Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sermon for Easter 4

Sermon for Year A Easter 4
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 15, 2011
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan

I hear the voice…

You probably already get the theme for this Sunday…
in the opening collect we hear “Jesus is the good shepherd”
our psalm is Psalm 23—the Lord is my shepherd…
1 Peter talks about going astray like sheep…
and the gospel talks about sheep and shepherds as well.
Yes, you may have guessed—
today is known as GOOD SHEPHERD Sunday.

I imagine there are a lot of sheep sermons that will be preached today.
And I am not one to stray from that theme or tradition--
but first I want to tell you a story about pigs.
Yes, pigs!
And it is a true story.
It happened over in Cove Creek which is not too far down the road
from Valle Crucis where I live part of the week.

There is a farmer over in Cove Creek who raises pigs.
He doesn’t raise them in pens—he lets them run around in a big field.
When he goes to feed his pigs,
there is a bell right by the trough.
Sort of like a small version of our church bell out front.

He carries the buckets of their food—yes, it really is call “pig slop”—
and rings the bell and the pigs come running.
Just as our church bell tells the whole neighborhood,
it is time to come to worship—
This farmer’s bell tells the pigs
it is time to come to eat!
Pigs are smart!
Most of us are pretty smart
when it comes to finding food!
We, like all God’s creatures, are highly motivated for that activity!

So all was going well with the farmer and his pigs.
Until one cold winter day,
the farmer goes to pull the rope to ring the bell,
and the rope is missing.
Rotted away?
Who knows?

But here is the farmer
with his buckets of slop
and there are the pigs at the way far side of the field.
And they don’t see the farmer—or their food.

So the farmer picks up a stick from the ground
and hits it along the wooden fence rail.
The pigs look up when they hear the sound
and then they see the farmer pouring their breakfast into the trough
and here they come! Running!

So the farmer just doesn’t worry about replacing the rope to the bell.
When he comes to feed the pigs,
he just picks up a stick and starts hitting the fence….
Rap-rap-rap-rap—and here come the pigs.

And this works great all winter long.
But then…
here comes spring.
And here come all the woodpeckers
Who start tap tap tap tap all through the woods--
and the poor pigs are about running themselves to death
every time they hear a woodpecker!

The farmer fixed a new rope back on his bell.

Why am I telling you this story about pigs on Good Shepherd Sunday?

Because I don’t think it matters if we are sheep or pigs or people,
we need to learn to listen.

The pigs were listening,
listening for the one they knew would take care of them.
Feed them.

But then they started to listen to those who were calling them astray--
those false prophet woodpeckers!
Those woodpeckers
who couldn’t provide a bucket of slops if they tried!

And that is what we are taught in today’s gospel lesson.
But listen carefully.
Listen for the voice of the one who knows your real name
and loves you because and in spite of who you are.

Listening is not easy.
Some of us
like to talk more than we like to listen.
This can get us into trouble on occasion.

The other challenge we face
is that there are a multitude of voices
calling our names every day, competing for our attention.

Voices that call our names and tell us we need to buy this
and we need to own that.
Voices that tell us we aren’t good enough or pretty enough
or smart enough or rich enough.

Those are the voices of the thieves and the bandits
we hear about in the gospel of John.
Those are the voices that want to rob us
of all that God’s goodness and mercy
and steal our lives away from us.

Jesus says, “Don’t listen to those who would destroy you.”

We have to learn to listen carefully
for the voice of the One who really love us,
for the voice of the One who truly want only the best for us.
For the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Because God wants us to have life
and to have it abundantly.

There are so many images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
There is a lovely drawing in the Weinhauer chapel
that a friend loaned to me.
A shepherd tenderly holding, hugging a lamb.

But recently I found another image of a shepherd that is so unlike
anything I have ever seen.
It is a photograph in Greg Mortensen’s book STONES INTO SCHOOLS
of a shepherd in Afghanistan.
The shepherd is walking along—following after his flock
and under his arm
he has a lamb.
Not cradled. Not tenderly cuddled.
He holds this lamb as if
He has just picked it up
and holds it tightly under his arm as if to say,
You were going the wrong way.
I am tired of you getting lost all the time.
How about you just stop wandering away.
Cut it out!

I love that as an image of Jesus—
Jesus who sometimes just gets tired of us mishaving.
Sometimes we need Jesus just to pick us up
and abruptly turn us around.
It’s not always pleasant or gentle when it happens,
but on occasion it just may be our salvation.

The Good Shepherd is not always tender or gentle or sweet.
Shepherds carry these shepherd’s crooks for a reason!
They reach out that crook and grab the sheep around the neck.

Think about that when Bishop Taylor comes in October
and processes down the aisle with his crozier—
which is just a glorified shepherd’s crook!

Sometimes we all need to just be picked up and walked away with,
As we hear Jesus speaking the truth in love and saying,
“I have just about had enough of your behavior.”

We can save ourselves from more jerks of the shepherd’s crook
if we learn to be better listeners.

We are called to listen.
To listen for our shepherd.

Sheep really can tell the difference between THEIR shepherd’s voice
and that of another.
Sheep know
who their shepherd is.

Stephen Plummer,
who died from cancer in 2005 when he was only 60 years old,
was the first Episcopal bishop of Navajoland.
A friend of his tells the story
of Bishop Plummer practicing his sermons by preaching to his sheep
when he was first ordained.

The sheep would stand absolutely still, staring at him,
Listening to his voice.
Because they recognized his voice.
Because they knew that this was the voice
of the one who cared for them.
They stayed near to him because they trusted him,
They knew they were safe.

We learn to recognize the voice of the one who is our Shepherd
by carefully and deeply listening.
Listening to scripture, listening to those who teach,
listening to the voice we hear in the silence of our own prayers.

There are so many voices out there in the world.
There are so many voices competing with one another.
There are indeed voices that will lead us away from the Shepherd
who loves us more than we can ask or imagine.

At times we may wander away,
even be gone for a period of years
or decades.

The amazing thing about shepherds
is they really do go looking for lost sheep.
The amazing thing about shepherds
is they don’t give up hope
of finding the ones who have wandered away.

The sheepfold is not surrounded by a high stone wall.
There is a gate.
And standing at that gate
is the One who loves us,
the One who calls us by name,
the One who welcomes everyone of us
to come inside,
to come home.

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