In Any Other Story

Inspired by Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27, and John15:26-27, 16:4-15

So I was teaching the kids on Wednesday night, and we were exploring the story of the fall of Adam and Eve. We read from a children’s Bible called The Jesus Storybook Bible, and I absolutely loved the way that the story “ended.” Allow me to share it with you now, this is how that story “ends”, “But before they left the garden, God made clothes for them, to cover them. God gently clothed them and then he sent them away on a long, long journey—out of the garden, out of their home. Well, in another story, it would all be over and that would have been…the end. But not in this story.”

In any other story this would be the end, but not this story. So much hope and promise in that one phrase! And it is that phrase that is going to carry us through this Pentecost. For those who may not know, Pentecost is the day of the church year that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, hence the color red, symbolizing the fire in our story from Acts that we heard a moment ago. And of course, this is the day that preachers get to preach on something that we can’t see! As if preaching wasn’t hard enough as it is! But enough of my bellyaching!

Major life transitions are hard, and they come in all shapes and sizes. A death in the family can not only be sad but can also be a major life transition that then has to be navigated. Caring for an aging parent could be another one. Something seemingly simple as a schedule change can wreak havoc on a family’s equilibrium. Financial woes can be another source of transition. Relationship breakups of any kind are yet another kind of life transition. I could go on and give you more examples of major life transitions but the one thing that I wanted to point out is this, unlike a typical family who usually only has to deal with one maybe two of these at the same time, a church family, just like us here at Bethlehem, have to deal with all of them, not just all at once, but constantly.

When your family is as large as a church this size, life transitions are around every corner! When your family is this large, there’s just no escaping them! Think about it, financial woes, check! Schedule change, one worship service at 9:30, check! Death, we’ve had plenty of that, check! Aging members, check! Sick members, check! People leaving the church cuz they are unhappy about something, that’s been happening for 76 years here at Bethlehem, and 2000 years worldwide and it’s not going to stop any time soon, check!

Again, when your family is this large, life transitions are around every corner and they’re constant! It’s both the blessing and the curse of being in a large family. And life transitions may bring stress and discomfort. That sounds like a commercial for a new medication. Maybe that’s how we should market our church! We’ll start out with all the wonderful things you’ll get from being part of our community and then at the end will add a disclaimer, “May cause stress, discomfort, and irritation commonly found in most families only 30 times as bad!”

I mention this because when you are part of an organization, like a church family, and experience its constant life transitions, it can feel like something is wrong, because it is so much more amplified and constant than what we experience in our little families at home. But the truth it, there is nothing wrong, it’s just life in a big family. There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s nothing wrong with me, there’s nothing wrong with us.

Well, other than the fact that we are imperfect beings but that’s what Jesus is for right? In spite of that however, we have this tendency, to not only feel like there’s something wrong, but to also be in this constant state of stress, discomfort, fear, and sometimes even a state of communal depression, if you will. When there’s really no need because this is just life in a big family. And I tell you that in the hopes of easing some of that distress that I know many of you are experiencing. And what could ease even more of that for you?

The Holy Spirit! So let’s talk about her! I noticed a common thread in all of our readings for today that I’m hoping will give you as much hope and positivity as it did me. Lord knows we could use some positivity around here. Amen? Many have said that the Day of Pentecost is like the Holy Spirit’s birthday. But that’s not very theologically accurate because she is a manifestation of God, and therefore, has always been.

So, the Day of Pentecost is more like her coming-out day. Think of it this way, up until that day, the Holy Spirit worked behind the scenes, under the radar. Her presence was felt, the results of her work could be seen, but then on the Day of Pentecost, it was time for her to burst onto the scene, flames and all, literally, to be seen and heard by the world. No longer relegated to the shadows, she could now do her work out in the open.

And she does this by giving a very peculiar gift in our story from Acts. She gives them the ability to speak in different languages and everyone could hear them in their own language. Now, the story that may come to your mind is the tower of Babel. That’s the story in the Hebrew scriptures where people tried to build a tower high enough to reach God, but God put a quick stop to that and just to be sure they didn’t try that again, God gave them all different languages.

