Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. between now and May 31, 2020, for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Acts 2:42–47 | Psalm 23 | 1 Peter 2:19–25 | John 10:1–10
I Peter underlines the importance of context: These words may be helpful to stop escalating violence, perhaps for those who already have power and privilege—but would be completely out of line for someone in a situation of domestic violence. This is not suffering for the sake of suffering—just like with Jesus—but encouragement toward a stance that gets at God’s ultimate justice as opposed to what we think at the moment is unfair. Jesus certainly had power at his disposal and yet chooses the way that brings us closer to God. And when we also have power, we are called to lift one another up—and not engage in a tit-for-tat competition that furthers the degradation of the vulnerable: Which is historically what people are prone to do. When vulnerability becomes apparent (and maybe this gist of this reading it to expose it) then we see God’s very self: in Christ for example. And we are exposed by our response: Of God or not. (And there’s also the returning to the shepherd stuff . . . so on to John 10).
Like these metaphors around the care and feeding of sheep: We have sheep, a shepherd, thieves and bandits, a neutral gatekeeper and finally—an inanimate object—the gate to the fold. Jesus takes a few tries at this one. An overarching theme is danger with those who steal and kill and destroy. You can identify these because they don’t use the honest, straightforward way. They sneak. They use whatever means they can to exploit the vulnerable—as often happens with power—Shepherd was commonly used for the “king” or “leader”—hence why the OT is always referring to “the justice and righteousness of God.” So, as sheep—better to stick with the one whom the gatekeeper recognizes and lets in and out: That is the one with the best interest of the sheep at heart. Who, that is, is worth trusting? Be aware then, of people—but also of structures and ideas and activities that do not keep ALL the charges of the shepherd safe and well. (ALL)
Along with this warning, Jesus is trying to direct the understanding of what goodness looks like; to help describe the intersection of God and human activity. (Remember that metaphors can only be pushed so far and then they stop working). And it might be a lot less spectacular than we think. :) The sheep just kind of go in and out with the shepherd; they follow along, recognizing the trustworthy voice; and to borrow also from wonderful Psalm 23—there’s still waters, green pastures (this morning, outdoors), lying down (we’ll hear it in the hymn after the sermon). When things come up like the valley of the shadow of death, they just keep walking with the shepherd. In some ways, what choice do they have? But the shepherd is there. Again, it doesn’t seem like much—especially to a people who love to have control over our destiny—as we do. Who like to be unique. Who fear being perceived as passive and ineffectual. But maybe we can simplify and let go as “sheep”—growing closer to God and the peace we seek.
(Also, note that there’s Jesus as gate—another metaphor, but not to get caught in thinking we’ve got to get a hold of Jesus since he’s the key to “getting in.” Rather, hearing and staying around Jesus gives us this “going in and out” where we find both sustenance and a haven.)
In times when we feel like we’ve lost control (think about 1 Peter); things are not going the way we want them to, there is still the Good Shepherd. That doesn’t mean that we won’t work for something better; that we won’t protect our vulnerable neighbors who always receive the brunt of the burden in things like pandemics; that we won’t say what is good and what is not: But first, (Gerald May) “… maybe, when people long for sheer love and bare compassion, when they yearn for simplicity of being and naturalness of peace, when they die inside for the simple desire of for liberty and justice, maybe that might become manifest in their relationships, in the groups they form… and maybe, sometimes, in the midst of things going terribly wrong, something is going just right.” If we are with the shepherd, not only is there peace, but a longing for what CAN BE. A sense that IT IS, with the Good Shepherd. In Psalm 23, note that the sheep metaphor changes to that human image of what goodness looks like: “sitting at the table” —sharing a meal. And bam! The people at the table are the enemies. I don’t know if you’ve thought about how strange that is. But remember, our so-called enemies—whether it’s an antagonistic view in our own minds about them, prejudice or something they did personally to truly hurt us—there they are: As is God—who loves and leads and provides and gives peace. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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