Sunday, April 13, 2008

Strange Shepherding - A Sermon

So, here we are, the sheep of Christ following the shepherd.  But what a strange shepherd we follow.  No, I'm serious.  The places this guy takes us are not usually places we want to go.  I mean those green pastures and still water that the 23rd Psalm talk about?  Hah!

To be honest, if Christ were a physical shepherd and we were actual sheep, he would have an easier time.  Because sheep don't actually think about where they're going.  They just follow the voice.  They just hang out together thinking, "Grass is good.  Mmm.  Good grass.  Oh, there's the voice, let's follow it.  Mmmm.  More grass."  That sort of thing.

But us?  We think, "I don't want to go there.  It's not nice."  And to be honest, there's nothing that says we have to follow.

Follow or not, however, that shepherd of ours keeps going into the strangest places.  Just look at the reading in Acts.  There the community of sheep start off trying to follow pretty closely.  "All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need."

That having all things in common bit really meant sharing all their possessions with each other.  It meant they tried to live as a family --even though they kept their own homes.  This did not last, of course, because it became unwieldy.  Even monastic orders which still live that way to some degree have difficulty sharing all their possessions the way this was invisioned.  Yet the shepherd keeps walking in that direction.

Or look at Peter's letter.  Here's our shepherd leading us in another strange direction -- suffering.  Not just suffering but suffering injustice -- without revenge.  Suffering without bitterness.  Suffering for something the sake of that shepherd.  

So now, we have our shepherd leading us to a place where we don't own our own possessions and where there's a good chance we're going to get hurt, and we're not going to do anything to defend ourselves.  And now we, the sheep are in a quandry.

Because if we follow this guy, the others around us are going to think, "What weirdos."  They are going to think, "These people are are corrupting our way of life because our society teaches that you should own as much as you can.  More is better.  And don't let anyone push you around.  We're number one."

So, we sheep hear these voices.  And we hear the voice of our strange shepherd who says, "If any would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."  Which voice sounds more appealing?  

Let's review:  THEM:  "Get all you want and be number one."

JESUS:  "Take up your cross, give away all your wealth to the poor, turn the other cheek."

So, why on earth would we keep following that shepherd.  It doesn't sound fun.

Still, we follow.  Because we learn that having all the stuff doesn't give us life.  We learn that locking ourselves away from pain and suffering does not make us any more alive.  We learn that in the voice of this strange shepherd, we find purpose and meaning.  We find acceptance not for what we have done for anyone, not because we're more beautiful or stronger, but simply because we are.

And that voice rings true while the voices of greed and dominance and revenge sound hollow.

We follow a strange shepherd.  About the only thing that would seem stranger would be not following him.  Amen.