Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sheep Without a Shepherd (or a GPS) - A Sermon

It’s summer, and like a lot of people in this high-traveling season, I’ve made a new friend. This friend helps me a lot but never shouts. Whenever I bring him along on a trip, he keeps me on my toes and generally makes sure I get where I’m going.

I’d like you to meet “Tim,” Yes, my GPS.

It’s not that I ever got LOST or anything before I met Tim. It’s just that finding my way home from work is so much easier now. Besides, now I don’t have to worry about missing exits or even gas stations, since Tim knows there those are, too.

He’s not perfect. Once he told me to turn off onto an exit that was closed. But all in all, I like never having to pull into a gas station and asking, “Where am I?”

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a GPS for our lives? You know, “Apply for job at this factory. Then, tell old boss to take a hike.” Or you’re walking along when someone you want to avoid approaches. You don’t see them, but Tim saves the day: “Turn around as soon as possible.” Listen to Tim. He’ll guide your life.

But for now, we still often feel lost and confused in this life. Some of us feel that way MOST of the time. And when you’re LOST you’re also often SCARED.

This is nothing new. Even before the days of GPS and Mapquest, people were getting lost on the roads of their lives. Confused and frightened, that’s our natural state it seems. And it’s usually in those states that we do silly things that get us in trouble.

Look at King David in the Old Testament. He’s going along in his new kingdom rather nicely, when he gets this idea of building a temple for God. God comes back to him and says, “Why are you doing this? Who asked you to do that? Just keep to the path you were on.” Of course, David keeps getting off the path, but fortunately for him, God keeps bringing him back.

Or look at Jesus in today’s Gospel. He saw that very thing in the people. He said they were like sheep without a shepherd. Let me tell you, sheep without a shepherd can very quickly equal lost, confused and frightened because sheep aren’t that bright (as we all know). And because they were so lost, he had compassion on them and gave them what they needed.

What he gave them was guidance. He taught them. Not so much in the “Do the right thing” sense as in the “come closer to your Father” sense. That is, showing what really matters in life. Because often we get lost by forgetting what is most important in life, forgetting what our goal is -- and the path.

Yes, he healed them and fed them because Jesus is God incarnate, and that means Jesus is love. But then, LOVE is our goal and love is our path. Unfortunately, Love is a goal and a path that’s easy to lose, because it’s a narrow and winding path with many obstacles.

So, the closest thing we have to a GPS for life is Jesus because he will always show a life that is pointed toward God and one that will always act toward others in a loving manner. When his disciples were tired, he asked them to rest -- sure wish more of US would do that with our employees and families. When the sheep were confused, even though he himself was exhausted, he taught. And when they were frightened because they thought he was a ghost, he calmed them.

Best yet, when they went wrong -- or when WE go wrong -- he forgives. And shows us the way back to him. Tim can’t forgive. The best he can do is say, “Turn around as soon as possible.”

By the way, did you know the word for “repent” is “turn around”?

I bring this up because today we have two baptisms, and in the baptismal covenant, one of the questions we ask is, “when you fall into sin, will you repent and turn to the Lord?” Will you return to the path? Will you listen to the voice that guides you? Will you follow Jesus?

Being baptized is a funny thing where we essentially ask people to join our group of travelers who are all following the same path, listening to the same voice. It is a group that understands just how lost we are without our shepherd, without God incarnate.

When we are baptized, we become part of the Body of Christ. We become sheep WITH a shepherd, we bind ourselves to God’s love and mercy. We’re not naive about what that means. God doesn’t say, “Turn right at next exit to find that dream house.” God stays with us and reminds us, “You’re getting off the path of Love, turn around as soon as possible.”

It might seem that most of the time God remains silent, that Jesus’ words in scripture are pretty much all we have. But then, God has given us more than a mere voice in a box. God has given us each other, too, and we are here to help along that road. I pray that you will be active parts in helping guide our newest members.

And that you, like sheep WITH a shepherd, will always turn to the Lord of life, who is our goal and our path, which, of course, is LOVE.