Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
This Easter thing was really starting to take off by the end of Acts 2! The “church” (and there was still only one at this time) was devoted to some pretty amazing things: teaching, fellowship, communion and prayers.
Ever long for “the good old days” when those were the things we focused on…instead of board meetings, ecclesiastical folderol, soothing the saints’ hurt feelings and such?
Though not particularly a proponent of the “recover the church of the 1st century” type of movements, I do think there is something to be said for asking ourselves: how did we get sidetracked from these things? And how could we get back some of our “devotion?”
It’d be nice to see a few added to our number (as opposed to the inverse of addition) for a change, don’t you think?
Are you kidding? Me — comment on Psalm 23?
It is pretty obvious why the Committee for Consultation on Common Texts pairs this “Shepherd Psalm” with the gospel reading from John 10, concerning the voice of the shepherd. The Lord is a faithful Shepherd, performing everything expected of a competent sheepherder…and then some!
All analogies are limited, and even this beautiful metaphor isn’t perfect. But, the words have proved meaningful for many thousands of years. This is one of those passages that you just read…then let it do its work.
What does it mean to you to have the Lord as your “shepherd?” In what ways do you think God might call you to be a “shepherd” to others on God’s behalf?
1 Peter 2:19-25
Peter was no doubt mindful of the Isaiah 53 background of this text: “All we like sheep have gone astray…” (v.6) and “by his wounds we are healed…” (v. 5.)
Wounds were something that many of his listeners were evidently familiar with. He speaks to slaves who have been beaten by their masters, presumably unjustly. Peter draws a connection for them, reminding them that all of Christ’s wounds were undeserved.
It is perhaps difficult for today’s preacher to parallel the experience of being beaten as a slave for our congregants. Maybe we are accused unfairly from time to time in our experience; few, if any of us, will ever be beaten for “standing up for what is right.”
Still, like the slaves of Peter’s times, if we deserve such accusation, that’s one thing. If we are innocent, God will have to take care of it. It may not seem like much comfort, but Jesus understands.
Can you say that you are called to suffer in any way on behalf (or with) others? What can you say about the ways that you actually suffer?
In today’s reading, Jesus presents himself as the gate of the sheep pen, the place where the sheep are kept safe and secure. It is not actually until verse 11 that he says, “I am the good shepherd.” But that’s probably close enough, since most of us are going to naturally use the shepherd metaphor for this sermon, anyway!
What we do learn about Jesus — whether gate or keeper or shepherd — is that he has come to do the opposite of the “thief,” who wants to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus has come to bring life, and to bring it “abundantly.”
What a cool word: perissos in Greek, which in this context means, “superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon.” (Thayer/Smith Greek lexicon, online here) Again, whatever else may be said about the life Jesus came to share with us — and that we share in our Easter faith — it is way, way better than pretty much anything else we can imagine!
What way is your life “abundant” in Christ?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
This is, traditionally, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It is, again traditionally, a “warm and fuzzy” kind of day. This makes sense: sheep are, after all, very warm and fuzzy. And Jesus? Well, there’s the ultimate warm and fuzzy guy of all time – at least that’s the way I heard it in Sunday School.
“Sweet Jesus, meek and mild.” “Suffer the little children to come unto him.” “Come unto me who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world” Sing it with me, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Ah. Yep, that Jesus sure is a sweet guy – the warmest and the fuzziest.
And brave. Kind of a first century Captain America. Maybe “Centurion Palestine.” HMMM, I need to work on that. Anyway, he’s got a rod and a staff; maybe we can add a supercharged chariot and a really cool costume. Warm, fuzzy, protective, non-threatening – that’s the Jesus of the day on Good Shepherd Sunday.
But – there are other images in these texts; images that are not so comforting; images that are, in fact, downright disturbing. These are images that show a darker and more complex Jesus and a darker and more complex vision of the life of faith.
Starting with the Gospel lesson – there’s all this talk about thieves breaking in and bandits sneaking off with the sheep, etc. Who are the thieves and bandits? Are they those things that look better to us than following Jesus? Okay, fair enough; but honestly, a careful reading of the New Testament makes a lot of things look better than following after Jesus.
Look, look here in Acts. You have to give away all your stuff. Really? Seriously? All of it? Really? Everything? But, but, I like my stuff. I mean, I have a “Sid Bream Sliding Into Home With the Winning Run in the 1991 National League Playoffs” bobble-head. I was there that night. Do I have to give that up? And my books – seriously, I like my books and nobody else would want them – they’re old and ragged and marked up and written in and they’re about religion and history and nobody cares about that stuff anymore. You were serious about that?
You mean you want me to get rid of all my stuff and trust God and my fellow Christians for my future – while I share whatever I have with those who need it? Get outta here; you have got to be kidding.
And look over here in 1 Peter – look at this stuff about enduring suffering. Well, part of it makes sense: the whole you do bad stuff, you suffer, you endure it like a real trooper. That makes sense in a lex talionis, eye-for-an-eye, instant karma, what goes-around-comes-around, keep a stiff upper lip, schoolyard sense.
But this other part- the part about “you do good and you suffer and you endure it wordlessly and you endure” and that’s supposed to be a good thing? That’s, that’s, that’s un-American, that’s what that is. (Which is the same thing as being un-Christian isn’t it? Well, isn’t it? Well, maybe not.) I mean, this country was built on standing up for yourself and your rights. “Don’t tread on me.” “Get back or I’ll sue.” What’s all this about enduring being treated wrongly wordlessly?
Does being a Christian mean you have to let people walk all over you?
Well, this certainly isn’t “warm and fuzzy” Jesus will take care of you. This is scary and confusing, apparently not only to me, but to the disciples. Listen again to verse six of the gospel, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Which, being interpreted, means “Uh? What? Did you get that?”
1 Peter 2: 21 holds the key to understanding all this – “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” Jesus suffered for us; we are called to suffer for others. It is a recurring theme with Jesus. The father sent me, I send you. I forgive you, you forgive others. I feed you, you feed others. I heal you, you heal others. I suffer for you, you suffer for others. I shepherd you, you shepherd others.
For too long, we have read our Gospel lesson from only one point of view. We have seen ourselves, the church, as the sheep and Jesus as the Shepherd who calls and protects us. But there is another way to read it. A further-along-the faith-road way to read it. The others, the world, the “lost,” the hurting, hungry, confused, oppressed, put-upon and preyed-upon world of others are the sheep; and we, we are the shepherds – we are called to be shepherds to the world.
Not just the world half-way around the globe but the world that starts with the person in the pew next to you and extends out the door and down the street across the country and over the seas to the ends of the earth.
It is not a warm and fuzzy calling, but it is a calling to an “abundant life.” A life abundant with things that matter rather than things that just fill up space. A life abundant with caring for others, most especially for those who don’t matter to anyone else. A life rich with concerns so important that you will willingly suffer because of them and for them.
There is a world full of hurting and needy people walking through the valley of the shadow today. Will you take up your rod and your staff and walk with them? Will you give up your comforts so that they may have necessities? Will you suffer so that their suffering might end? Will you help Jesus shepherd the world?
Amen and amen.