Posts Tagged ‘Sheep’

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.

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Is It Good To Be A Sheep 4-17-16

Today’s sermon is based on John 10:22-30, in which Jesus speaks about being our good shepherd. But I guess that makes us sheep doesn’t it?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/is-it-good-to-be-a-sheep-4-17

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

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

With warm spring weather upon us, I’m getting back into the habit of walking over to the post office to grab the mail. It’s a win win situation. I get a little exercise and I get to spend a few moments out in the beauty of nature. Friday morning I did just that as I pondered on this week’s sermon…the gospel lesson rattling around in my head as I headed the few blocks over to main street and back.

As I walked, I enjoyed the wonderful sounds of birds chirping…I spotted quite a few squirrels bouncing around like they do…I even spotted a couple of rabbits hopping from place to place. And in those moments I realized the joy of spring and wildlife.

And as I thought about it a little more, I found myself chuckling at an old comedy bit from my youth, when the actor and comedian Denis Leary started talking about animals and animal lovers…and remarked…you know, it’s a pet-peeve of mine when people start in about loving the animals…I LOVE THE ANIMALS I LOVE THEM SO MUCH…but no you don’t…you only love the cute animals…maybe we should just have animal auditions…let them come in and plead their case…What are you? I’m an otter. And what do you do? I swim around all day on my back and do cute human things with my hands…you’re free to go. (pause) And what are you? I’m a cow…GET ON THE TRUCK! But I’m an animal…You are a baseball glove…But…your a t-bone steak…you are a delicious greasy hamburger…get on the truck.

That bit makes me laugh, because honestly there’s a lot of truth there…and if we consider the multitude of domesticated animals in our history…we keep most of them around because they are useful…or at least delicious. (pause) Cattle…hogs…chickens…all useful in their own right…and so we keep them around…and in my days of growing up on the farm I worked with all of them.

But…there is one type of farm animal that I am glad my dad never chose to get involved with. Sheep…because in my experience, such as it is…sheep are quite possibly the dumbest animal on the planet. I first experienced this fact when helping a friend of mine load sheep into a trailer when I was about 16. All we had to do was block off one open slot in the fence, and the only direction they could go was down the fence line into the trailer…but as I stood there, blocking off a gap that wasn’t more than about 3 feet wide…that batch of sheep, being chased by my friend…totally ignored the open path right next to them…and thought that their best course of action was to go over me…not past me, not through me…but over me…and 5 sheep all attempted to jump over top of me.

I’ve heard stories of sheep in a pasture standing in one place…eating every single bit of grass within reach…and then refuse to move, to the point of someone having to go out and chase them to a new spot, otherwise they’ll starve.  They are completely and totally reliant on whoever it is that has taken on the task of caring for them. Sheep are the epitome of helpless creatures. They need to be led to water…they need to be led to pasture…and if a predator shows up…the blasted things will just stand there quivering until the predator comes in and picks one off.

Its true today…and based on a lot of the various stuff we hear in the scriptures, I’m guessing it was the same exact thing in Jesus day…Sheep are dumb. (pause) And now, as we find ourselves celebrating what is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday…we hear a portion of the larger story known as the Good Shepherd discourse…and over the course of the 3 year lectionary cycle, we hear the vast majority of this passage…as Jesus talks about being the shepherd…the one who cares for the sheep…the one who brings them in and out of the pen…who leads them to green pastures…the one who protects them from the bandit who breaks in to steal…his sheep know his voice and follow him when he calls.

Now you know…that is an interesting thing to think about…the sheep knowing the voice of the one who calls to them…they hear “Follow me” and that’s exactly what they do…but if they don’t recognize the voice, they ignore it…and I’ve certainly seen that in action growing up on the farm.

