Sunday 2006.
“On Pastors and Pastures”
John 10:11-18, Psalm 23
May 7, 2006
Lake Harriet Christian Church
I have to “blame” our Associate Minister, Tammy Rottschaefer for this sermon. For a while she has commented on the problem with parts of the church today in that we don’t know how to be church together. Somehow, all that talking about being church, sunk into me. For the past few months, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be church at this time and place. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what it means to be a pastor, a question that has been on my mind since I was ordained nearly four years ago.
Well, I usually like to preach from the Revised Common Lectionary, and I found out that today is called Good Shepherd Sunday, hence all the sheep you see on the table. The text today all focus on God as the Good Shepherd. We just heard Dan read probably one of the most well know Biblical texts, Psalm 23. In the gospel text, we see how Jesus calls himself a Good Shepherd, that lays down his life for the sheep. Now, sometimes when people see this text, they think it might relate to people like me: pastors. In fact, the word pastor is derived from a Latin word which means shepherd. So from early on in this history of the church, pastors were thought of as people who took care of a flock or congregation. And there is a lot here about how a pastor should act: giving their lives in service to others. But that would be a limited understanding of the text. As Christians, which means, followers of Christ, we should see this text as a key to understanding what it means to be a community of faith. And I think it gives great insight as to what it means to be church in the early years of the 21st century. And it’s important to ask what it means to be church in light of the current time, not what happened 20 or 50 years ago. This is a question we must continue to ask as the years go on.
This week, I came across two things that relate to current events. The first thing I stumbled across was a speech given by former Senator John Danforth. Danforth, is a lawyer and represented Missouri for several years in the US Senate. He is also an ordained Episcopal minister, and as of late, has been concerned at the mixing of religion and politics, particluarly in the Republican party, of which he is a member of.
In a speech to the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian organization, the former Senator and current pastor, expressed dismay at those who use issues and events, like gay marriage, abortion and the Terri Schiavo case to divide Americans. He notes that the very meaning of the word religion comes from the same root as the word ligament, meaning that religion should be something that brings us together, not tear us apart.
Which leads to the other event that occurred this week. I was listening to public radio and there was an interview with another Episcopal priest who was planning to talk about the Good Shepherd and another major event : the verdict and sentencing of Zacharias Moussaoui, who had some role in the 9/11 attacks. He was sentenced to a life term in a SuperMax prison in Colorado. If religion is something that should bind us to each other and to God, Moussaoui was the living embodiment of the opposite. He bragged about wanting to hurt Americans, he taunted the families of victims. He made a mockery of the Islamic faith, by associating it with his homocidal fantasies. As he was sentenced, he made one final taunt saying that America had lost and he had won. The judge in the case, exploded, probably after holding her rage in for several years, condeming Moussaoui and saying that he “would die with a whimper.”
What is religion all about? What is faith all about? What is church all about? Is it to bring people together to each other and to God, or is to drive people apart, splitting the so-called holy and so-called profane?
I think if we look around the world today, these questions are being asked in various ways by various religions, be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and so forth. I tend to think that at least within the framework of Christianity, the way these questions are answered depends on how we look at God and how we look at the other.
In today’s texts, we see that God and Jesus are looked on as shepherds that take care of creation. When I read these texts, you see a God that is willing to give up God’s life for his sheep. In the twenty-third Psalm, we see how God is with us through the good and bad times of our lives. The God we see here isn’t one of a judge that is waiting for us to slip up, but of a caring being, who is gentle and loving. I don’t know about you, but that gives me comfort. When I was younger, I was told by adults, not my parents, that you better be good because any slip means God was going to get you. To know that there is a loving God that care for a messed up sheep like me, gives me hope. But I think these passages have much more to say than about God being a caring shepherd. Since we are called to follow Jesus, these verses tell us how we a community are to live in the world. I believe that we are called to be shepherds to each other, to give of ourselves for the other, regardless of who that person is. I think that is what bothers Rev. Danforth: those who profess loudly of their faith aren’t living that out in service to the other.
Mr. Moussaoui wants to sacrifice his life: but only to hurt and divide others, NOT in service to others.
To be church in this time and place means being a community that welcomes people regardless of where they are on their walk in life. It means being hospitiable instead putting up walls. It means reaching outside these walls and being in service to others, even if they don’t believe the same things we do.
It also means responding in love to the whole world. Why? Because the Good Shepherd cares for the sheep. God is loving and in Christ gave of godself on the cross. And that’s not easy. I have to admit, it’s not easy wanting to love or forgive someone like a Zacharias Moussaoui, who wanted to hurt people. The minister interviewed on public radio said as much. We all knew where we were on the dark day nearly five years ago. And this congregation was touched by that day: a former member’s son and a nephew were either in or near the World Trade Center that day. A girlfriend of the son was on the 106th floor of one of the towers. She didn’t make it. We have every right to be angry, that’s human. To be a follower of Christ doesn’t mean we put of happy faces and ignore our own feelings of injustice. But we hold those feelings of righteous anger in tension with God’s call to love-even the enemy.
There is an argument going within religion in general, and Christianity in particular. The argument is whether religion is to bring us together or rend us apart. There are those who see God as less than a caring shepherd, than as vindictive judge, looking to punish those that don’t follow a particular dogma, which usually mirrors the dogma of those people. Sadly, these people want to limit who is welcome. In the extreme, some want to physically hurt people. Others seek to hurt people emotionally, which may not leave scars we can see, leave damage nonetheless.
Lake Harriet is the midst of its Stewardship Drive. Now, on one level, this about how much we can pledge for the coming year to fund various ministries of the church. But on another level, it’s also about what kind of church we want. Do we want to be a church, that follows Christ’s examples and seeks to love and serve the world, or will we be a church that closes the doors, not to mention our hearts, to others.
What does mean to be church? What does it mean to be a shepherd to others? Let us discern as a community those questions. Thanks be to God. Amen.