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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter - 4/13

The Good Shepherd Among Us

Easter IV (“Good Shepherd Sunday”)
April 13, 2008
John 10:1-10
Bethany Lutheran Church

I do not like sheep. They are such smelly little creatures who are both almost completely helpless and quite dumb. While on a hike through England’s lake district, two friends and I happened upon a young sheep who was crying helplessly on our path. Its mother and one sibling were safely corralled in the shepherd’s field, but this one somehow managed to escape through a hole in the fence and found itself stuck on the other side, having forgotten how to get back. We tried to grab hold of the sheep to lead it back through the gate, but it wasn’t easy. The mother sheep kept trying to run out of the gate and out of the field, while the young sheep did not trust our intensions. It wasn’t until my friends and I stretched out our arms and slowly crept toward the young sheep, limiting the number of directions in which it could run. At the last possible instant as the sheep started running down the path, one of us flung open the gate and blocked the path. The young sheep had no other choice than to reenter the field where it was finally reunited with its mother. While this stunt would have probably been amusing to watch, I came away quite muddy and slightly annoyed at the stupidity of the sheep.

What is perhaps more frustrating is that in today’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable in which he seems to suggest that we are like the sheep. I do not think Jesus is suggesting that we are cute and cuddly little creatures like sheep, rather we are like sheep in our foolishness.

The sheep know the voice of the shepherd and follow him, but that does not stop the sheep from getting lost on occasion. The sheep easily get distracted on something else and stop listening for the voice of the shepherd. It isn’t until they are lost or in danger that they recall the voice of the shepherd, hoping to hear it calling out to them yet again.

We too are like sheep. We know the voice of God. We have heard the voice of God and we have committed ourselves to following our Lord. But we too still get lost on occasion. We, too easily, get distracted on money, possessions, fancy cars and buildings, and the like. We are too easily captivated by advertising – billboards and commercials that tell us not only what we need but why we that particular product. Occasionally we too forget the voice of the shepherd. We forget the voice of God that tells us to remember the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned. It isn’t until we find ourselves in our own desperate situations, caught in the ravine or among wolves, that we hope to once again hear the voice of the shepherd. We hope to hear it because it is the voice that brings us comfort amidst the chaos

Not everyone wants to hear the voice of the shepherd though, for to them it would mean defeat, it would mean admitting ones own failings and mistakes. Hearing the voice of the shepherd could be an embarrassment, a reminder of ones own foolishness and humiliation. But the sure clear voice of God is not about counting sins, pointing out each and every last mistake, rather it is the voice that brings comfort amidst the chaos.

But where does that voice come from? Turn to the person next to you because there is the answer. Turn to the person next to you. [This is not a rhetorical request.] Turn to the person next to you and look. There are the marks of Christ. Look at their forehead. Do you see the mark of the cross? Onto every child of God, the cross has been imprinted with some of the most precious oil, following baptism. Those of you who are parents, retrace the mark of the cross on your child’s forehead and remind them just how precious a child of God they really are. And since all of us children, despite whether we are 4 – 24 – or 94, since we all need to constantly be reminded, let us retrace the cross on each others’ forehead.

The voice of the good shepherd, the voice of Jesus, our risen Lord, comes through each of us. Christ’s cross has been planted throughout the world onto each baptized child of God. God knows how often and how easily we fall into disbelief and so God invites us to gather here in this place, week after week after week to come and revel in the stories. To share with one another the stories of what God has done and continues to do throughout the world. And God knows that for us, stories alone are not enough. So Christ comes among us through each other.

Christ comes among us through koinonia as it is described in our reading today from Acts. Koinonia is a Greek word for which we have no English equivalent that completely captures its fullest meaning. Koinonia is the word that is given to describe a community of people who gather together to break bread, to pray for one another, to fellowship with one another, who give what they have to the poor. Koinonia is the word that is given to a community of people who not only embrace the spiritual and sacramental needs and dimensions of the community, but the economic needs as well. Koinonia is the word that describes a community which, even though not all of its members may agree with one another, its members agree to disagree and still continue to pray for one another, continuing to seek their unity in the body of Christ. Koinonia is the word that describes the community that in having received the Holy Spirit, having been filled with the body of Christ, it becomes the body of Christ.

Jesus goes with each of us into the world and he is calling us to those places that are scary, those places that are not necessarily comfortable. He is calling us to venture into the alleys and street corners, to the other side of the tracks, where the homeless shelters are filled to capacity and more Habitat Houses are needed. God is calling us to those places. And when we arrive, let us greet everyone we find there with the words “peace be with you.” Let us embrace them into the koinonia and proclaim to them “Alleluia, Christ has risen”

Let us go even further. Let us go out to those who are hospitalized and homebound. Let us go out to those who, for whatever reason, could not make it to church today. People of God, the church needs you to share the wonderful gifts that you have been given from God to the whole world. Take your family, take your friends, and take the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ because I guarantee you there will be plenty left over. Take it to the hospitals. Take it to the shut-ins. Take it into all of the alleyways and to every street corner where the prostitutes, the beggars and the homeless are found. Take it to them, because they are as much in need of the fellowship of the body of Christ as we are. Go to them and embrace the fullness of the koinonia in which we live. Embrace the church’s mission to do God’s work with your hands.

The good shepherd is calling each of us to a life that is full of abundance, and it is a remarkable thing that if you truly believe and trust that there is and will be an abundance, even when they seem scarce, people are more apt to share what they have. And so we are called to give not only out of abundance but also out of scarcity.

A Mekane Yesus church in Gambella, Ethiopia regularly gathers stalks of grain and wheat during their harvesting season. These long, seven or eight foot stalks are brought to the church when the community gathers for its worship and are placed behind the altar. There is no wealthy benefactor of this congregation, there are no monster tractors to cut and water the stalks, rather they are the work of the people. Each person brings with them stalks from their own food supply, they place them behind the altar as an offering of thanks to God for all that God has given them. The stalks are then carried to the dwellings of the poor and sick in the village.

Even when we give out of scarcity, when we give out of koinonia, we discover that there is enough for the whole community. And it is in living in koinonia, in breaking bread together, in praying for one another, in attending to the economic situations of the poor, that we see the good shepherd abiding among us.

Vicar Luke Smetters

 

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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