That’s how the Bible explains the world’s different languages. Cute, I know? Anyway, fast forward a few thousand years and you have the Holy Spirit bringing people together by allowing everyone to understand what is being said in spite of a language barrier. But this barrier didn’t matter to the Holy Spirit! Why? Because she does whatever she wants to do! She is God! And nothing, not even a language barrier is going to get in her way! In any other story, speaking in other languages would have been the end, but not in this story! The Holy Spirit will not be stopped!

From Paul’s letter to the Roman church we read of the way the Holy Spirit works through our lives no matter the obstacles she may face: our groaning, our suffering, our pain, our weakness, our lack of prayer, our searching. Nothing! Maybe in some other story this would be the end! But in this story, nothing will get in the way of the Holy Spirit doing what she does best in the world, helping those in need of some help, assisting those who need some assistance, guiding those in need of some guidance. And isn’t that all of us? I mean, raise your hand if you don’t need God’s help! Y’all better keep your hands down!

And lastly, we have our passage from the Gospel of John, and yet again, we have the Holy Spirit working in the world, this time, according to John, in spite of our sin, in spite of our wrongdoings, in spite of our mistakes, she will still speak to us, guide us, and help us make any necessary course corrections. This is a big one because we get so scared of making a mistake, that it paralyzes us into inaction. Too often we choose to do nothing, rather than risk making a mistake.

Just take a look at how long it took us to make the decision to go to one service! And odds are, there are some that think it’s a mistake, as if it’s the end of Bethlehem! The Holy Spirit must get the biggest kick out of that! I swear she must laugh her butt off over us! I can see her just shaking her head and saying to Jesus, “Look at ‘em. They think their mistakes are gonna to stop me. Aren’t they adorable! Look at how much power they think they have over me!” And they laugh!

There is nothing you can do or say that will get in the Holy Spirit’s way of working her magic on you, on this place, at this hour, on this community, in this city, in our hearts, in our minds, nothing will stop her, not even us! Maybe in some other story! But not in this story. So let us commit to God, and more importantly, to each other, that we will live like this is a beginning, and not an end! Let us pray.

God of all times and places, you are the source of all goodness and mercy. Thank you for gathering us here, all together, to hear your promises once again. Give us the courage and strength and whatever else you know we need to greet each day as if it was our first and not our last, filled with hope and expectation. Encourage us to be a source of positivity to each other, so that before we share a word of negativity or critique, we ask ourselves just how necessary it really is. Help us O God to relieve each other’s distress, not add to it, because living in a big family is challenging enough. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayerfully Sent

Inspired by John 17:6-19

If there was ever an example of why the Gospel of John is my least favorite Gospel, this passage that I just read is it. Aside from the wondering what John was on while he wrote this, I can’t tell if it is just so deep and philosophical that it goes right over my head, or, if it’s just John’s stream of thought kind of writing! I would love to have a conversation with John someday because I bet, he was a rambler. We all know a rambler. They could be the kind that repeats stories a lot to you.

Or those people that you could say anything to, anything, and they’ll have a story about, that leads to another story, that leads to another story. You could say, pineapple doorknobs, and they will have some kind of story that somehow connects to pineapple doorknobs! You all know the kind I’m talking about! And if you’re thinking right now, I don’t know anyone like that. Then it might be you! I’m just kidding with you! Not really.

Anyway, once I get past the frustration of dealing with John the rambler, there is some real beauty in today’s Gospel reading. This passage is at the end of Jesus’ farewell discourse, or his loooong goodbye to his closest friends, just before he was arrested, tortured, and executed. The last two Sunday’s Gospel readings have been from this same section of John. As I mentioned last week, Jesus uses these final moments with his closest friends, to deliver his final teachings, and to say goodbye.