Dad would often send me out first to start rounding up the cows for milking…and so I’d head out in to the pasture…and pretty much all I would accomplish would be moving them from one corner to another as they simply walked away from me, and went right back to eating grass…but then a couple minutes later, Dad would step out of the barn…and I’d hear a whistle and a “COMEBOSS” and sure enough…those blasted cows would line right up and go traipsing into the barn slick as can be…they knew his voice, but ignored mine. (pause)
And so, as we hear in the scriptures…Jesus here in the midst of opposition, as he often finds himself…facing the question “Are you the Messiah” which is actually a question of “Are you the one who is going to lead us and take care of us?” And Jesus…gets the tiniest bit testy…Am I the Messiah…I have already told you that…and the signs that I have done testify to the truth of who I am. (pause) And then he drops the hammer on them…you don’t believe it, because you aren’t my sheep. They know me…they know my voice and believe it…they follow me…and I take care of them. (pause)

Now most often, when I hear this passage…or others like it…as Jesus talks about caring for his flock, and the trust that they have in him…its reassuring for me…because I count myself within that flock….but I got to thinking about it this week…and I realized that if Jesus is the shepherd…which he is…and I’m part of his flock…well then it stands to reason that Jesus…God in human form…is calling me a sheep.

God…is calling me a stupid, idiodic, mindless moron who is totally dependent on someone else for my well being…and as true as that might just be…it almost seems a little on the insulting side doesn’t it? Think about it…as you are sitting here today…it would seem that you’ve also heard the voice of the shepherd calling in one form or another…and so you have followed here, to this place…and so I guess that makes you a sheep too. We’re all in this together…a bunch of stupid creatures who will stand there starving to death rather than to walk 5 feet to achieve that which will sustain us…that is unless…someone leads us there. (pause)
But you know what…as crazy as that might sound…isn’t it about right? We human beings…as smart and accomplished as we have become as a species…are still pretty stupid aren’t we? We do dumb stuff…we say dumb stuff…we think dumb stuff…and more often that not…even though we might know better…we choose the dumb choice…because its in our nature.

We are sheep…totally dependent on the life that the shepherd provides for us…we may not always think so, but I think when we take an honest look we’ll all realize it. We need to be cared for…we need to be looked after…because in the end we are all broken creatures, standing there timidly shaking in the face of whatever predator it is that’s stalking us.

What is it that you fear? Be honest with yourself…because we all do. What makes you worry, quaking in your boots with the “what if” or the “What if not…” What pain lies in your life…whether physical or emotional…because we all carry pain…we all have sorrow, and fear…and perhaps…maybe, just maybe, the one that we all share, whether we want to admit it or not…is the realm of death…because its out there and even though we might chose to ignore it, it rears its ugly head more often than we care to admit.

Earlier this week my son was reading the headlines, and discovered that a pro wrestler that he knows and watches has been diagnosed with cancer…and the very same day he shared that with me, I received word that a gentleman who has served as camp grandpa out at family camp in Colorado…a man that I know as Grandpa Dave over the past decade, lost his battle with cancer…and as my son and I sat there talking about both of these things, we both agreed that death…it just doesn’t care. You can be old or young…you can be rich or poor…you can be famous or a nobody…and yet death comes after us all…and the more often I face it, the more I realize that its true…and it is scary.

And as I think about all of that…I start to see the truth…and I’ll admit it…Jesus says he’s the shepherd of the sheep…and I’m a sheep….BAA!

But there’s hope here too…because Jesus makes a promise…a promise that not only does he care for the sheep…he holds them in his hand…and nothing will snatch them away from him…not even death…because of what he has done for us…we hold onto the hope that there is more…that there is life beyond whatever barrier death represents…

But even more than that…right here…right now…in the midst of everything in this big scary world that often times leaves me shaking in my boots…Jesus says tells us that his sheep know his voice…and that is true…but even more importantly HE…KNOWS…THEM. (pause) He knows you…he knows your name…he knows your every thought…he knows your fears and your doubts and your failures and your victories…he knows your pain and sorrow…and he see each and every tear that falls…and in the midst of all that…HE HOLDS YOU IN HIS HANDS…both in those moments that we recognize it…as well as in the moments when our “sheep-brain” takes over and we’re too dim to realize it…Just like in the All-State commercials…you’re in good hands…because you’re in his hands. You are held in the hands of the good shepherd.

And just in case you’re wondering what makes him so good? Well, because our shepherd that gives us life abundant…our shepherd that loves his sheep…was willing to become one himself. He’s lived this life…he’s overcome the forces that bind us within it…and he leads us beyond them. (pause)
The Lord is my shepherd…I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…for you are with me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  (pause)

Sheep are dumb and helpless…and I’m a sheep. BAA!

