Posts Tagged ‘Intimacy’

Being Known 4-22-18

In this sermon, based on John 10:11-18, I explore Jesus’ statement “I am the Good Shepherd.” This passage implies a sense of familiarity within relationship.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/being-known-4-22-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I will be the first one to admit that I do not know much about cars. I know you step on the tall skinny pedal to go faster. I know you step on the shorter rectangular shaped one to slow down. I know you need to put fuel in or you aren’t going anywhere.  I can change a tire…I can check the oil and if push came to shove I could probably accomplish an oil change…but that’s about it.

However, there was one time in my younger years when I did pull something off that made me sorta proud. I must have been about 16 or 17, still living at home, and it was winter. Now my dad had a habit of starting the cars when he went out for morning chores, just to get them running against the chill that sets into an engine after sitting outside on a winter night…but this particular day, Dad wasn’t able to get my car started.

It was an old beater, typical of a high school farm kid. And somehow dad manage to flood it. So when I stepped over the car a moment later, not realizing that Dad had already tried it…I managed to start it without too much trouble. And Dad asked me “How’d you do that? I couldn’t get it to start a minute ago.” And my reply, “Well, I drive it every day. I know all the quirks.” (pause)

Now that sense of familiarity that we have with our old cars…that’s really something isn’t it? The way you just sorta know it. That’s why its always a little nerve-wracking when you start driving a new car, because you don’t have that sense like you do with an old one. You know the quirks…you know the bumps and the rattles that are just “normal” for that car as you buzz down the road. You also know the rattles that AREN’T normal, and prompt you to get into the mechanic. You know the buttons that don’t work. You know how to smack the dash board when the radio cuts out. Its familiar…you just…know…it.

We can develop that same sense of familiarity within our relationships too can’t we? The way we recognize someone’s quirks and their tendencies. The way we can anticipate their reaction to a familiar situation. Like the way you can tell when your spouse walks in the door at the end of the day if it was a good one or not. Or how you know when your child is going to be a little bit touchy by a certain point of the week because they’re worn out. You just know.

As I think about this, I’m reminded of the old days of telephones, back before caller id. When that phone hanging on the wall rang, you didn’t know who was on the other end…but you picked it up…and if it was the right person, you knew it as soon as they said the word “Hey” because you know their voice. Its familiar…its comfortable even.

Now all of these different things indicate a sense of community…of familiarity, we can even use the word intimacy to describe the relationship that exists…and because of this familiar nature…that we develop a sense of comfort with one another…trust…even love. That knowledge that probably goes without saying that this other person has your best interest at heart. (pause)

But what does all this have to do with shepherds and sheep…with gates and pens, and wolves and hired hands? That’s the gospel lesson…and it comes from a larger batch of teaching on the part of Jesus that we feature each year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, which has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday.

But this whole big teaching on the part of Jesus…its in response to something specific…as it follows the healing of the man born blind. Jesus happens across this random individual who’s been blind since birth…a condition that brings with it all kinds of hardships…most of which boil down to his lifelong exclusion from the joy of true community and relationship.
Now if you know that story, you know there’s a lot of back and forth for the guy as the religious elite continue to hound him about what happened before finally getting fed up and kicking him out of the synagogue. Its only then that Jesus finds him again and invites him into community…and with this the big wigs start butting heads with Jesus again.

And now he launches into a chapter long discourse talking about all these things. Sheep held in the pen…thieves and bandits trying to break in. But I am the gate…the shepherd comes through the gate and calls his sheep by name. He knows them and they follow him because they know him and they know his voice.

Then it goes it on. He stays in the same theme but changes it up a bit as we hear, not once but twice today. I am the good shepherd. And just as I know the Father and the father knows me, I know the sheep and they know me.  He even goes on and repeats the same sort of thing again after today’s portion when we hear “my sheep know my voice. I know them and they follow me.” (pause) Are you sensing a trend? I’m guessing so…of knowing one another…familiarity. Community. Relationship. Acceptance…trust. Its all in there isn’t it?

Now the imagery that Jesus uses here is interesting…and perhaps familiar. Anyone who’s ever seen, or better yet heard…a farmer calling their cows into the barn has witnessed this. I’ve told the story before of Dad sending out to round up the cows in the pasture…only to have them stare at me as I try to push them up to the barn…and then dad stepped outside and with one holler of COMEBOSS…they all go traipsing in….it was maddening for me, but it’s a great illustration here. (pause)

Think about those voices in your life…the ones that you instantly recognize…the ones that carry enough familiarity, or love, or perhaps we can even say authority that your ears perk right up and make you pay attention…who’s voice are they?  Who are those who fall under the category of shepherd in today’s story…the one who calls out and you trust them enough to follow…maybe metaphorically and maybe even literally.

Now as Jesus is talking today…we hear it, not once but twice…that he is the shepherd…he is the one calling…but we need to pay attention to how its worded.  I am…the good shepherd. I am…the one who calls.  I am the one who leads. I am.