Though, they did not fully understand the significance of this goodbye until after Jesus was arrested, tortured, and executed. But even more than some final lessons and goodbyes, Jesus is doing something else. Jesus is sending—sending them out—sending them out into a world that is about to kill him. And so, Jesus prays for them. That’s what this whole passage is, Jesus talking to God, on our behalf.

Let me pause there and share with you a story from my own life that came to mind as I was preparing for today. Picture it, the year is 1993, and I am about to start college, for the first time. I’m getting ready to make the drive from my hometown of Vacaville to Seattle, in my 82’ Nissan Stanza. My mom stops me at the door to give me a gift. I open it and it’s a new watch and I am perturbed. I am perturbed because I don’t wear watches, and my mother knew that, and I wasn’t sure why she would spend her money on something that I don’t use.

And so, I politely say thank you but no thank you; give her and Sara a hug and a kiss, and drive away. I probably didn’t get a minute down the road when the guilt set in, the guilt over rejecting my mom’s gift. And so, I turned around, drove back to my mom’s house, to get the watch. I think Sara was still outside when I drove up, so I asked her to tell my mom I changed my mind about the watch. And of course, my mom was elated.

In hindsight, I think to myself, why did I even do that to begin with? So what if I never planned on wearing it, why would I not accept a gift from my mom? Well, the easy answer is because I was a selfish teenage brat who didn’t always put others needs before my own. And as I look back on that moment as a parent myself, I recognize that she was saying goodbye to her baby boy, with fear and trembling, as any loving parent would. And she wanted to send me with something from her, something special. It may have been a simple watch to my 18-year-old self, but it represented much more than that. It represented all that she was sending me with in addition to that watch: her life lessons that she taught me, her hopes and dreams for me, her prayers, her heart, her love.

With this image of my mom sending me off to college, I hear this prayer of Jesus’ with new ears. Jesus, knowing both the blessings and evils that the world is capable of, sends his friends out into it, with his life lessons that he has taught them for three years, with his hopes and dreams for them, with his prayers, with his heart, with his love. And knowing Jesus, he was scared to death, not for himself, but for them. Though there were many that welcomed Jesus and his message of God’s love for the world, there were also those who did not welcome him, so many that it would cost him his life. And he knew those people would still be around, after he was gone, to make life hard for them, as they did for him. And so, he prays this prayer for them—a prayer of protection, of love, of companionship, a prayer of sending.

As you look back on your own lives, who has sent you out into the world with fear and trembling? Who has sent you out into the world with their hopes and dreams for you? Who has sent you out into the world with their prayers for you? Maybe a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or an older sibling perhaps? Maybe it’s not even a relative: a teacher, a church member, a coach, a friend? Maybe they’re sitting next to you right now! Who are the people in your life that have lost sleep over worry for you?

Who has prayed prayers of protection and safety for you over the years? Who has done everything they could to keep you from experiencing the tragedies that they have had to endure? I want you to take a moment and close your eyes. Picture these people, the ones who have sent you out with their prayers, picture their faces that come to mind. And I want you to say their names out loud. Right now, go ahead.

Whoever it was that you pictured in your mind’s eye, whosever names you said out loud, those are the people that Jesus sent into your life with this prayer. Imagine that, this prayer that Jesus prayed two thousand years ago, is still doing its work in the world today, in your lives today. When Jesus prayed for your protection, for your happiness, those people showed up in your life two thousand years later.

And what a beautiful way to set the stage for next Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the ultimate protector and companion, the Holy Spirit. But first, this prayer of Jesus allows us to recognize those whom God has sent to us, as an answer to that same prayer—which now has me thinking, I wonder who will see us, as an answer to that prayer? But that’s for another day and another sermon. Thanks be to God for all those whom God has sent into our lives, only to send us out, with a firm foundation, and a whole lotta praying. Amen.

