Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Handsome Shepherd

What do you need to be rescued from? What do you look for in a Saviour? These are questions that we encounter through the Gospel this week. It is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Sunday when Jesus tells a group of Pharisees who are disputing with Jesus over the man who has just been giving his sight, that he is the Good Shepherd and that he will give his life for the sheep.

Some important things we ought to keep in mind about shepherds. They are not the friendliest people. The are often out on their own with the flock and they are often outcast from the community. They are the sole defenders of the flock. They must know where the pastures are for the flock to eat, how long to stay and when to go. They need to be experts in the art of defense and of first aid. The staff is to drawn in the sheep to care for them and the rod is for defense of the flock and self.

And sheep, I am sorry to say, need rescue. Often. They are not the brightest of creatures. They get hurt and get lost on a regular basis. Here is something important about them though. They will not follow just anybody. They follow the voice of the one who cares for them. The shepherd is there for them from the moment they are born to the moment of their death. The shepherd is their life and they follow his voice – to whatever end. But they also are attacked by other, wild animals and they wander off to find better pastures and more food and need to be rescued.

The Gospel this week (John 10.11-21) is very much a parallel between the shepherd and the sheep along with Jesus and the Church. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Church are his sheep. It should be noted that the Pharisees are there too, as hirelings, though the picture of who they are is not flattering. They know and see this in what Jesus is saying and object to being painted as runaways.

Much of this section of the Gospel is the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus – a polemic about who the true leader (shepherd) is. The Church affirms Jesus as the ‘Good’ or ‘handsome and effective’ Shepherd. In doing so, there is also laid down for the leaders within the Church community, a pattern for ministry that asks, even demand everything of a shepherd, a pastor. Pastors cannot escape pain and suffering for the life of the flock, it is inherent in the life of those who do ministry and lead the community. It is what is meant, at least in part, by calling Jesus, “good”.  Ministry is more than a job or even a profession. It is a vocation (Latin: vocation), a calling. We called first to know God and to be known by God then we are sent to make God known in the world. Ministry is not about what a particular person does, but rather how the community through all its people, serves God in the world.

Think of it this way: growing up, we had lots of animals. Horses, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats amongst others. The interesting thing is that the animals knew who the real care taker was. Mom. I could feed them and do things for them, but it was always obvious where their true affections lay. The response to mom was deeper and more real than to anyone else. The same needs to be true for the Church where Jesus is concerned. Jesus gives through sacrifice of himself and his life. Pretenders don’t… they won’t let it all on the line when it matters. That’s the difference. They come in some other way and in doing so they are not able to bring life. They are not able to submit to the Father and to his will and so actually end up stealing life instead of giving it.

The very presence of Jesus in this place in this moment, creates division and marks out those who are the Israel of God. He knows them and they follow him because they know his voice. What can he rescue you from? Will you follow him?


Monday, April 9, 2018

What things do you need to get off your chest?

“What things?” – what a great question to ask someone who needs to get some things off their chest. In the hours and days since the accident just outside Nipawin, Saskatchewan, where there were so many lives lost.  There have been many in this community who have had things that they need to share and "to get off their chests". The hurt, disappointment and anger that they feel at the loss of life and the sense of helplessness to do anything about it. this is of course coupled with the outpouring of kindness and compassion for those who have survived and who are grieving. The outpouring of care and compassion for the afflicted and the grieving has been nothing short of incredible with awesome sauce!  

Therefore, I think that the Gospel in these Easter Days are especially potent right now. In listening to the spiritual leaders in the City of Humboldt, there is one thing that I wished I had heard: that there is hope and that there is life in Jesus. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death – that means that death is already defeated, and we are, even in this moment in the presence of the Shepherd who is our defense and our life. Jesus is Lord and he is here. We are with him.

In the Gospel this week (Luke 24.36-49) Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room after he has spent time with two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus and becomes known to them through the breaking of bread (Luke 24.13-35).

How do we know Jesus? We see and know him because of the Word, in hearing it read to us, in reading it ourselves and in having it proclaimed to us by knowledgeable preachers. Know him in the Breaking of bread and in prayer. Know and see Jesus amid the Christian community – the life and worship of the Church. a

Bring people to faith starts with where they are not where you expect or want them to be. Did you notice where Jesus started with the two on the road? He asked them what they were talking about as they walked along together – what matters in your relationship, that you would talk about it? Answer to Jesus’ question? Are you stunned? Our dreams and our hopes have been dashed because of what has just happened in Jerusalem.

“What things?” and the pair explain, maybe with distain all the things they saw and experience around the arrest, rejection and execution of Jesus. Important to this, is the fact that Jesus listened to them – the sharing of their sorrow and disappointment becomes a prayer that God can answer. He counseled them out of the Scriptures and what they knew to show himself to them and then shared himself with them in the Meal so that they knew that they knew it was really him. In response they went back to the city to declare it.  

So, there are some simple things that we need to know, to understand and to do to help others to see and to know Jesus: (tip of the hat to Becky Pippert and her Book “Out of the Salt Shaker”)

1.       Get the story in. We need to know and understand what you know from the Scriptures – not responsible for what you do not know, only for what you know and can teach another. In the kingdom’s economy, we teach and uphold one another. That is what Jesus did for the two on the road; he upheld them in their grief. He encouraged them to believe and prepared the ground for them to be solid. He reveled himself to them when they were ready for the revelation.

2.       Get the Story straight. – for the two on the road, he made them aware of the Scriptures and what the Scriptures had to say about him and all that he was going to go through. He helped them to connect the dots so that the could come to understand what it was that God wanted of them next. In doing so, in drawing them closer to himself, he set their hearts on fire so that

3.       Get the Story out. Come to the table to get fed then get back to it – they went back to the rest of the community, in the dark and through the danger to make Jesus’ presence known to the others, to discover Jesus has already been doing the same thing. We are the bread that Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and shares with the rest of the world – go into this community and the rest of the world to help people eat and live. There is a time to tell our story and we need to learn to tell it well.

The Gospel because of the peace of God, because of the presence and mercy of Christ, has the power to move us from fear to faith; from misery to mercy; from confusion and despair into mystery, full of awe and wonder.  We need that, so that we can get the story in, get it straight and then get it out to others, especially in this time of grief and mourning. We need to let people know there is hope and there is life with Christ and we want to share it all with them.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. – Psalm 116.15