I Am What I Am 5-11-14

Today’s sermon came from John 10:1-10. This is the opening portion of the text commonly known as the Good Shepherd parable, though I focus on the notion that in this portion of the passage, Jesus never calls himself that, rather calling himself the gate.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/i-am-who-i-am-5-11-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here…though note, there are some deviations from the text.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Individuality is an interesting thing isn’t it? There are certain aspects that shared between individuals or groups. For instance, we are all fellow members of the human race. Likewise, we are all alive now, at this time, in the early 21st century, and together, we are all present in this place, right now, in this time.

But there are also things about an individual that cannot be matched by anyone else that is either alive right now or that has ever or will ever live. And those are the aspects about the individual that are shaped by their experience.

Science would look at this as the formation of neuron pathways within the individual’s brain. Their experience forms connections within their brain that will forever be present and will forever influence how that individual experiences the world from that time forward.

I see evidence of this type of thing all the time as I interact with my family. My daughter knows things about the realm of dance that I cannot even fathom, and that’s after taking a single week’s worth of dance camp a couple years ago. My son, the sports nut can tell you the most random and obscure details about certain baseball players from several seasons past, and I’m lucky if I can tell the difference between the second baseman and the shortstop. My wife has an instinct for cooking that could rival any chef that I can’t even begin to understand, though my stomach certainly benefits from it.

I on the other hand, have those things in my life that set me apart. For instance, there have been many times when we’ve been driving down the road and Emily will ask me what kind of bird is flying overhead…I can take a quick glance, pick out certain visible characteristics like size, shape, wing pattern, and flight characteristics to tell her that in fact that isn’t a chicken hawk…it’s a turkey vulture. As a former ecologist in training during college, I’ve learned to look for those sort of things.

Likewise, having grown up on the farm, I’ve developed a certain skill with my nose…on many instances, I have impressed my family by following a livestock trailer…taking a sniff…and being able to correctly identify the type of animal inside it, simply by their odor.

These are some of the things that make me who I am. And they are unique to me, but there are other things that I am as well. I am 6 feet tall. I am a runner. I am a father. I am a husband…the list goes on and on of things that identify me…of things that paint a picture of just who…or what…I am.

Now those two words…I am…I have to admit that they catch my attention…they are such simple words and yet they convey so many truths…and importantly, they convey a different set of truth about every individual that says them. Because what I am…is a completely different reality than the one described when you say the very same thing. (pause)

The author of John’s gospel seems to be very aware of this simple fact…although perhaps it would be better to say that Jesus himself is aware of it. The phrase “I am” is quite common throughout the entirety of John’s gospel, and each and every time it is stated, it is by Jesus. Now sometimes Jesus uses it to convey an idea, calling himself something abstract. For instance Jesus says “I am the light of the world” or “I am the vine.” At different times, Jesus simply identifies himself when people are looking for him…saying quite simply “I am.” (pause) And if your knowledge of Old Testament history is perking up there you’ll recognize that as the very same way that God identifies himself to Moses. I am what I am. (pause)

And it probably comes as no great surprise that we see another example of Jesus saying I am in today’s passage. Now, in a personal note, I cannot read this passage without my brain instantly screaming out “GOOD SHEPHERD…IT’S GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY!” And with good reason…the 4th Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday within the lectionary, and over the course of the three year cycle we hear this passage in its entirety…and perhaps if you are anything like me, you listen to the words I shared a moment ago from John’s gospel…words about the shepherd entering by the gate…and calling his own sheep by name…and sheep following because they know his voice…and because this is such a familiar passage your brain instantly goes to what is likely the most famous phrase from this entire parable…when Jesus makes yet another famous I am statement…the one that summarizes the entire story in one simple phrase…I am…the good shepherd. (pause)

Did your minds go there? (pause) I’m guessing so for many of you, if not all of you…but I’ll pose the question…should it? Because in our story today…John chapter 10 verses 1-10…does Jesus ever say it? (pause) Go ahead and look through the gospel text and see…go ahead…I’ll wait (pause).