Remain in My Death

Inspired by John 15:9-17

My aunt Ann has been on my mind a lot lately. I have no idea why though, all I know is that memories of her have been surfacing quite a bit lately. She died of cancer about 20 years ago. I was probably closer to her than any of my other aunts. I would even stay for a week or two with her every summer in the Bay Area. We fought like cats and dogs the whole time, mostly because I took every opportunity to get under skin. But every year she’d take me back, and I’d willing go, because I knew that she loved me in spite of my bad behavior. She left an impact on my life, taught me many lessons, and so her love for me continues to do its work on me, even to this day. That was her legacy that she left me, a legacy more precious than any inheritance could be.

In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks of the Legacy that he will be leaving behind. But before we get into that let me first give you the context that this story falls in. This passage comes from what has come to be known as Jesus’ farewell discourse or farewell address or what I’ve called Jesus’ loooong goodbye. It’s four long chapters of Jesus’ last conversation with his closest friends before he is arrested, tortured, and executed. He shares with them his final teachings, and it’s also important to remember that this conversation takes place at the table, where he shared his last meal with them as they celebrated Passover. On top of that, he had just finished washing their feet as a sign of being a loving servant-leader. All of that, is the context in which he leaves his legacy with them when he said, “Remain in my love.”

“Remain in my love.” What does that mean though? Jesus could have just as easily said, I love you. But he doesn’t, he says, “Remain in my love.” So let’s break that down a bit. I think, for most of us, when we hear Jesus say, “Remain in my love”, we hear that in a warm fuzzy kind of way. Awwww, isn’t Jesus so sweet! But I’m not convinced that warm fuzzies are what Jesus was going for here, which is where the context that I spoke of earlier comes in, because in that context there are clues as to what kind of love Jesus is talking about. This command of Jesus’, comes during his last meal with them, while he gives them his final teachings, and after he washed their feet, including the feet of Judas, the one who he knew would turn him over to the authorities, leading to his arrest, torture, and execution. And on top of all that, just in case his friends couldn’t put two and two together, Jesus states it very plainly for them and for us, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.”

That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about here. Not the Hallmark kind. No, the kind of love that Jesus is talking about here is the kind that costs you something, maybe everything. Jesus is about to demonstrate to the world what his kind of love looks like as soon as he is done with this last conversation with them. And Jesus is going to do so, on a cross, in one of the most gruesome deaths imaginable. That’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about when he said, “Remain in my love.” And when he says “my love”, it was as if he was saying, my kind of love. Remain in my kind of love. The kind of love that he had been demonstrating to them for the past three years, and ultimately the kind of love that he was about to show them, on the cross.

So, when Jesus said, “Remain in my love”, he could just as easily have said, remain in my death. Now, I know that sounds a bit morbid! It’s one thing to take away our warm fuzzies from this but come on pastor! I get it, but I’m really not saying anything new here. As followers of Christ, we are a people of death and resurrection. We are called to the constant pattern of death and resurrection, death and resurrection. We may love Easter, we may love celebrating the resurrection, but we also know that before we can get there, death must come first. And we are called to that pattern in our everyday lives—but maybe not quite as dramatic, or literal, as Jesus dying on the cross.

Following in the ways of Jesus means serving others, putting others needs before our own, sacrificing for others, dying to ourselves so that others can rise—death and resurrection, death and resurrection. Nothing new here, just another way of expressing this age-old pattern that we are called to as followers of Christ. A pattern that you are well familiar with, whether you would articulate it that way or not. You practice this all the time. Every time you sacrifice your time for someone else’s benefit, every time you sacrifice your money for the ministries of this church which are for someone else’s benefit, every time you stick your neck out for someone else, every time you defend someone, stand up for someone who can’t for themselves, every time you are kind to someone no matter how hard it may be. I know you do these things because I hear stores of the wonderful ways you bring new life to the world around you. And the stories I hear, I’m sure just skim the top.

