Monday, April 6, 2009

Jesus the Good Shepherd - March 29, 2009

These notes are kinda sketchy (especially at the beginning)

John 10:11-17
Jesus as the Good Shepherd

Open with the idea of the series – Jesus as . . . .Bread, Teacher, Great Physician, True Vine - - - now as the Good Shepherd

Popular image Get past the Christmas Card images to see what Jesus was communicating with this phrase.

Good shepherd is one who knows his sheep and calls them by name. “know” is a relationship word. It the same word describing the relationship between Jesus and God who he called his Father. Familial. A relationship in which each affects the other and each begins to anticipate and recognize the other’s feelings and even thoughts. We played a fun game at a church where there were multiple preachers – it was a matching game with snippets of the sermons and the game was to try to identify which preacher had that sentence or so in his or her sermon.
It was fun for me cause I was darned good at it. You didn’t have to remember the sermons, certainly not word for word. But you could recognize phrases, or issues, or concerns, or tricks of the trade and you knew who those things matched up with.
I’ve loved the devotional booklet. And a real test of my pastoral sense – of knowing you – would be if I could tell from a few phrases of your devotions who wrote it. I think I could do pretty well. But Jesus would get a 100%! He knows what we would write, even before we write it. There is something so wonderful about that. That the Good Shepherd, that God in the most loving aspect, knows your concerns, your issues, your special turns of phrase. Knows your soul.

So . . . We are invited into that relationship and knowing. It’s mutual. As Christians, we long to know Jesus – how he thinks of the world, what is important to him, how he interacts with others, how he’s going to react to things that we do.
Probably it seems a little strange to hear that described as being like sheep that know the shepherd. But it wouldn’t have seemed quite so odd to the disciples as they walked with Jesus around Judea, and saw the flocks and shepherd there.

A commentary on this passage (Gary Burge, NIV Application Commentary) reminds us that “The Middle Eastern shepherd is well known for having a personal devotion to his sheep He talks to htem and sings to them. Often shepherd will carry a short flute and use a repeated tune so that the flock has a consistent cue to follow.” A story that Burge tells shows that not much has changed in the relationship of shepherds and sheep in that part of the world in the last 2000 years: He relates that
“During the Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s the Israeli army decided to punish a village near Bethlehem (he doesn’t name the village – I wonder if it was Beit Jala, where we have connections?) The officer in command rounded up all of the village animals and placed them in a large barbed-wire pen. Later in the week he was approached by a woman who begged him to release her flock, arguing that since her husband was dead, the animals were her only source of livelihood. He pointed to the pen containing hundreds of animals and humorously quipped that it was impossible because he could not find her animals. She asked that if she could in fact separate them herself, would he be willing to let her take them? He agreed. A soldier opened that gate and the woman’s son produced a small reed flute. He played a simple tune again and again - - and soon sheep heads began popping up across the pen. The young boy continued his music and walked home, followed by his flock of twenty-five sheep.
To accept that Jesus is the Good Shepherd means that we pop up our heads, catch the timbre of his voice, or recognize the tune he is playing, and get ourselves behind him, wherever he leads.
This means paying attention to God’s voice, as we hear it through Jesus, first of all and above all the other voices that are seeking our attention and allegiance.

What are the voices that attempt to be heard above the shepherd’s voice in our lives and hearts? The loud and insistent voice of commercialism – Buy This! I’ll Make You Happy! – it calls.
The voice of fear on the news “No One is Safe in This Economy” The Current Crisis is a Threat to Our Way of Life. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
The voice of Nihilism and Futility in popular culture: “Life stinks. And then you die. No one understands you. Pop song: I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?”

The voice of individualism and selfishness and loneliness. I saw “Crash” again this weekend, and thought how much like lost sheep those people in that movie are. It starts out with a voice saying how we are all encased in our cars, and alone and we crash into each other, just to make some contact and remember that we are alive. How great it would be for them to hear Christ calling their names. To have contact and relationship with Him and to be able to relate to each other, not as enemies, but as members of the same flock. . . We should watch that movie together sometime.

The point is that, for Christians, no other voice sounds as sweet or carries the power to move us the way Jesus’ voice does. Stephen Carter, in writing the "The Cultural of Disbelief," said, "Our religion is, at its heart, a way of denying the authority of the rest of the world."

Nothing moves us like Jesus voice. Nothing gives our lives direction except the direction of following Him.

