Friday, April 23, 2010

Easter 4, April 25, 2010

A sermon preached at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Knoxville, TN
Text: John 10:22-30

In my little backyard converted shed office, I have a couple thousand books arranged on a variety of yard sale bookcases.
As I wrote this sermon, my coffee cup rested on a shelf that contains what I call my "Jesus books." In recent years, there have been a huge number of books written and debate hashed out about who Jesus was, or if he really was.I own over 30 of these books, and that's just a small part of all that's out there. They have titles like:

"Will the Real Jesus Please Stand up?"
"The Misunderstood Jew,"
"Who Was Jesus?"
"Lord or Legend?"
"Looking for Jesus,"
"The Real Jesus,"
"What Jesus Meant,"
and my favorite title: "Cynic Sage or Son of God?"

For over 2000 years the world and the church have wrestled with the question of the true identity of the wandering preacher from Galilee.The whole of Chapter 10 in John deals with this. Who does he say he is? Does his walk match his talk? Is he for real? Are the signs to be believed?

In verse 24 the people ask Jesus - Are you the Messiah? Are you the one sent from God? Jesus' answer points to actions as keys to identity, the idea that behavior reveals character.

He asks them, Do I act and talk like a Messiah, like a true king of Israel? Are the things I say and do for the benefit of the people?Do I honor God with the way I live my life?"

In the first part of chapter 10, Jesus has talked about being the Shepherd of the sheep, about how the sheep hear the true shepherd's voice and follow, about the willingness of the shepherd to lay down his life for the sheep. In verses 7 through 11 Jesus contrasts this with bad shepherds; "all who came before me are thieves and bandits." He then says that he is "the good shepherd."

In today's lesson, in verse 27, he again picks up the protective and caring shepherd theme. It may be helpful to us to think not in terms of good and bad, but rather in terms of true versus false; or real versus pretend; or fake versus genuine; or perhaps faithless versus faithful.

What Jesus lays claim to here in this text is to being not a false, not a pretend, not a fake, not a faithless shepherd of Israel; but rather to being a true, a real, a genuine, a faithful shepherd of God's sheep.

The shepherd was a powerful symbol in Israel. For much of their history they were a nomadic people dependent upon their sheep for their livelihood. Because of this, sheep and shepherd imagery was very important. The King was often referred to as the SHEPHERD of Israel, alluding back to King David, the traditional author of the 23rd Psalm. David, a shepherd boy in his youth, is the king by whom all kings are measured.

The ancient kings of Israel were different from the kings of the nations around them. The other kings were held up to be Gods on earth, divine beings in human form. The kings of Israel were not believed to be divine; they were known to be ordinary human beings who represented God on earth and ruled in God's name.

The idea was that God had placed the responsibility for the nation in their hands.The kingdom was not theirs to do with as they pleased. The kingdom was God's and they were to take care of it and God's people in God's name and with God's help. And even great King David failed to do it right all the time.

Between David and Jesus there were many years and many kings, and all the kings of Israel failed in one way or another. None of them lived up to the image of the Good, the True, the Real Shepherd of Israel, especially not the Emperor in Rome or his puppet King Herod. So the people asked; "Are you the Messiah?" "Are you the true Shepherd of the Sheep?""Are you the Saviour of Israel?" And Jesus answered them, "Yes, I am all that, and more."

In verse 25 he says, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify to me." Jesus goes on to make it plain, just as they had requested. The sheep hear my voice, they know their true Shepherd and follow and respond to him.

This is for me the difficult part of this lesson. Just hearing the voice is not enough. Many people hear, but don't respond, don't answer, don't follow, don't recognize the voice of Jesus. Those of us gathered here in Church on Sunday morning have, in one way or another heard and recognized the voice of God, the voice of our savior and friend; in the voice of the Bible; in the voice of the Church.

Some of us are more sure than others, some of us hear it more clearly and distinctly than others, but all of us have heard it. That is why we are here. But we are left to wonder about those who aren't here, who have heard the word but haven't heard the Voice. Rather than wonder about why they haven't heard in the past, our calling today is to be the voice of the gospel in the world by the way we live our lives.

Pastor John Ortberg tells this story in a recent book,

A man is being tailgated by a woman in a hurry. He comes to an intersection, and when the light turns yellow, he hits the brakes. The woman behind him goes ballistic. She honks her horn at him; she yells her frustration in no uncertain terms; she rants and gestures.