So, that’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about, his kind of love, the kind that costs something, maybe everything. And Jesus says, remain in it—remain. In other words, don’t let Jesus’ kind of love die with him, but keep it going, make it a permanent fixture in your life. This is the legacy that Jesus has left us, and it’s a legacy that is meant to be used, every day, for the sake of the world, always for the sake of the world. It’s the only way that we are going to make this world a better place—by dying on behalf of others, by sacrificing on behalf of others, even if that dying and sacrificing is in seemingly little ways, like visiting a neighbor in need, or helping a relative fix their house, caring for an aging parent, or sending a text to someone to brighten their day. The examples are endless. All examples of putting others before ourselves.

Bethlehem does this through its various ministries, supported and carried out by you, from feeding the hungry to making quilts and prayer shawls for those in need. And we do these things with the help of some amazing ministry partners like Rise Against Hunger, Gathering Inn, and Operation Elf, just to name a few. All examples of the kind of love that Jesus first gave to us. We are merely reflections of that love first given to us. Our passage started with, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you.” It all starts with God’s love for us, through Christ—through Christ’s kind of love, the kind of love that costs something. For Jesus, it cost everything. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Why Not!

Inspired by Acts 8:26-40

What a fascinating story we have today from Acts! The story takes place after Jesus’ is raised from the dead and goes back to heaven. Jesus followers who are left behind are then given a mission to spread the good news, the gospel, to the ends of the Earth. And the book of Acts is basically the beginning of that work. Jesus followers spread out in different directions sharing the good news of God’s unconditional love. And in this reading, we get a story about what Phillip is up to.

Phillip was headed in the direction of Gaza from Jerusalem when he encounters an African man on the same road that he’s on. Unfortunately, we don’t know the African man’s name but we do know he was from Ethiopia and that he was a eunuch. Now, I hope I don’t need to go into too much detail about what a eunuch was, especially with their being children in the pews and all, but let’s just say that he was sexually ambiguous. And that’ll be important to know here in a minute, but let’s continue with the story for now.

So, Phillip meets this Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza and overhears him reading the Bible, which at the time only contained the Hebrew scriptures, what came to be known as the Old Testament. Phillip asks him, “Do you really understand what you are reading?” And the man says, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then they sit together and discuss the Bible passage that he was reading. Unfortunately, we don’t know all that was said.

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on that wall. But whatever they talked about, led the man to notice a body of water that they were passing and ask this most profound question, “What would keep me from being baptized?” And that’s what I want to focus on today, that question. And I want to focus on it in two different ways: why he was able to ask that question, and how he was able to ask that question.

Let’s start with why. A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel of religious leaders at a PFLAG meeting. For those of you who don’t know, PFLAG stands for Parents, families, and friends of Lesbians and Gays, and was founded in 1973 to work towards inclusivity and equality for the LGBTQ community. So their Placer County chapter asked me to be on this panel and it was fascinating and a great experience for me and hopefully for them too. But maybe the most engaging time was after it was over, when I mingled with the group over a few cookies.

One person, in particular, came up to me and thanked me for being there. She was transgendered and the more and more we talked, she finally stopped me and said, “Wait a second, you mean that I could come to your church and I’d be welcome?” Trying not to get choked up by the fact that she would even have to wonder that, I said, “Of course, why not?” “Well”, she said, “because of this! This might be a lot for them to handle!” As she pointed to her outward appearance.

For so many people in our world, for so many different reasons, they don’t see church as being for them, as being a place that would welcome them, that would accept them just the way they are, that would be comfortable around them. Just like the Ethiopian that Phillip sat and talked with. Because of his status as a eunuch, he was an outsider. Yes, he was given a high-level job in the queen’s court but he was not one of them I guarantee you! He was less than, even according to the Bible, which clearly states that no eunuch could worship in the temple.

But, then he hears the gospel, the good news of Jesus, from Phillip. And after that conversation, what does he conclude? That this good news is for him! It includes him! I don’t know what Phillip said to him exactly, but whatever it was, it caused that Ethiopian eunuch to feel included, welcome, maybe for the first time, and looking for water to be baptized in. I don’t know how you personally define the gospel, the good news, but if how we share the good news with others, does not cause them to immediately conclude that this good news is for them, then we are doing it wrong. Because it’s for everyone my friends, no matter what.

