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...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14 -- Ash Wednesday (Good Shepherd)

Grace to you and peace on this Ash Wednesday.  AMEN.

Today at the beginning of Lent, we reflect again on Christ as our shepherd, our Shepherd of the Valley.  But here in this Gospel text, Jesus also very clearly states (vs. 9) that he’s the gate.  This image is often lost or subsumed by the Good Shepherd image.  Lots of Good Shepherd Lutheran Churches out there.  I’ve never been to a “Holy Gate Lutheran Church.”  

But the image of Christ as the gate is a very important one too.

It really gives us…and gave the people of John’s day…an opportunity to reflect on “church” – those who reside both inside and move outside of the fold, the sheep, us – we are in here now within the fence, we’ll go out there into this Lenten season, we’ll come back in here on Sundays (and Wed.)...  

John the Gospel writer’s community had tons of different “church groups” popping up in his day.  It must have been terribly confusing—all of them claiming to be the right way (that’s the “hired hands”, false prophets).  This image of Jesus as the Gate of the church is poignant.  It gives us an opportunity again here on Ash Wednesday to stop and check ourselves at the door, at the gate.  Here’s the question:
Do we, sheep of God, live as though Christ is our gate?  In other words, is Christ the means by which we come and go from this place?

Or is something else the means by which we come to and go from church, the fold?  Is it the friends, or the escape from the world?  Or maybe it’s the pastor... 
This is a really good question about pastors too.  We have to be careful that pastors aren’t the means by which we come and go from this place.  
I always get so uncomfortable when people say to me, “It’s your church, Pastor.” Or worse: “It’s your show.”  Partly because I like that idea.  [pause]  What if it was “my church”— put yourself in my shoes — what if people looked to you to dazzle us, “give us a great show”.  Enticing maybe?  All to many story of pastors getting drunk on their own egos...I’m sorry, but the pastor’s picture outside in front of “their” church, down by the street, I think, really sends a strange message…Who is the gate there?  (We have a cross out front.)

Even the Bible, I think, can become an alternative gate!  Do we point to Christ or do we point to the Bible?  Luther and his companions were very clear—and I think very helpful—on this, saying that the Bible is only meant to point to Christ.  “Cradle of Christ”.  
Is Christ the means by which we come and go here at SVLC?  I think our answer is — most honestly — a wonderful blend of yes and no.  We do some things really well:  The text talks about having “life abundant”?... I see that here, in so many ways!  I am proud and thankful to be a part of it—not just a leader of it—but a part of it.  SVLC has pastors that come and go, council presidents, leaders that come and go, people that come and go.  There’s never been one, single human being we can point to who captures the absolute essence and embodiment of SVLC; rather, there is a spirit here that endures  through the seasons and through the changes...because I believe we do strive to live in ways that reflect the reality – that Christ is truly the means by which we come and go!

And of course as a church, we wouldn’t be a church or human beings for that matter, if we didn’t still have some work to do…

Welcome to Lent.  That’s what Lent is all about.  Now we’re invited to take that honest look, that inner journey: 

How might we even more share what we have with those in need, how might we even more give ourselves to the teachings of the Jesus and the Apostles, who shared with anyone who had any need.  How might we even more delve into the Word of God, hear even more the voice of our Good Shepherd, beckoning us to greater trust, deeper faith, higher risk, nudging us out into the world and back into “the fold”/the church.  Where is Christ the Good Shepherd calling you this new contemplative season?  Leading you toward more inner work, leading you outward beyond the fences?  Christ is that gate through which we walk in either direction.

[slowly] What do you see as being the thing most needed...is it the same thing you think Christ sees as being the thing most needing attention?  Jesus opens our eyes to a new way of seeing.  Last week we had the story of the blind man, right before this episode: these Good Shepherd and Holy Gate texts are the explanation texts for that sign that Jesus performed: restoring sight to the blind.  This is what that means!  It means that now we see as Christ sees that which is most important...  

Jesus continues to be our Gate, sisters and brothers in Christ, the means by which we come and go.  Thanks be to God our Good Shepherd – who guide us even now, who still lead us, who watches over us, who nudges us both into the fence and back out, and who always, always enfolds us with eternal love and abundant life.  

Today, we begin anew the Lenten walk with Jesus.  AMEN. 

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