Styles NORTH MAIN STREET UMC SERMON SECOND SUNDAY OFEASTER APRIL 25, 2021
Welcome to our service today…
Fourthy Sunday of Easter - Earth Day
Jesus returns from the dead and meets his disciples in different places: the garden, the Emmaus Road, the seashore, the Upper Room. He witnesses to them that he is alive. He chased away the gloom that surrounded them with the Gospel of Easter and drowned their despair in a sea of grace. May God be present with us now, as in the days of Jesus, to make us whole and to make us holy.
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
1 Peter 2:19-25
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[a]
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[b] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Today we are continuing the sensory journey of seeing, touching, feeling and we now go to hearing. In Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd, he says that the sheep listen to his voice. Now, what is interesting is that he is speaking of the sheep of other folds, not the ones in front of him. It is in the first part of the chapter where he talks about us hearing and knowing and following his voice. Let’s start with silence. How do we give space for those who have come to worship to spend time in contemplation and silence? We sometimes think that we have to fill the hour of worship with sound or with action or movement. But sometimes just sitting still is the most prayerful time we can spend. Today is the Festival of God’s Creation. April 22 is Earth Day, and this is the Sunday designated for the observance of that event. We are called to partner with God in the stewardship of all creation. Too often, we see our worship space as the be all and end all of our responsibilities when we seek to encounter God. But we can hear the voice of God through the natural world. If we are to take seriously hearing God through the world around us, then we have to take seriously the care of the Earth. The invitation is to listen, to carefully listen. But not only listen, we expect to hear. Jesus doesn’t say, “Listen and maybe I’ll have something to say.” He says, “Listen to my voice.” “I am speaking” is the implied message, so pay attention.
It's unlikely that many young people, if taking a personality inventory, would choose "shepherd" as a career path. In fact, it's unlikely most of us have even seen a shepherd, except perhaps in a picture or on television. It's not a common profession in our culture, but in Jesus' day the work of the shepherd was well known.
Jesus often compared spiritual principles to things found in the everyday life of his contemporaries. In this teaching, Jesus uses the imagery of a shepherd to help us better understand how he relates to his followers. The first image is that of a shepherd going and coming through a door to the sheepfold. The second is that of sheep coming and going through that door.
Jesus' words remind us of a low stone fence surrounding a Palestinian home. The shepherd shelters his sheep in the fold near the house at night. Thieves and robbers will climb over the wall, causing the sheep to bleat and scurry about. The shepherd knows that entry by the door of the fold is calming to the sheep. The sheep recognize their shepherd and respond with relief. Sheep run to safety until they recognize someone familiar. The good shepherd is deliberate, careful, cautious, caring. Those who sneak over walls really don't care about the sheep. We have a shepherd who cares about us. In the sight of Jesus Christ, we are more than just a number. We are more than a picture on a driver's license. We are known by God and cared for by our Lord. We are the sheep he tends.
The second image of this text is the door as exit and entry for the sheep. We imagine sheep safe in the fold during the night when harm might come to them. I often hear people say that they can be religious without the church. I don’t know how you feel but I consider the church is a sheepfold into which we enter and from which we exit. It is a place of security, a place of safety, a place of promise. Life is not easy and here we can find support.
One thing the disciples always asked from Jesus was "teach us how to pray." It is logical that they most often prayed when they gathered together, but did they always listen and hear what he said. The reading from Peter is an endorsement of the fact that everything we have comes from God for the purpose of meeting others' needs just like the Good Shepard meets our needs. Once our basic needs have been met, nothing demands that we should spend the rest on ourselves or save it for our offspring. God has blessed us so that we might be a blessing to others. One thing we do not like to share is to suffer. Who really likes to sit around and discuss suffering? These days it seems like we spend a lot of time doing just that. We need not endure suffering silently. Hear Simon Peter as he leads us on a journey through suffering.
The difference between pain and suffering is the difference between mere physical discomfort and the consciousness of wondering why. People do have emotional suffering. Some of the worst suffering we endure is not physical pain at all but the emotional knowledge that something has gone very wrong in our lives. There are many things that bring suffering. But what we do with our suffering matters.
In today's text, Peter speaks to a group of people who are suffering not because of a natural cause but because someone else is persecuting them. To be in pain is one thing. To be in pain because someone else wants you to be in pain is something else. That is suffering. If a person endures suffering for doing good, that endurance is commendable before God. God can use our suffering to draw us close to him. He knows what it is to suffer unjustly. Suffering can draw us close to God, or it can drive us away. It can make us better or bitter. The choices is ours, but when we share our thoughts and prayers about suffering, we can finally realize that we are not alone.
We have a shepherd who cares about us. In the sight of Jesus Christ, we are more than we are known by God and cared for by our Lord. We are the sheep he tends. We just need to focus on listening and hearing when God talks to us.
We have been refreshed and restored. We have been called and guided. Let us go forth knowing who our true shepherd is, following his path, secure in the knowledge that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life. Amen.