So that’s the why. Why was this man able to ask “What would keep me from being baptized?” Because Phillip shared the good news in such a way that made him think, this is for me! But how was he able to ask this. From a practical standpoint, remember they are riding down a road to Gaza. I mean, think about driving to, I don’t know, Cool. It’s a beautiful drive to Cool but there’s not a whole lot between here and there right? Which is what makes it such a beautiful drive!

So you’re driving to Cool and someone in the car looks out the window and says, “What would keep me from being baptized?” Think of the list of reasons that would go through your head as to why we can’t just pull over and have a baptism. There’s no church! There’s no baptismal font! There’s no pastor! Grandma’s not here! The list of reasons why this is a ridiculous idea would go on and on in your head, as you look out the window as your passing over the American River.

How was that Ethiopian man able to ask, “What would keep me from being baptized?” Because he had a “Why not” attitude! Why not! He looked at Phillip and said, “Why not!” He didn’t see any reason why his baptism couldn’t happen right then and there! He just heard the good news from Phillip and thought, not only is this good news for me, but it’s also for right now, in spite of any challenge that may be present! This is one of the biggest challenges that churches face today. Always with us is what cannot be done. What we don’t have. What we can’t do. What we are not.

Rather than what can be done, what we do have, what we can do, and what we are! We humans can be our own worst enemy! Put your feet in the shoes of a leader, and this is not hard for many of you because many of you are leaders and can relate to what I’m about to say. Now imagine throwing out ideas to the group you are trying to lead, and every time all you get is a laundry list of reasons why we can’t do them. It’s not going to take long before you just stop throwing out ideas right? But now imagine throwing out an idea, and hearing “Why not!”

Why not! Not with a question mark but with an exclamation point! Why not! Let’s give it a shot! As a leader that’d be music to your ears right? Now, I understand that it’s not as simple as that. There has to be a certain level of trust, a certain level of respect, a certain level of love, courage, faith. But none of that stuff is even necessary unless we first come to a challenge like that Ethiopian, and exclaim “Why not!” If you want a real-life demonstration of this sometime, throw out an idea to any one of our staff, Callan, Jeff, Owen, or Lisa. I cannot remember the last time I heard them say no to an idea. You will always hear from them, “Why not! Let’s try it! Let’s give it a shot!” Which is why they are such incredible staff. Thank God for them.

Let us pray. God of endless possibilities and opportunities, we thank you for never tiring of our unwillingness to try something out of the ordinary. Open our hearts. Open our minds. Give us the courage, faith, trust, respect, and hope, to say why not, exclamation point! Can I get an amen? Amen!

I am the Model Shepherd

Inspired by John 10:11-18

There are two translation issues in our Gospel reading for today that we have to deal with before anything else. They are issues that drastically change how we read and understand this text. Now, you know me, I’m not one to bore you with a bunch of Greek in my sermons but these just can’t be ignored. OK, here we go. This passage has always been known as The Good Shepherd. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” But what if I told you, that’s not the best translation for that phrase!

Theologian R.E. Brown makes a convincing argument, well it’s convincing because he convinced me, that the Greek here shouldn’t be translated as “good shepherd”, but rather, a better translation would be “model” shepherd. Now I’m not going to get into how he got there, not because it’s boring but just because it’s quite lengthy. So Brown reads it this way: “I am the model shepherd. The model shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Which brings us to our next translation issue! Don’t’ worry, we’ll get back to the model shepherd in a bit, but we have to lay these foundations first. The phrase, “lays down his life” doesn’t necessarily mean to die. We just automatically read it that way because we know that Jesus, the good shepherd, no, excuse me, the model shepherd, died on the cross. So, it makes sense that we would assume that “lays down his life” means that the model shepherd dies. But that’s not what the Greek says. The Greek word for “lays down” simply means to put, to place, to set, or to plant. Not to die! So, a better translation might be, “The model shepherd takes a stand for the sheep” or “The model shepherd stands up for the sheep”, to put it in common vernacular.