Recognize that name?  You can bet the Jewish audience that heard him that day did?  Because I am is the name that God…the Lord…Yahway…that’s the name that God told Moses to use. And Jesus claims it hear along with the distinction of shepherd.  And this isn’t the only time. In fact he does 7 different times here in John.

And when we stop and think about it…that’s a pretty big deal…because I am…is also the one who made all of this in the first place.  God said let there be light.  God said let there be order…Let there be land and sea and sky…let there be night and day….God said let there be plants and fish and birds and animals…and finally God said let there be people…who’s the one who said this? I am…that’s who…and now the one who claims the name I am…the one who claims the identity of the one who made all of this and all of us…offers all of us a place in the flock…he tells us that we are numbered among those whom he knows.

(pause) You know what, I want to stick with the whole livestock imagery for just a moment. I don’t know sheep. I’ve never really worked with them…but I know cows. And in my younger days I could walk past that herd and at glance I could tell you which ones were the good milkers…which ones always went to the right stanchion. Which ones never raised a foot…I could tell you the good ones.  But I could also tell at a glance which ones had kicked me lately…which ones took extra work to get locked into place…I could tell at a glance which ones were frustrating just as easily as which ones were favorable…because I knew them.

Now apply this same sense to the one who calls himself I Am. He is the one who made you and he is the one who loves you…and this is a huge deal, because he loves you…he claims you as his own regardless of what category you fall into in any particular moment.

And this is the crazy, mind blowing thing about the gospel of Jesus Christ…that he claims us period. Now I don’t know about you…but I know me pretty well…and I know full well that there are many times in my day when I do not feel overly loveable…and yet…there is one who calls me by name because he knows me…and there is something about that call that makes my ears perk up and pay attention.

And it is perhaps BECAUSE of the familiarity in this voice that knows me at my worst and loves me anyway.  It is a far greater thing to be loved at our worst than it is to be loved at our best. And yet, while we were still sinners…Christ died for us.  While we were sinners Christ laid down his life for us…and no one has greater love than this, than to lay down their life for their friends.

That is the voice of the one who calls to us…and there is something in that voice that somehow, someway makes us sit up and pay attention. I can only think that it is through the power of God at work…through the presence of the Holy Spirit acting within us that would make us pay attention…because the story of the gospel is so utterly laughable, that reason says we should just ignore it…and yet something within us listens when the voice of the one who is called I Am calls us by name. This same one who calls us has named us and has claimed us out of his earthshattering love for the ones that he knows….and that’s you. You are known and just as you are right now, you are loved…and that’s really something isn’t it? Amen.

