Second Sunday After Easter – Sermon

The Good Shepherd, John 10:11-16
2nd Sunday after Easter.
Blake Schwendimann

Few images are more comforting to the Christian than the Good Shepherd. One of the most well known verses of Scripture, Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” When I hear these words, I am transported back to my earliest memories of a Christian Funeral, sitting in a pew as a young child, where I knew something sad had happened, but I didn’t quite know how to experience it. I remember there being sadness, and yet, hope. I remember hearing someone read the 23rd Psalm, and even at a young age, those words brought me comfort, as they still do. Though we don’t always understand the journey that is set before us, we know that we have a Good Shepherd leading us through the dark valleys. Even when we get thrown off course, either in the face of tragedy or from falling into sin, our Good Shepherd will patiently and lovingly bring us back home.

As we enter more fully into the Easter Season, we begin to focus on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and what discipleship looks like. We are learning what it means for us to be sheep. Out of all the steps there are to look at in discipleship I want to focus on two. First, we are to learn who Jesus is, and, second, we learn who we are, and what the relationship between us and Jesus looks like.

When we think of following Jesus, we often think of imitating his good deeds, his kindness, meekness and patience. We think, “It would be great if I was more like Jesus”, only in regards to all the positive and helpful things he did. We don’t immediately think of the passion and the crucifixion as part of what it means to follow Jesus, but that is part of the cost of discipleship too. As Jesus tells us, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” In this morning’s Epistle, Peter tells us that following Jesus includes enduring suffering. Not merely suffering for a just and worthy cause, but also enduring unjust suffering, and having patience in it. As Jesus said in Matthew 5, when someone strikes you, turn the other cheek. Being a disciple of Jesus has many great privileges and rewards, but it is also can be an arduous journey. As Christians on this side of Easter, we follow the conquering Lamb of Revelation chapter seven, who yet wounded, stands amongst his sheep, leading them as a Shepherd to the springs of living water, wiping away every tear from their eyes.

The relationship we develop with Jesus is one of complete and utter dependence as sheep are to a shepherd. Jesus tells us that he is not a false shepherd; he’s not a rent-a-shepherd, but rather, a Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him.

In southern California, we don’t have much interactions with animals, except maybe our dogs and cats. But in the ancient near East, the Shepherd was a well-known figure in society, and people knew good shepherds from bad ones. Jesus hearers would have been very familiar with his comparison of hired shepherds versus shepherds who personally own sheep. A good shepherd was one whose primarily obligation was to his sheep. He spent his life with the sheep, feeding them, protecting them, cleaning them and traveling with them daily. Because this Good Shepherd took his livelihood from his own sheep, he would do anything to ensure their wellbeing. He was fully invested in the life of his sheep. If a family only had a couple of sheep on their property and but had a trade to manage in the daytime, they would hire a ‘rent a shepherd’ who would take care of their sheep, along with others on a very part time basis. These ‘rent-a-shepherds’ were never as good as a true shepherd, and they certainly would not go out of their way searching for a lost sheep, or even think about giving up their life for the sheep in face of danger. If the wolf came, the hired hand would flee, leaving the sheep in harms way. But this type of Shepherd is not the One whom we follow. Our Shepherd has searched us out, called us by name, and in the face of danger, He laid down His life for us.

Because Jesus is our Good Shepherd, what is our role as His sheep in this journey of discipleship? In John 10:14 &15 Jesus says that he knows His sheep and His sheep know him. This is an image of mutual intimacy leading us to ask the question, do we know Jesus? Does He know us? Have we experienced His leading in our life? We are not going to be proficient Christian disciples or effective sheep if we have no idea who our Shepherd is and what He has done for us.

Thankfully, Jesus has not left us all alone to figure it out how to be disciples. We do not experience the Christian life as solitary individuals. We are called to be part of his Body, of his One Flock, where we are known. As modern Christians, we have almost unlimited resources available to us to learn who Jesus is and what it means to be his disciple. We have the Bible in our own language, we have 2,000 years of Christian wisdom and reflection, we have the Church and it’s Sacraments, which continually nourish and feed our souls, and we have other Christians who are walking with us, encouraging and challenging us to grow in the grace and knowledge of God. In last week’s Gospel, we learned that Jesus breathed on his disciples, giving them the power and authority to continue his ministry. In Scripture, the breath of God refers to His Holy Spirit. When our pastors and bishops were ordained and consecrated, they received the same Holy Spirit empowering them to be the Shepherds of Christ’s flock, continually pointing and leading us back to Christ, who is the Bishop and Shepherd of our souls.

 

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Eleventh Sunday After Trinity 2012 – Sermon

    In the Christian tradition, Pride is considered the most grievous of all sins. The prophet Isaiah tells us that Lucifer (also known as Satan) was a great and mighty angel, and in his desire to exalt himself above God, he was cast out of heaven. In comparing pride to other sins, CS Lewis says, “Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison”; “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Lewis, Mere Christianity). Pride usually does not come in bursts, like anger, but it is a slow accumulation of thoughts about how great we think we are. The Biblical antidote to this disease is humility. 