Nowhere…Nowhere in the midst of all the talk about sheep and bandits and thieves and gatekeepers and shepherds and strangers and sheepfolds and gates and pastures…nowhere does Jesus actually say I am the good shepherd…we have to wait an entire year, and until verse 11…before we hear him say that.

Now admittedly, this is one of those weird moments in the lectionary, when the story cuts off at what seems to be the most important part…and believe me, as a preacher…that can be really frustrating at times…to have Jesus get cut off right about the time he’s going to make the point that straightens out all the ambiguity of the parable itself.

And parables are confusing aren’t they…we’ve seen that time and time again…Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God, and in order to make things simple for his audience he uses a parable, something familiar that they’ll be able to relate to but that vast majority of the time…this one included, we hear that his audience fails to recognize just what he’s talking about…and you know what…I think that inability to really understand has come right on down the ages to us…because as we think about parables, we are supposed to listen to the story and figure out just who it is that we relate to…but in this story…I find that pretty hard to do, particularly in this first portion.

As I mentioned a moment ago we’ve got all kinds of things going on. Sheep hanging out in a pen, guarded by a gatekeeper of some sort…we’ve got random thieves and bandits trying to hop the fence to lead the sheep away…we’ve got a shepherd that comes through the gate and calls out to his sheep. (pause)

So who are we? And who is God? What about Jesus? Is Satan in there? Or false teachers? Maybe, sounds like it…but are we the sheep? Or are we the gatekeepers blocking others? Is God the shepherd, or is that Jesus? Or is God the gatekeeper and we’re the shepherd when we proclaim the gospel? (pause) No wonder the people listening got confused.

And so Jesus…tries again…and its at this point…the second half of today’s story that Jesus gets a little more blatant…You may have noticed about midway through, when Jesus tries again…he begins with the statement Very truly I tell you…but the actual language is truly truly I say to you…or as anyone has that has sat through confirmation class has heard me say…AMEN AMEN I say to you…and when the original language repeats itself…you better pay attention because its important.

And here…in today’s passage, Jesus actually does tell us just who he is in the story…and the amazing thing is…he is not…anyone…he is not a single character within the original parable…rather, this time when Jesus busts out those two simple words about himself. I am…we hear him say…I am…the gate…and not only that, but he says it twice…guess that means its important right? (pause)
I Am, the gate…and whoever enters the sheep pen by me shall be saved and will go in and come out and find pasture…and if that’s the case, well I guess we really are the sheep aren’t we…but then if we’re the sheep that enter and exit the pen through the gate, what exactly is this pasture that we find? (pause)

Well, think like a sheep for a second…pasture is where they find food…where they run and jump…where they flock together…quite simply pasture…is where the sheep finds life…and as Jesus himself tells us, he came to give us life and to give it ABUNDANTLY.

And just what is an abundant life? One free of sin and death…and that my friends is the life that is granted to us by Christ himself…for not only is he the gate…but he also says that I am the way, the truth, and the life…no one comes to the father except through me…and so we see that our abundant life is one that we live in relationship with the Father…and there is no other way to get there then to follow the one that leads the sheep…the one that calls them by name.

And that’s an important point right there…that we are called by name…and you’ve heard me preach on this before…that the name which we are called by is beloved child of God…a name granted to each and every one us in the waters of our baptism…when we hear the promises of God that through Jesus Christ our sin is forgiven and we are no longer subject to the power of death…because in our baptism we join with Jesus in a death like his so that we might also join with him in a life like his…a life that he has promised to be abundant.

Today, Julie Hedegaard will affirm the promises made for her in her baptism…just as a week ago 5 of her peers did the very same thing…today, Julie will affirm the fact that she is a beloved child of God, named and claimed by her Father in Heaven. Today…she will declare for herself…that I am…a child of God…a distinction given to her through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ….and one given to you all.

Because He is the gate…and whoever approaches the pen, which I believe to be the kingdom of heaven, which is present here and now, present when we live our lives in relationship with the father…then we are living the promise that Jesus has made that whoever enters through him will be saved. And so I ask you today, who is a child of God, it is my hope and prayer that you will raise your hand…and declare with confidence…I AM. Amen.