And where does that power and authority come from? What gives Jesus the right to call us and expect us to follow?
It comes from love. Extraordinary love. Life-giving love.

Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd because I lay down my life for the sheep.
Now – if the shepherd images Jesus has offered up to now are familiar and ordinary to his listeners, we gotta hear them suck in their breathes at this one. Because, honestly, the shepherd was never expected to give his life for the sheep. No Jewish mother ever sent her son out and said, “Don’t come home without those sheep, buddy.” No father ever said, “I expect you to die before you let the coyote drag one of those lambs away.”
Let’s face it. Sheep are valuable, but they aren’t that valuable. They aren’t kill yourself valuable. The shepherd is worth more than the sheep. But Jesus said that He would lay down his life for this flock. And, as we especially remember during Lent, that is exactly what he did. He put the welfare and the life of his flock above his own life.
He loved us – we are his flock – he loved us enough that he was willing to sacrifice absolutely everything – his dignity, his power, his body, his very life’s blood – not a little of it but all of it. He was willing to lay it all down so that his flock might have life.
He loves us that much. We are that important to him. And only to Him. Our value lies completely in how much he loves us. And we so often forget that.

We are valuable - ultimately – because that value is assigned by our shepherd, Jesus Christ.

(Thought for another sermon?- are we like toxic assets. How much are we worth? Maybe nothing. Maybe a great deal. The problem for the government and the markets is assigning appropriate value. And Jesus says, “I think they are worth this much – I think they are worth dying for.” )

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves in an extraordinary way – enough to give up his own life in order that our lives might be beautiful and rich and full. The verse before our passage explains – I came that they might have life abundantly.

As a flock – how do we respond to such a shepherd, who knows us intimately and calls us personally and loves us unreservedly – how do we respond? but to listen, to follow, , in our admittedly limited and human way – to return to Him and the share with others
the Good Shepherd’s love.

Palm Sunday Sermon - Jesus as King

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

What Would Jesus Ride?

Do you remember the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign sponsored by a coalition of religious and environmental groups hoping to get people to switch to more fuel-efficient cars.
At the times, clergy were asked what they thought Jesus would drive. According to 29 percent of church leaders he would still walk. Their reasoning is that he spent his life talking to people and spreading the word of God, which would not be possible behind the wheel of a car.
Of those who said he would choose to drive, 17 percent thought his chosen vehicle would be a camper van. A British vicar said, "He would probably brew up and tell stories whenever he stopped in a lay-by, often picking up listeners, "
Just behind, with 16 percent, was an electric bus. "It's eco-friendly," said Dr Roger Williams. " After all, he'd need space to seat his 12 apostles, not to mention pamphlets and other religious literature to hand out.
Rev Carol Murray was one of the seven percent who agreed. "Jesus would use an ordinary family car to identify with humanity and not stand out."
Others apparently took the question less seriously: One said, Surely as a carpenter, Jesus would drive a white van whilst going about his business?
Another cited scripture in her answer: He was despised and rejected, so he would drive an Edsel or a Yugo.
One quoted Jesus: “I say this, not of my own accord” – So he obviously drove a Honda.
Given all that has happened and is happening in the auto industry – we can say that if he wants to drive a Chrysler, Jesus better be coming back real soon!
It’s all kind of silly, since of course we don’t know what Jesus would drive. But – thanks to the Gospel accounts of Palm Sunday – we DO know what Jesus would ride.

>>> What would Jesus ride? The somewhat awkward answer is : A Donkey
And that is, the Bible hints – an important element of the day and of what Jesus intended us to make of this day in which we triumphantly entered Jerusalem to the cheers of a crowd and the shouts of “Hosanna” from a traditional Psalm.
Why do I say that the donkey is important? Because of the 11 verses about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, fully - - - 6? - - - concern getting the donkey – who he sent after it, where he said they’d find it, what they were supposed to say, what happened when they found it, how Jesus got on it –
If the Bible gives the donkey this much ink – then it makes sense for us to give the donkey a little bit of attention. Because it was clearly important to Jesus to convey a particular message with his royal procession. And the donkey was an important part of communicating what kind of King Jesus understood himself to be:

Service Animal.
In the developing world, the donkey is still an important service animal. Small and easier to feed and keep than a horse, they can carry great burdens and distances, making it possible for people to transport goods to market and back. They are good on hill – surefooted and with perfectly set eyes. A donkey can see the trail under both front and back feet. Horses can’t. And they don’t panic like horses. The guide at the Grand Canyon said, “When you come to these hairpin turns with 1000 ft. drop offs just inches away, we advise you just close your eyes. That’s what the mules do.”
In many places in the world, the donkey is still used, as it was in Jesus day, as a beast who carries burdens. A donkey can carry as much as 30% of its weight, meaning that though it is small, it is incredibly strong. When we are tired, or sin-sick, or overwhelmed by life, we think of Jesus as bearing our burdens, as taking upon the sin of the world, the sorrows of life, and carrying them for us. We might take a moment to think about how Jesus brought a service animal front and center on the day of his entry into Jerusalem as a way of reminding his followers about what his whole life and ministry had been about – He said, I came not to be served, but to serve others.”
What would Jesus ride? a beast of burden.

The donkey also communicates another important aspect of Christ’s Kingship: Picture the actually physical reality of riding a donkey. It’s a small animal. A grown man riding on a donkey would barely, if at all – rise above the crowd surrounding him.
Being “higher” is part of the human language of king and queen ship. Royalty and rulers sit on thrones. Protocol still demands that royalty avoid contact with commoners. This last week, while President Obama and the First Lady were in Europe, they attended a reception with the Queen of England. And what was the headline? Did First Lady breach protocol? “The rules are set in stone and so the eagerly watching British media sputtered when the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, briefly put her hand on the back of the Queen Elizabeth II as the two chatted at a reception. Etiquette is quite stern about this: "Whatever you do, don't touch the Queen!!!"
So where does this rule about not touching the Queen come from? The sovereigns of England and France, at some point in their country's long histories, claimed a divine right to rule, That touch of holiness once gave the occupant of the throne the supposed ability to cure certain diseases, the miraculous contact had to be conserved. And so, whether a touch or a nod or a gaze, royal favor, like that of God, is not a subject's on demand; it is dispensed by kingly prerogative.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was always reaching out and touching people, and being touched by them. He was not “above” humanity, but came into intimate contact with the limitations and the pain, indeed he willingly shared those limitations and pain out of love for humanity.
The donkey shows that Jesus’ privilege reaches out in love.
Royal animal – That both claimed Kingship and demanded that power be redefined.
Jesus didn’t say he was King – but he did orchestrate a royal entrance into Jerusalem. He comes from the place in which the successor of King David is expected. He is hailed by a crowd of well wishers, as a king would be. He even rides a donkey, in fulfillment of Zechariah's ancient prophecy: "Look, your king is coming to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (Matthew 21:5 = Zechariah 9:9). In ancient times, a king rode a horse into battle, but a donkey when we came in peace.
This Biblical scholars Borg and Crossen, in their called “The Last Week”, point out what the Gospel writers take for granted – that this was a sort of counter demonstration, in that, as Jesus was entering the city from the south, from the north the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was at the head of a ceremonial parade, the purpose of which was to tamp down any nationalistic, rebellious hopes of the Jews gathered in the city for their big July 4 celebration. Because Jewish patriotism tended to run a little hot during this festival, and because the population of the city swelled to threatening proportions, the Roman governor made a point of riding in with an extra legion or two of his army in a display of military might and political domination. He’s riding a warhorse. He’s wearing armor. He’s got soldiers and weapons with him. Jesus is riding a donkey. He’s sitting on a cloak. He’s got some cheering fans. He’s mocking the other parade. But he’s not challenging it head on. He’s communicating a different understanding of kingship – of power . Jesus is proclaiming the power to make peace.
The donkey is the ride of a King who comes proclaiming the power of humility and peace.

The upside down vision of Jesus’ Kingship is embodied in the animal that Jesus chose to ride on that first Palm Sunday parade – a donkey which people view with disdain, even ridicule, but which has crucial role to play in helping us understand both the triumph and the pathos of Jesus’ last days:
There is a poem that captures both the horror and the glory of Jesus’ passion. It is by
G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) and it is called
The Donkey
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
For Jesus, Palm Sunday and what follows it is all about the donkey:
Strength to carry life’s burdens - to take on the weight of the world.
The Royal privilege that reaches out to touch people with love.
The triumph of one who comes to conquer powers of hate, fear, sin and death by showing the way of peace.