Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No Good Deed Unpunished - A Sermon

You know the saying, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.  Well here’s proof.  Look at my head!  Red as a tomato and why?  All because I spent the day at the soccer field coaching kids and watching my son.

It has nothing to do we my being foolish enough to forget a hat -- bald men alwayes need hats!  Or foolishly thinking I didn’t need sunscreen….  But you get the idea!

Still, the principal holds.  Whenever you stick your neck out to do some good, there’s a good chance it’ll either backfire or lead to more work.  Once when I was a kid -- maybe eight years old -- I decided I would help my parents with the laundry.  

Having no idea how a washing machine worked, or how much detergent to use, or what sort of colors looked good together when blended, I think I did pretty well.  All things considered.  

But what did I get for my efforts?  Yelled at, that’s what!  And why?  Apparently, my father did not like his new pink t-shirts.  He thought they might not go over well at the factory.

So, I can appreciate the predicament the apostles found themselves in at the temple.  They see a man begging, and though they have no money, they heal him.  Next, they preach to the amazed crowd about how healing comes from Jesus Christ.

All good things.  And for their efforts, they get arrested.

But here’s the amazing thing -- once brought before the leaders, they do not try to avoid whatever punishment their actions might lead to.  When the leaders asked why they did the healing and by whose authority they did it, they said “If we’re being questioned for doing a good deed, then know that we do it in the name of Jesus.”  

When the leaders commanded them to stop, they said, “Whether it’s right to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

They said plainly that their good deed would be followed by other good deeds, good actions of spreading God’s grace.  If that led to more punishment, so be it.

Looking at Jesus in the Gospel, we see a different kind of punishment -- maybe the kind a parent can relate to.   He tells his disciples that he is the good shepherd.  

Now, we could go into the properties of sheep if we wanted -- you know, they’re dumb and willful and have very little appreciation for all the hard work the shepherd puts in to protect them.  

Now, I’m NOT suggesting that children don’t know everything or aren’t occasionally willful, and I’m not suggesting that they don’t appreciate all the hard work a parent does.  BUT, sometimes -- it might feel like that to the parent.

That’s important, because Jesus is not talking about the sheep here.  He’s talking about what it means to be the shepherd.  And as the shepherd, he says, I lay down my life for the sheep.”  He is no hireling who’s only doing the job for the money.  He cares deeply about us.

He says that he will do everything in his power to protect us, even if -- and when -- it means dying to save them.

A parent knows this.  That’s how we’re made -- and God is our Father, always there, always caring, always loving.

Maybe the only difference between a parent and the shepherd is that after all that hard work and investment, the sheep stay dumb and willful -- and the child moves out.  As my mother says, “Just when you get interesting, you leave!”

Now, one more thing about Jesus as shepherd.  He wants to reach out beyond the fold -- “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”

Let me tell you, the sheep do not like hearing that.  They are jealous.  He does a fantastic job taking care of the sheep, but when he suggests there are others he needs to care for, they say “NO, only us!”

In other words, in this passage Jesus tells the people of Israel that God’s love extends beyond just them.  And he’s here to give to others the love of God that the Isreaelites have enjoyed.

It’s a good thing to do -- giving mercy and grace and peace to as many people as possible.  But they don’t like it -- WE don’t like it.  That’s why there are so many religions and denominations, each saying “We’re right, and all the rest are going to hell.”

It must be hard doing good and knowing that it will upset others.  That it will cause people to reject you or even punish you.

But God calls us to it just as he called his Son, just as he called those apostles.  Whether we make a mess of it, or whether we do it well and still suffer for it doesn’t matter.

Because the good we do isn’t in order to see some benefit or specific outcome.  It’s because God loved us first.  Amen.