So, with these two translation issues hammered out, listen to the passage this way, “I am the model shepherd. The model shepherd takes a stand for the sheep. When the hired hand sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away. That’s because he isn’t the shepherd; the sheep aren’t really his. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. He’s only a hired hand and the sheep don’t matter to him.

“I am the model shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I take a stand for the sheep. I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd. “This is why the Father loves me: I take a stand so that I can take it again. No one takes that from me, but I do it because I want to. I have the right to make a stand, and I have the right to do it again. I received this commandment from my Father.”

A very different reading isn’t it? It’s still about a shepherd and the shepherd’s sheep, but instead of being about a good shepherd, it’s about a model shepherd. What was once implicit, us following Jesus’ example, becomes explicit. And now the focus is no longer on dying for the sheep, but on taking a stand for the sheep. Which makes much more logical sense anyway because if you think about it, the death of the shepherd would spell certain doom for rest of the sheep, who would then have no one to protect them.

To be clear though, death is not completely removed from this analogy. Let us not forget the wolf! The way we see the shepherd may have changed, but the wolf is still the wolf. And we all know, the only job of a wolf, in any story, is to attack, to kill. When Jesus speaks of the model shepherd standing up for the sheep, the shepherd does so at great risk, up to the shepherd’s own life.

So what does all this mean for us? Well, I should start out by saying, in the same way that God is God and we are not, so it is that Jesus is the Christ, and we are not. Likewise, Jesus is the model shepherd, and we are not. I say this because it is impossible for us to be a shepherd just like Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t expect us to. That’s why he calls himself the model. In the same way that a runway model is often seen as an unrealistic image of perfection that we then scramble to emulate. The idea here is not perfection. But merely following the lead of the model shepherd. And that is the call of all of us who claim to follow Jesus, to be little shepherds, all of us, not just pastors or youth directors or council presidents. All of us—little shepherds emulating the model shepherd.

And what do we know of the model shepherd that we are to emulate? The model shepherd stands up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Who might that be in our world today? Just take a look at the news. They shouldn’t be hard to find. But I will say this, if where you get your news, is not highlighting those who need our help, then you might want to get your news elsewhere. What else do we know about the model shepherd?

The model shepherd knows the sheep, and the sheep know the model shepherd. Because the model shepherd has made the time, and the effort, to do so. Our offerings go far to help the less fortunate. But I think that’s only half our call. The other half is to be the hands of Christ out in the world. And that work is greatly enriched when make the time and effort to get to know whom we serve, and allow them to get to know us.

And the people that we are called to serve, should be treated as if they were one from our own sheep pen. Because something else we know about the model shepherd from this passage is that the model shepherd has sheep everywhere out in the world. This is not the model shepherd’s only sheep pen—which, I think was just a nice way of saying that we are not as special as we like to think we are. And if Christ feels a responsibility to all those other sheep out there that are not of this pen, then we should probably too. If, we are to take this emulating the model shepherd business seriously.

I want to end though where we began, that Christ is the model shepherd, and we are not. If it weren’t for Christ than none of this would be possible. Jesus, the model shepherd, is the Christ of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And that’s a claim that none of us little shepherds can make. It all begins and ends with Jesus. Our passage from the Gospel of John ends on a very commanding, powerful note. You can almost see Jesus, straighten his tunic, and stand tall as he says, “I take a stand so that I can take it again. No one takes that from me, but I do it because I want to.” And Jesus always wants to. Jesus never tires of standing up for those who can’t for themselves. Another claim that none of us sheep can make. Our legs get tired of standing. Our feet grow weary of marching. We are not always willing and able to stand up for others. Thankfully, Christ always is. Amen.