God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

May 11 -- Fourth Sunday of Easter / Mother's Day

Listen to this sermon HERE.

Let’s break down some of this metaphor language.  When Jesus says I’m the gate or the gatekeeper or the shepherd, and we’re the sheep, does he mean it literally?  Or is he painting a rich canvass and communicating a very simple yet profound message?

Jesus is the the one who lets the sheep in.  The inside of the gate and fence is the church, the beloved community of Christ-followers.  So it’s appropriate to reflect today on who’s being let in and who’s being kept out of our churches?  Who would Jesus let in?  Who would God welcome?  I’ve always known mothers to be at the front lines and in the trenches of these kinds of questions.  

I went to a workshop at Synod Assembly last week about ministry among the LGBTQ community, where the presenter said, “If you don’t hear anything else in this session, hear that if you truly want to be welcoming to the LGBTQ community, then you have to publicize a statement and a sign of welcome.  Put a rainbow on your logo and on your website and on your sign out front.  We notice that.  Every congregation says that they’re welcoming, but not every congregation is.”  Is this something we should consider at Shepherd of the Valley, where our vision is “Extending God’s welcome to all we meet along the way”?  Or should we be more explicit about who is welcome and who is not?  Tough things to think about, tough things for me to talk about...[pause]  Who would Jesus let in?  While I was in seminary I once heard an old African American mother say about this subject, I don’t understand people who are gay or lesbian, but I do know what it’s like to rejected by the church, and I’m not going to take part in that.  There’s a Mother’s Day proclamation.  I think it’s pretty clear who she believes Jesus would let in...

But then this passage from John’s Gospel also talks about the shepherd leading the sheep out.  

How is Jesus leading us out?  We are not simply confined to the fences of the church, discerning who else gets to come in.  Life as the community of Christ, as sheep of the Good Shepherd, is a life of moving from pen to pasture.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  This is the baptized life.  

Anyone with a dog knows that if you don’t get that dog out to walk out “in the pasture”, if you will, you’re going to have problems -- barking, behavioral issues, anxiety.

So it is with the church, if God’s people don’t get out there, walking in the world, don’t get out there serving, giving of themselves, sharing their resources, we’ve going to have problems.  We’re seeing this happen in some congregations.

Some churches are clinging desperately onto every last thing and penny they’ve got.  Only letting out whatever little extra money or resource they can, from the bottom of the barrel, as long as it doesn’t really effect their bottom line...

Sisters and brothers in Christ, it’s no small thing that Jesus uses the metaphor of the sheep to describe his followers because sheep are animals that bind communities together, that cover them with warmth.  [pause] Sheep give of themselves, you see.  They are sacrificial animals; they give of themselves through their wool, their milk and their meat.  Jesus asks us, in the Easter season, to be not afraid, and to go ahead and be about the work of giving of ourselves to this world.  Sacrificing ourselves is what our 2nd lesson in I Peter discusses.  

One pastor in town here, when I asked him, how do you talk to your congregation about giving, about stewardship, said, “I tell everybody to go home, each year, pray about what is the absolute most they can offer, and then bump it up a percent.  That way it hurts a little bit.”  Let’s not loose the sacrificial part of giving.  Biblical giving isn’t just giving what’s left over and doesn’t hurt.  No, it’s giving of ourselves...with a little sting.  Like a sheep getting sheared, it doesn’t kill them, but from what I understand from modern day-shepherds, they don’t don’t like those clippers very much.  Those sheerers make them a little nervous.  

It’s uncomfortable to give ourselves away, and yet this is precisely where our good shepherd leads us: out.  Into the world, to offer our selves, our milk, our wool, our money.  What does this look like for you? [pause]  

Are you giving at a level that makes you a little uncomfortable, like sheep around clipping shears?  I’m not just talking about giving to this church; this is absolutely not a fundraising appeal.  I hope you know that.  (That may be coming :)  This is our text for this week:  it’s about giving in the world.  Right now I’m talking about biblical, sacrificial, first-fruits (off the top of the barrel), percentage, joyful giving.  Are we as a congregation giving at a level that makes us a little bit uncomfortable, or do we need to bump it up a percentage?  Are we taking risks in the pasture, giving ourselves away for the good of our communities? ...because that’s where the good shepherd is leading us.  

And here’s the thing, here’s the grace, the gospel in all this:  out there in the pasture, out there in the world, is where we need to be!  That’s not a mean thing, God’s not shoving us out there and abandoning us in the cold.  This is a loving work of God.  My dad likes to say that not giving freely, specifically our money, is to be spiritually constipated.  We get backed up, clogged up, when we hoard things for ourselves.  Christ is freeing us from being backed up, making us vessels of God’s love this Easter season, by leading us out into the pasture of the world.  

Simply put:  it is an absolute gift to give. 

I watched some videos this week and talked to some farmers about sheep sheering.  And it’s amazing to watch a sheep be sheered as a metaphor for giving to God.  Think about this every time we take the offering (maybe we call this in the bulletin “sheep sheering”).  

Sheep don’t look all that comfortable when they’re giving up their wool, they’ve got this look in their eyes as their “master” holds them and sheers them.  But when it’s finished, it’s like they’re brand new.  A little awkward, perhaps at first, because it feels so different.  Now they’re lighter, and freer, they’re not weighed down and hot.  Ever gotten a hair cut yourself, and felt like that?  Or maybe your dog.  I talked to my friend this week who’s a professional groomer, and she told me about how often dogs have matted hair, almost like someone’s pulling their hair.  Sometimes the dogs can get infections when their hair is covering and keeping their skin damp.  How our money and possessions can pull at us, complicate things, even infect us.  And so when those dogs get shaved -- sheered, if you will -- Andrea told me how they actually at her work call those dogs “light and fluffy, even though they have no hair”.  What an image, right?!  Freed of our stuff, our money, our complications and struggles, all those things that give us a false sense of security, and actually can even harm us.  When we are “sheered”, when our wool goes to help others, what a gift it is to us!  Simply put:  it is an absolute gift to give!
Sheered and Cheered
This is the whole picture of grace.  It’s not just being gathered into the pen, into the church, forgiven and given a place at the table.  It’s also being sent out after the meal, to serve and give in the pasture, in the world.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd; we are sheep.  And led by Christ we come and we go.  We rest assured in that grace, that rhythm, that invitation...that love divine, this day and always.  Amen.