Sermons & Blogs
Bethany Lutheran Church
Pastor Cheryl Walenta Gorvie
Sermon April 29th, 2012
The Good Shepherd
Fourth Sunday of Easter
When Jesus used this image, he was speaking to a man whose sight had been restored after a lifetime of blindness, and standing around listening were the Pharisees who were angry that this healing had happened on the Sabbath—when no work should have been done—and Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they were the ones who were actually blind. Jesus then likens himself to the good shepherd. This must have angered the Pharisees even more, because any good student of the Jewish scriptures would know who the good shepherd is: it’s God. The image is there throughout the psalms, God as shepherd of the people of Israel. As in psalm 23, God is a loving, caring shepherd who provides food, comfort, and shelter. The prophet Ezekiel uses the shepherd image when describing God’s anger at leaders who take advantage and abandon their people, reporting that God declares, "I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God." (Ezekiel 34:11, 15) In the ancient Near East, “shepherd” was a common royal metaphor. When the people of Israel would think about God as shepherd, their minds would return to two of their defining experiences as the people of God: God as the shepherd through the years of wandering in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, and God shepherding them through the exile from the promised land. So here is a loaded term—good shepherd—and Jesus is using it to describe…himself? Is Jesus saying that he is God? How can he possibly support a bold claim like that?
Well, Jesus did just heal a blind man. And as he’s describing attributes of the good shepherd, it seems that the good shepherd is known by his actions. The one who lays down his life for the sheep. The one who knows all the sheep, and the sheep also know the good shepherd.
The good shepherd is different from the thief, who comes to steal and kill and destroy. The good shepherd is different from the hired hand, who does not own the sheep. The hired hand sees trouble coming and runs away, leaving the sheep vulnerable and unprotected. The hired hand doesn’t care about the sheep.
The Good Shepherd cares enough to die for the sheep. The Good Shepherd makes promises that he keeps. And how do we know? By the actions of the good shepherd. Wherever there is healing, wherever there is peace, wherever there is safety—these are ways to know the Good Shepherd is around.
This weekend, I’ve been attending our mission assembly, where I witnessed the re-election of our bishop, Kevin Kanouse. In the ELCA, bishops hold office regionally, the pastor for the pastors and congregations of a geographical area. But the office of bishop is also a call, with spiritual responsibilities to care for and nurture those in their area. You might recognize a bishop by the purple clergy shirt they are privileged to wear—no other pastor gets to wear a purple clergy shirt, no matter how much they like the color purple—and bishops also wear a giant cross, usually gold. In worship, bishops carry a shepherd’s crook of highly polished wood with brass accents—not the kind of tool to use for actual sheep—but the kind of adornment that is more at home as a symbol in a worship setting. But bishops are also known by what they do. Part of preparation for the mission assembly includes reading a book of reports from various committees within the mission area, relating to public witness, education, mission council, budget…very much like a congregation’s annual meeting.
The bishop writes a report, too—this year, Bishop Kanouse’s report is eight pages long. Eight pages of “Just what is the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area, anyway?” For starters, there are 110 congregations with 29,589 baptized Lutherans, 159 ordained pastors on the roster and 7 associates in ministry. Of the active participants in congregations, almost 12% are of a non-Caucasian ethnic background. These 110 congregations mostly celebrate holy communion every week when they worship. They care for the sick, pray as communities, study Scripture, sing hymns, build new structures, support ministries like Mosaic which provides care and jobs for mentally and physically challenged individuals, support seminaries and universities, train church leaders through the Parish Lay Mission Academy, send participants to Briarwood Retreat Center for faith formation and spiritual nourishment, build up youth for mission through the Lutheran Youth Organization, and work globally through our companion synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone. That’s a lot of stuff! And it’s not only the bishop’s work, of course, but this is the work of the people in this mission area. Might we also be known by our actions?
Reverend Rafael Malpica Padilla, director for Global Mission for the ELCA, brought greetings from the churchwide office and spoke about mission. He kept describing the ELCA as a church that rolls up its sleeves. He said he spends a lot of time in his work flying around the world, visiting the 90 global companion churches with which the ELCA is in mission. He said he has a lot of opportunities to talk with his seatmates on very long flights. Very often the first question is “What do you do?” Reverend Malpica Padilla says that if he wants to end the conversation quickly, he’ll say, “I’m a Lutheran pastor. No one wants to listen to a sermon for the whole twelve-hour flight to Tokyo.” But he said if wants to engage conversation, he’ll answer with another question. When someone asks, “What do you do?” he’ll ask back, “Have you seen the show Extreme Home Makeover?” That sounds exciting, so usually the person will respond, “Oh, do you work for them?” And he’ll say, “No, but my work is sort of like that. Except that instead of taking one family and changing their lives dramatically by re-making or restoring their home, we’ll go in and transform entire communities…digging water wells, building hospitals and clinics, fighting diseases like malaria, creating schools.” Now the interest is up, so the person will ask, “Wow, what organization do you work with?” And that’s when he says, “Global Mission. I’m a Lutheran pastor.”
Might we also be known by what we do? What do our actions say about us? These are some of the questions we’ll be engaging this weekend at the Missional Ministry Mini-Retreat. It’s a time for reflection on Scripture, reflection through prayer and worship, and reflection on who we are. But who we are is not the be-all, end-all of questions. How does what we do point to our faith in the God we serve? How is God at work among us at Bethany Lutheran Church? How has God gifted us for ministry in this neighborhood, in this city, in this mission area, and in this world? Because our actions should be revealing the power of the God in whom we confess our faith. That’s where the power is, anyway.
Peter knows where the credit belongs when he is questioned about the power that healed a man who had been crippled. By what power did he do this? Peter says that healing has come through the name of Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead. This is a crucial point, especially when we might like to take the credit for ourselves, to say that we know what is best for the church, to say that we know how to invite people here and how to make disciples. The power isn’t in us; the power belongs to God, who alone has the power to raise the dead, as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, Jesus Christ who is the Good Shepherd.
And how will we be known as the sheep of the Good Shepherd? We know healing. We know that God provides everything we need. And we follow. We don’t follow each other, whoever seems to have the most power or the shiniest toys. We don’t follow the false leaders, hired hands, thieves, or bad shepherds. We listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd, who knows us and calls each of us by name. We are the sheep, in the care of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.
|Sermon Pentecost 2011||