    This morning’s Gospel of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector could be called “A Tale of Two Worshippers.” It is a tale that involves two radically different people, attempting to do the same very same thing. In ancient Palestine, there were certain days and hours of prayer where the temple was open to the public; so actually getting there did require some effort and planning. In our modern society where church attendance is rather sparse, we believe the fact that we are even showing up is something to celebrate! While it is something to celebrate, the parable teaches us that even the best intentions can lead us astray.

    The Pharisee is the obviously holy man in Jesus’ first century audience.  He would be the person you were most comfortable with, the person you would trust with your deepest secrets, and he was the person whose advice would be the the most respected.

    The other man in in our tale is the Publican; a Roman Government official who was responsible to collect taxes. It is significant to remember he represented political Rome. It’s not simply the fact that he collected taxes, and since no one likes to pay taxes, he’s the “bad guy” in the parable. The publican in the mind of the ancient Jewish people was a co-conspirator with the occupying Roman forces who betrayed and cheated his own people.

    Fr. Scarlett often mentions that heresy, or false belief, happens when we abuse or overemphasize a a very good aspect of the faith, at the expense of the whole of the faith. In this regard, heresy is very subtle, and often goes unnoticed.

    The same is true of pride; it can be very subtle. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, and tithing can and should form us into mature Christians. They are routines we should be consciously praying for the power to do. But they could also be the very things that destroys us.  From all outward and objective criteria, the Pharisee was a holy man. Then why are we told that it was the Tax Collector, and not the pharisee, whom went home justified in the eyes of God?

    It is because the first step towards a right relationship with God is humility. The Tax Collector had enough self awareness to see himself in light of who God is. This takes us back to the two of the most basic theological doctrines – the knowledge of God – the creator and sustainer of the universe and the knowledge of ourself – created by God. The Pharisee’s pride made it seem as if he was doing God a favor by worshipping in him, and letting God know that there was someone doing it wrong behind him. The tax collector realized that he had nothing to bring to God except himself, and the acknowledgement that he was a sinner looking for mercy.

    In Orthodox iconography, the Pharisee is depicted as standing up close to the altar, raising his arms towards heaven, where he is thanking God he is not like all the other bad people out in the world – “the extortioners, the unjust, the adulterers, and even people like this publican.” The Icon shows the publican standing a few steps below, with arms slightly outstretched, as if he is unsure about the offering of praise he is about to make. He stands in the lower place, and has a sense of humility and openness towards God’s will for his life.

    When we approach God in worship, what is going through our minds?  Do we think that because we are not like all the other bad people out in the world, we have earned a special place in God’s house? Do we keep a better record of other people’s sins than our own?  Often, we walk around like the man who has a plank of wood in his own eye, working meticulously to get the splinters out of their neighbors eye.

    The liturgy works to form us against false hopes of self righteousness. Just before the reception of holy communion, we pray that we “would not presume to come to God’s table, trusting in our own righteousness, but trusting in God’s manifold and great mercies.” 

    Our culture has taught us to believe that we are extra special, that we are unique – not like the rest of humanity. This philosophy can be a road block to humility. At times, we may have subconsciously prayed the words of the Pharisee, thinking, “O God, I thank you I’m not like everybody else.” But to move towards Christlikeness, we must begin to adopt the prayer of the publican, who went home justified, saying “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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The Eighth Sunday After Trinity 2012 – Sermon

“We have all read in scientific books and, indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is.”

 – G.K. Chesterton

 “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

– Romans 8:15

The Christian liturgy reminds us of two important realities: who God is, and who we are. Much anxiety in life comes from forgetting, or confusing these two truths. When asked, who are you? We typically respond with our names; because it is our names that tell others who we are. The meaning of a name is richer when there is a history and bond in a particular relationship. My wife and I have a 1-year-old son named Caleb. Before he was born, I primarily identified that name with the Biblical character in the book of Joshua. Now, when I hear the name Caleb, I think of my son. I think of his personality, his mannerisms and his behavior.

We also have other identities tied to our jobs, our ideologies and our passions. Some of us identify as single, a parent, an artist, or a student. These are all great things. But danger and disappointment come when these good identities supersede our ultimate identity as Christians, or as St. Paul likes to say, as those who are “in Christ.” Christian identity and behavior is for the benefit of the community. When our secondary identities, no matter how good and virtuous they are trump everything, our lives become a mess. This is an easy trap for those of us in the so-called “helping professions.” A doctor whose job it is to save lives has a great identity and vocation. But the vocation becomes an idol when it supersedes his or her identity in Christ. Or the minister who works 100 hours a week may have the perception he is serving God, but he is helping no one.