Part of the Flock 4-26-15

In this sermon, based on John 10:11-18, I explore what Jesus is saying when he calls himself the Good Shepherd. What does it mean to be in relationship with one that knows us?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/part-of-the-flock-4-26-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
It never ceases to amaze me how little things will pop up that give me insight into preaching…conversations that occur, moments that I witness…things that I overhear…there are countless ways…and this time around it was a short video that made the rounds on facebook of a mom laying down with her quadruplet sons draped all over her. The dad is behind the camera making funny faces or noises or something that is making the 4 boys laugh uncontrollably….the video itself is hilarious…but as I watched it I remember thinking to myself “Wow…4 identical babies…how in the world do those parents tell them apart?”
In all honesty, this is not a new concept for me either. I have often times found myself in the situation of encountering multiples…typically when they are quite young…and being unable to tell them apart…most recently, the twin sons of one of the pastors at our church in the Twin Cities…now my wife, who worked with the pastor and encountered the boys more often, she could take a look at them and usually be able to tell which one was which, but I was lost…couldn’t tell one from another. (Pause)
But then I got to thinking some more about this week’s gospel lesson…a portion of the Good Shepherd discourse…a section of John’s gospel that is featured here on the 4th Sunday of Easter every single year…for it is informally known as Good Shepherd Sunday…and this year, we hear the go-to section when Jesus actually calls himself the good shepherd…and not just once but a couple times through the course of this brief section. (Pause)
Now the interesting thing about this whole passage, not just the portion we shared today, but actually all of John chapter 10…is the theme of sheep…Last year, during Lectionary year A we heard the first portion…that there are sheep, and they are in a pen…and some individuals try to climb over the fence and steal the sheep, but Jesus is the gate and the sheep know him and follow his voice. (pause) Next year in year C we’ll hear more of the same…of the sheep following the voice of Jesus and that by following him the sheep have eternal life. (pause) And this year, its really more of the same…sheep sheep sheep…but more importantly…in today’s portion, we actually hear the famous words. I AM…the Good Shepherd. (pause) This year Jesus actually says it…but even more importantly he talks about by being the good shepherd…he knows the sheep and the sheep know him…and that’s why we hear in the other passages from the other years that they are so keen on following him…because there is an intimacy there…a relationship.
And that’s why I am constantly unable to tell twins apart…something that their parents can so easily do…because their parents know them…they know everything about them…and can tell them apart easily. (pause)
But I thought about that notion a little more…and then since we’ve been talking about sheep so much I got to thinking about livestock. Now…how many of you have ever driven past a herd of livestock…or better yet walked up to the fence and looked at that herd…really any kind of animal…and thought to yourself…how can you tell them apart? They all look the same? Ever had that experience? (pause) I know I have…but I’ve been on the other side of things too.
Many of you know that I’m a farm kid…and in my younger days…up till I was about 16 or so, we milked cows…and it is certainly safe to say that I knew those cows…It didn’t matter if they were in the barn, locked into their stanchions…or out wandering around in the pasture…I could tell at a glance which one was which…even though someone unfamiliar would look and see a big mass of black and white animals that all look the same…I could tell you which ones were easy milkers…I could tell you which ones would always step into the wrong spot to eat the feed of another…which ones were old, which ones were young…and I could darn sure tell you which one had most recently hauled off and kicked me…and I could tell you all of this…I could distinguish between them simply because I knew them…I was familiar with them.
And that’s the important aspect of what Jesus is telling us today…he is the shepherd and we know this because he knows the sheep…he loves the sheep…he’s familiar with them…he’s in relationship with them…we can even say that he’s intimate with them.
That’s the basis for the word that Jesus uses when he says that I know my sheep and they know me…just as the father knows me and I know the father…this Greek word “to know”…it implies intimacy…not just casual acquaintance…in fact it is the same word that describes the intimate way that a husband and wife “KNOW” each other…and if you aren’t catching my drift there ask me after the service and I’ll be happy to clarify for you.
And this is how Jesus describes the relationship that he desires…and the truly amazing thing about all of this is that Jesus desires this relationship with those that have been cast out of other relationships. (pause) He tells us that he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold, and he must bring them in also…and while that may seem somewhat clear…its important to note that this entire story…every single bit of this is actually in response to something that Jesus has already done.
Prior to the good shepherd discourse, Jesus has healed a man who was born blind…and throughout the entirety of John chapter 9, this man who can now see is going back and forth with the religious leaders who flat out refuse to believe that Jesus should be able to work this miracle…and in the end…when the man refuses to throw Jesus under the bus, the leaders cast him out of the synagogue…essentially they kick him out of their church…telling him that he has no place among them anymore…that he is no longer worthy of being in relationship with them….and after all of this has happened…Jesus finds the man…and Jesus, brings him into relationship…
This whole discourse…all of this talk about sheep and pens and shepherds…all of this comes down to the simple fact that Jesus…the one who calls himself I AM…the one that is God in the flesh dwelling among us…Jesus…desires to be intimately known by those that HE…already knows intimately. (pause)
And that includes not only this one guy cast out of the synagogue…but that includes each and every one of us…across time and around the world. (pause) I love it that Jesus says that he has other sheep that he needs to bring into the fold…because this tells us that the work of Jesus isn’t done yet…its still going on…it didn’t stop with those 12 disciples and a few ragtag other followers….that work is still going on…because the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God in the world today continues to bring more and more into this one flock with Jesus as the shepherd…
If that wasn’t true…then none of us would be here today would we? If the work of Christ to continue to come into relationship with all of his sheep wasn’t still happening then we would have never heard of him would we? (pause) But we have…because the voice of Jesus Christ is still calling out…the gospel of Jesus Christ is still moving through the world and will continue to move through the world until that one glorious day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord…that Jesus is the shepherd for his sheep…that he is the one who loves and protects us…that he calls out to us and one by one we recognize his voice and follow along after him. (pause)
But at the same time, we know that work isn’t done yet is it? Because all we have to do is look around in the world today and we see plenty of hurt…and plenty of pain…and plenty of that pain is inflicted between us…from individual to individual…and this, painful though it may be to see and to experience is simply evidence that the work of our Good Shepherd isn’t done yet. (pause)
I once heard someone talk about happy endings…and they mentioned that it sure seems like real life doesn’t have happy endings…and you know what there’s something to that…but I also heard them say that in the end there is a happy ending, and God has already promised it to us…so if everything’s not happy then its not the end…and I believe that is the case because I believe that this life giving work of our Good Shepherd isn’t…Done…YET…but I believe that as his followers…as those of us who do recognize his voice and follow along after we are called to join in the work of spreading his voice around so that one day we will…in fact…reach that glorious day that I mentioned earlier. (pause)
Now there are days when this task that God has called us as believers into seems pretty daunting…and there are days when we look around at the world and think its too much…its too hard…its too far gone…truly those times happen…and perhaps we get discouraged in those moments.
But on the flip side…we have other days like today…days when we welcome new members into our congregation…new members into this little corner of the worldwide flock of Jesus Christ…and we have days like today when a precious little child is brought to this font…where in a few moments Sophie Thorne will come…and like Sophie that individual is washed in the water…and they are marked with the cross of Christ…and for the first time…they are called Beloved Child of God.
Today Sophie is claimed as Christ’s sheep…one that he knows…and more importantly as one that Christ is willing to lay down his life for…that is the power of our baptisms…that we join with Christ in a death like his so that we may also join with him in a resurrection like his…for as he has told us…He lays aside life in order that he picks it up again…and in the waters of baptism we believe that Sophie, along with every other believer, has her eternal life taken up by Christ…not out of anything that she has done…but because He knows her…and he loves her…just as he loves you. Amen.