Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Listening for the Shepherd’s Voice

Sermon for Easter 4B, April 26, 2015  
John 10:11-18 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

A common camp experience (not me, not my camp, but a familiar scene)
Many years ago, my mom started sending me to Lutheran church camp for a week in the summer. We did all the standard camp things, but one of the parts I loved best was the challenge course. Counselors presented campers with the opportunity to try something new and maybe a little scary, and to learn and grow from it. We did all sorts of things- even walking on ropes high up in the trees- safely, of course. But before we could do those really cool parts, we had to learn to work together, which meant we had to build trust with each other. That practice started with what was called a trust walk.  Maybe you’ve done one. Counselors would pair us up and then one person would be blindfolded, and we would have to go from one side of a meadow to the other, where our snacks and water were waiting. The other person would act as guide, using only their voice.
With the blindfold on for the first time,  I was amazed how a familiar landscape became unrecognizable, how scared I was to not be able to rely on my own abilities and how hard it was to trust someone else to lead me and not send me sprawling over a small obstacle. It took me a while to be able to give myself over wholly to the process and to let go of my fear. I had to come to the realization that I couldn’t get through the meadow on my own, that it really wasn’t the point to see how strong I could be on my own, but to learn to grow in trust of another. I had to surrender to the process and give myself over to being led. But the more I leaned on my guide, following their voice, the better off I was, no matter how hard it was to pick out my guide’s voice in the group. Eventually, by training my ear to my guide’s voice, I became attuned to it and everyone else’s instructions faded a bit.  My guide’s voice became my lifeline.
In our gospel text today, Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me. And how do we know Jesus the shepherd? By his voice.

I recently heard a story about a sheep farmer.  He was at the county fair with some of his sheep, a special and rare breed. Someone approached him, someone from a couple counties over. He asked all sorts of questions about the breed, about the farm and how he raised the sheep.

After the fair was over, the farmer loaded his trailer and brought his sheep home. When he arrived at the barn, he noticed unfamiliar tire tracks, and opening the barn door, he heard nothing but silence. He said he knew immediately what had happened, who had stolen his sheep.

Now, the farmer knew that the fair for the county a couple counties over was yet to come, so a few weeks later, he drove over to the other county fair. There, in the sheep shed were his sheep. Someone had replaced the tags, but he knew his sheep. What was funny, the farmer recalled, was that as soon as he opened his voice, every one of his sheep turned their heads and bleated.  They knew their shepherd. They knew his voice.

Image result for sheep shepherdThat kind of recognition of the shepherd doesn’t come overnight. It takes spending time with the shepherd, listening to the shepherd’s voice every day, and straining to hear the shepherd’s voice when other voices compete for our attention. With the amount of information coming at us all day long, it is easy to be overwhelmed with all the noise. But somewhere in there, the shepherd is calling to us.  How will we know it is the shepherd calling and not the thief?
We know his voice because it gives us life and hope. The verse just before this passage is one of my favorites: John 10:10: “I came that you might have life and have life abundantly.” The shepherd brings life abundant.  Psalm 23 tells us that the good shepherd leads us into verdant pastures and beside still waters.  The good shepherd stays with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and brings us home when we are lost. The voice of the shepherd sounds like home.

Earlier this week, I was thinking about which voices I've been listening to. Sometimes I get caught up in listening to critical or anxious voices, either from myself or from others that increase my fear. In the midst of those voices, the shepherd's voice speaks to me of life abundant. 

Image result for chris boergerI think of when I have heard Christ's reassurances.  I hear it in the voice of our previous bishop, Bishop Chris Boerger, when he is serving at communion.  I hear him saying, "The Body of Christ, for you,".  It's that grace given into our hands, which we receive into our bodies.  The Body of Christ, for you.

I hear my gospels professor, Robert Harry Smith, saying to me, "Abby, Abby, be ye not anxious for the morrow, for the evils of the day are sufficient thereof." which in the modern translation is "Don't be anxious for tomorrow for today has enough trouble for today." That's from Matthew 6, by the way. 


Friends, we so often get lost when we depend on ourselves. We are the blind leading the blind, or the sheep leading other sheep. But the good shepherd comes to seek us out when we wandered off or been led astray. The shepherd loves us and calls us home. We will know him by his loving voice. Amen, thanks be to God. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Feasting with Jesus

Sermon from April 19, 2015, Easter 3B
Luke 24:36-48 36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

A few weeks ago on Palm Sunday, the Sunday School classes completed a series of classes on communion. On that last day, kids joined adults to make a picture of who was welcome at communion, which if you’ve seen the picture in the hallway, you’ll see that it’s everyone. They also baked bread for communion, and they wrote prayers to pray before taking communion. Somehow during that class, the presence of Jesus became real for my son who is almost 5, because that night, as he and I were setting the table for Sunday dinner, he had an idea. “I’m going to set a place for Jesus and his wife.”  I don’t know about Jesus’ wife, but at our house, we often pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” We ask Jesus to be a guest at our house, to join us in our meal. But rarely do we think about what it would be like if he actually showed up.

Carravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
Can you even imagine what those disciples thought when Jesus showed up? Luke tells us that they were startled and terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost, or as the Greek says, a pneuma, a spirit.  But Jesus says to them, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones like I have”. And to prove it, he shows them his hands and feet, just like John told us in the story of Thomas, which we heard last week.

But here’s where the story veers in another direction. Because instead of proclaiming, “My Lord and my God,” they still need a little more understanding. In their joy, they were still disbelieving and they were amazed.

Image result for honey in honeycombSo Jesus says, “Hey, ya got anything to eat here?”
And so they give him a piece of broiled fish, and according to some texts, and honey from a bit of honeycomb.
And then they knew him.

Of course.  They knew Jesus by his wounds, like Thomas did.  Jesus was the one who loved and befriended all sorts of people who screwed up, so they knew Jesus by his wounds, as the one who knew vulnerability and didn’t leave them in imperfection while he took on perfection.  But they not only know Jesus because of the wounds. What really seals the deal for them and identifies Jesus is eating with him.

Remember that eating together in Biblical times was more than just sitting in the same space. It meant claiming one another in community and being identified with one another. If you ate with someone who was unclean, you were unclean. If you ate with sinners, you were a sinner. Or if you ate with those who were honored, you were honored. Who you ate with mattered. Jesus, a rabbi, a holy teacher, sat at table with all sorts of people, feeding them in miraculous ways and healing relationships, simply by sharing a meal.

Jesus was one who sought out the lost and the least, those pushed out to the margins, those who were broken in body, mind, spirit, or relationship. He ate with them and talked with them and healed them. That’s the Jesus they saw when he ate the broiled fish and the honey from the honeycomb. They recognized Jesus in the sharing of the meal.
What Jesus did next surely astonished these disciples, because Jesus then opened their minds to the scriptures and then commissioned them, giving them a new job. If they had been disciples, students following a rabbi, now they were apostles, ones sent out with a task- to share in all nations the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

What a monumental task that must have seemed to that little band of disciples.
And yet think of how Jesus did that very thing.  He did it meal by meal, meeting people of all kinds, people who were good and kind and righteous and people who had made mistakes and were mean and criminal.  He ate and talked with all of them.

Copyright Dan Erlander
As Jesus’ apostles, ones sent out to share this good news of Jesus, we are invited to feast with Jesus, to be healed and restored and fed by Jesus. And we are invited to sit and God’s table with all those Jesus claims, which, as our Sunday School kids will tell you, is everyone.  There’s a place at the table for us all with the risen Lord. Jesus asks us to be his guest today, and then sends us out to feast with all of his beloved people outside these walls. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A kinder place

I grew up in a household that valued education.  My mom was a teacher, the first in her family to go to college. Some of my earliest memories are playing school, with my older sister Ahna playing the well-informed teacher. Ahna and I not only loved playing school, we loved attending school. We were both pretty good at academics, and both of us went to college after high school, followed by graduate school.

But I've always been aware that what comes easily to me isn't always easy to other people.  My story isn't universal, even in my family.
Image result for cheering from the sidelines
I have an older sister named Jennifer.  She's nine years older than I.  In addition to some other challenges in life (like being hearing-impaired), Jen also has some learning disabilities. I've never been exactly clear what they are, but I know school wasn't always easy for her. And now, at the age of 42, she is in her first year of college. I couldn't be prouder of her.  She's figuring out reading and writing and studying.  It's not always easy for her. She has to have pluck and determination and fortitude. I get to cheer her on.

Maybe it's because of my sister, but I've always been mindful of people whose brains work a little differently.  Our world as a whole isn't designed for that kind of diversity.

 Take dyslexia for example. This image is what some people have imagined to be what words might look like for a person with dyslexia.

So when I heard about a new project to develop a font designed for people with dyslexia, I was really excited.

What would it be like if schools and churches and businesses used this font? What if my church used this font?  What worlds would it open up to kids (and adults for that matter) who struggle to read?

Image result for martin luther
Lutherans like lots of written words.  Martin Luther was a big fan of the written word, and that seems to be part of our heritage. But that love of words can be an obstacle for people who aren't great readers.

What would it be like to have a newsletter and a bulletin in dyslexie? What about a hymnal and a Bible?

That vision extends beyond my reach, but the little kindnesses I can do in my own community are within my reach.  Our congregation council has just voted to experiment with Dyslexie for a year.

Maybe. as you read this post, you'll think of people like my sister- who are brave and smart and have worked hard- and help me in making the world a kinder place.