Christians are people whose status with God has changed, because through baptism and faith they have been adopted into God’s family, and are now heirs of all the blessings that belong to the family. We no longer only benefit from the general love that God has for the world, but we are now partakers of that special fatherly love, as his adopted children. By adoption, we now experience Sonship; by which both men and women become the heirs and Sons of God. As 1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The call to Christian behavior is a call to embrace the reality of who we are, to embrace our new identity. St Paul likens it to a set of clothes. Through baptism, we take off the old man, that serves to represent our old identities, and we put on the new man. In that experience, we died and rose with Christ. Our past, present and future life is tied up with Christ’s life. This is the mystical reality of faith. But sometimes we really like our old clothes. We really like our old heritage and history.

This is where the struggle comes in. Like the man in Chesterton’s story, we are constantly forgetting that we are sons of God and heirs with Christ. Like the nation of Israel, we desire to go back into our own personal Egypt. The place of comfort, the place where we forget who we are and what we were made for. If you stay back in Egypt long enough, you may completely lose your identity and become someone else, someone you never thought you could be.

To be clear, Christianity is not a religion where moral behavior earns status or special relationship with God; all is grace. The call to Christian morality is to realize that you are “in Christ” and part of a royal priesthood and a holy nation. The eternal love that God pours out on his Son is now being poured out on you.

How do we live as adopted Children of God? How to we pursue holiness? St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us an excellent commentary on what our Sonship means for Christian living. He argues, that since you died with Christ in baptism, you need to continually mortify, or, “put do death” your old desires. The life we are to pursue looks like this,

from Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

St. Paul sums up his ethical imperatives in the command to love. This is why each Sunday in the Liturgy, we are reminded to Love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We hear these words anew each week, namely, because they personify our identity. When we stop to remember these words, we forget who we are.

“We have all read in scientific books and, indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is.”

 – G.K. Chesterton

“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

– Romans 8:15

The Christian liturgy reminds us of two important realities: who God is, and who we are. Much anxiety in life comes from forgetting, or confusing these two truths. When asked, who are you? We typically respond with our names; because it is our names that tell others who we are. The meaning of a name is richer when there is a history and bond in a particular relationship. My wife and I have a 1-year-old son named Caleb. Before he was born, I primarily identified that name with the Biblical character in the book of Joshua. Now, when I hear the name Caleb, I think of my son. I think of his personality, his mannerisms and his behavior.

We also have other identities tied to our jobs, our ideologies and our passions. Some of us identify as single, a parent, an artist, or a student. These are all great things. But danger and disappointment come when these good identities supersede our ultimate identity as Christians, or as St. Paul likes to say, as those who are “in Christ.” Christian identity and behavior is for the benefit of the community. When our secondary identities, no matter how good and virtuous they are trump everything, our lives become a mess. This is an easy trap for those of us in the so-called “helping professions.” A doctor whose job it is to save lives has a great identity and vocation. But the vocation becomes an idol when it supersedes his or her identity in Christ. Or the minister who works 100 hours a week may have the perception he is serving God, but he is helping no one.

Christians are people whose status with God has changed, because through baptism and faith they have been adopted into God’s family, and are now heirs of all the blessings that belong to the family. We no longer only benefit from the general love that God has for the world, but we are now partakers of that special fatherly love, as his adopted children. By adoption, we now experience Sonship; by which both men and women become the heirs and Sons of God. As 1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The call to Christian behavior is a call to embrace the reality of who we are, to embrace our new identity. St Paul likens it to a set of clothes. Through baptism, we take off the old man, that serves to represent our old identities, and we put on the new man. In that experience, we died and rose with Christ. Our past, present and future life is tied up with Christ’s life. This is the mystical reality of faith. But sometimes we really like our old clothes. We really like our old heritage and history.

This is where the struggle comes in. Like the man in Chesterton’s story, we are constantly forgetting that we are sons of God and heirs with Christ. Like the nation of Israel, we desire to go back into our own personal Egypt. The place of comfort, the place where we forget who we are and what we were made for. If you stay back in Egypt long enough, you may completely lose your identity and become someone else, someone you never thought you could be.

To be clear, Christianity is not a religion where moral behavior earns status or special relationship with God; all is grace. The call to Christian morality is to realize that you are “in Christ” and part of a royal priesthood and a holy nation. The eternal love that God pours out on his Son is now being poured out on you.

How do we live as adopted Children of God? How to we pursue holiness? St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us an excellent commentary on what our Sonship means for Christian living. He argues, that since you died with Christ in baptism, you need to continually mortify, or, “put do death” your old desires. The life we are to pursue looks like this,

from Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

St. Paul sums up his ethical imperatives in the command to love. This is why each Sunday in the Liturgy, we are reminded to Love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We hear these words anew each week, namely, because they personify our identity. When we stop to remember these words, we forget who we are.

 

Download this sermon.