While she is in mid-rant, someone taps on her window. She looks up and sees a policeman. He invites her out of her car and takes her to the station where she is searched and fingerprinted and put in a cell. After a couple of hours, she is released, and the arresting officer gives her her personal effects, saying

"I'm very sorry for the mistake, ma'am. I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, using bad gestures and bad language. I noticed the WHAT WOULD JESUS DO bumper sticker, the CHOOSE LIFE license plate holder, the FOLLOW ME TO SUNDAY SCHOOL window sign, the fish emblem on your trunk, and I naturally assumed you had stolen the car. (When the Game is Over, It all Goes Back in the Box, 2007, p. 115)

The way we live our lives sends a message to the world. When Martin Luther said that the church is a "priesthood of believers," he didn't mean we were all pastors, he meant that we all carry Christ into the world in our words and actions.

In the modern world, we, the church, all of us in the church, are the shepherds, and the hurting, lonely, lost people of the world are God's scattered sheep. Our calling is to go out to them with the Voice of the Shepherd, calling them home to safety, calling them home to love.

We are the Voice of Christ in the world. What people know of God's law, they learn from us. What people know of God's forgiveness, they receive from us. What people know of God's love, they feel from us. The Voice of Christ calls each of us out into the world today.

Will you answer? Will you follow? Will you go out there and love the world in the name of Christ? Amen and amen.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

John 13: 1-17; 31b-35

In April of 1995 (I think) THE LUTHERAN magazine ran an article called "Is it I?" It was about Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting, "The Last Supper."

Now, while I found Pr. Schuessler's "Art Analysis" fairly interesting, I was very distracted by the fact that none of the people in the illustration of the painting seemed to be where he said they were.

What he was saying about people didn't match up with the people he claimed to be talking about.

Having had some small experience with publishing, I thought I knew what had happened, and my idea was confirmed when the text said that Judas had the money purse in his right hand while the picture showed it in his left hand.

Either Pastor Schuessler doesn't know his right from his left, or THE LUTHERAN printed the picture backwards.

I'm putting my money on THE LUTHERAN printing the picture backwards.

After I got over being first annoyed and then amused I realized that there was a deeper meaning here. (I'm sorry, I can't help it, I'm a preacher; there's always a deeper meaning!)

When I thought about it, I realized that getting it backwards is what most of us do, most of the time.

In our Gospel lesson, after he has washed his followers' feet, Jesus says to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?" And if they were honest, they would have said no. They got it backwards, and way too often, we get it backwards, too.

Today is called Maundy Thursday. The name comes from the command, the mandate, the mandatum in Latin, that Jesus gave his followers that they should Love One Another.

Though many people think of this night as the time when we celebrate the first Last Supper; in reality this night is set apart to remind us that Jesus' final words and deeds with his beloved friends were words and deeds of love, and Jesus' final command to his followers was a command to remember him with words and deeds of love of their own.

When Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and bowed down before his students; he not only humbled himself; in their eyes, he humiliated himself.

According to New Testament Scholar Robert Kysar, "Jesus' act is a radical departure from custom, since not even servants were required to wash the feet of their master." (Augsburg Commentary on John, p. 208)

Most often, footwashing was done by students for their teacher; as a sign of humility and respect and obedience. In washing his disciples' feet, Jesus turned this backwards. His humiliating act of servanthood was a powerful sign of the radical, upside-down, inside-out nature of the new Kingdom of God Jesus brought into the world.

Jesus looked at his disciples and said, "You call me teacher, and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet." (verse 13-14)

Does Jesus really, literally, mean that? Does he want us to go around washing one another's feet in church on a regular basis?

Well, that's the way some folks with whom I grew up take it; 'course they also handle snakes and drink poison; so maybe they're not a very good example.

In this action and by these words Jesus has called us, commanded us, to be a servant people. A people who gird up their loins and get to work tending to a hurting and needy world.

He says: "I give you this commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (verses 34-35)

But we get it backwards, don't we. Instead of seeking ways to serve others, we complain about the service others render to us. Instead of looking for ways to love others, we read magazine articles about "How to GET the love you really deserve." Instead of thinking about how we can help others improve their lives, we plot and plan for how we can get ahead.

Have you ever thought about what those words mean; "get ahead?" They mean me in front of everyone else. They mean me first, They mean; I'll tend to me and mine and devil take the hindmost.

Yes, we get it backwards. No matter how much we try, we get it backwards. "This master and servant, love one another, serve the world" stuff that Jesus talks about so much is really difficult.

It is because it is difficult that we get it backwards, and because it is difficult and we get it backwards, Jesus not only told us to love one another, He showed us how.

He showed us how when he washed the disciples' feet. He showed us how when he fed his friends at table. He showed us how when he blessed the thief who died with him. He showed us how when he forgave those who killed him. He showed us how when he died upon the cross, "for us and for our salvation."

We get it backwards and we can only get it right when we die to ourselves and let the life of Christ rise up within us, following him on the way of service, the way of Love, the way of the cross.

Amen and amen.