Messages

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/05/26

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Reading:
John 3:1-17

Text:
John 3:6 – 7 “Flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying “You must be born again.”

Message
I was touched by this story I read about as I prepared for today’s message. In a magazine article recently, a forest ranger in Wales described the most common question that visitors to his park ask the forest rangers. Many people, he said, come to the park to hike one of the beautiful trails that wander through the forest, trails designed to display the magnificent trees and plants, to let the hikers encounter the array of wildlife in the forest, and to take hikers on to hilltops for breathtaking views of the countryside. But the most frequent question that visitors ask the forest rangers is not “Where does this trail go?” or “How long does it take to hike it?” or “Do we need bug spray on the trail” but instead “Excuse me, can you tell me where the trail starts?” It makes sense. No matter how lovely or breathtaking a trail may be, if you don’t know where the trail starts, you can’t hike it.

I thought about that question and I wondered. As we look at that story, what can I share with you today as today is Trinity Sunday, a day on the church’s calendar when we celebrate the Holy Trinity that God is one God alone but also that God is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The God with us, and of God in us. Once a year it is good for us to think hard about the threefold nature of God the Bible reveals to us as the Holy Trinity. The Bible reveals God coming to us in three distinct ways as three distinct co-equals over us, with us and in us who are nonetheless the same God. God is over us as our Creator, protector. The King and Lord, the Divine Parent, called Father who created and preserves all things and also rules from above.

But also is our loving Saviour who is gracious and merciful and has revealed Himself as the Son who came to die and rise for us to redeem us and reconcile us and save us from our Lostness that we might live in communion with God. This God not only creates and governs, preserves, reveals, loves and redeems but He also renews, transforms, empowers and sustains everything within creation and remains eternally present to us. All of this is the Work of one God who is indivisible in being, purpose and work. God is one. As holy, as wholly other as God is, not only heaven, but also the earth is filled with God’s glory, full with God’s presence. Here is the divine contradiction: God who is one, who is so beyond and unlike anything in the created order that nothing and be compared to God, is nonetheless personal, fully present, and at work in this world, and revealing God’s self to the world in ways that can be encountered and comprehended.

God has revealed Himself to us in three different ways, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three ways are related to one another within the unity of God’s being: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We call the first person Father because this is the Father of the Son and the source of the Spirit. We call the first person of the Godhead “Father” because this is what Jesus called him and taught us to call him in Jesus’ name. Through Jesus, the One Jesus called “Abba Father,” is also “Our Father” the source of all that is.

The Son: we call the second person of the Godhead “Son” because he comes from the Father, was sent by God as God’s incarnation to reveal God to us, to be God with us, to live out his life with and for us as one of us. Also known as the Son because He lived out His life in obedience to His Father, the Holy Spirit as Jesus prepared to return to His Father He promised us another Advocate – the Holy Spirit of God His presence with us and in us. The Spirit of God is the wind of God Jesus spoke of in today’s gospel, who blows where it will, whose work is to give new birth from above, to transform, renew, sustain, to make us children of God. The Spirit is the lifeline through whom the risen Son is present to us in life. The Holy Spirit is the wireless connection between us and the Son and us and the Father because they are “hard-wired” together in the one essence we call God.

So we see then that God is not like a great big parent, a father or mother in the sky, or maybe a fearsome judge who stares down and makes us behave out of fear and guilt. Or like a divine clockmaker who made the creation, wound it up, and let it tick away on its own. Or like some distant star, cold, unblinking, shining out there somewhere, but far away from us and our lives. When we truly come to know the Trinity we find that God is not a fearsome judge or a clockmaker or a distant star, but God is rather a community of persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a living and dynamic communion of love and self-giving. In the life of the Trinity the persons of the Trinity constantly relate to each other giving to each other and loving each other. How can we become part of this life of God? Nicodemus wants to enter this life of God.

God is one in essence, unity, being, power, holiness and purpose. We talk so much about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that we need to remember that they are three portions of the one reality we call God. That by the way is what Nicodemus in our scripture passage today is asking. Nicodemus is a religious leader; but there is sometimes a difference, you know, between being religious, even being a religious leader, and actually knowing God. Nicodemus has a very public commitment to God on the outside; but he wants, as many of us do, something more, something deeper, a relationship with God on the inside. Nicodemus wants to walk the trail into the mysterious forest that is God. A person’s car was involved in an accident. Then it was sent to a panel beater to be repaired for which the insurance would pay but then the panel beater found two dents on one of the doors that was not damaged in the accident and the insurance won’t pay for the dents to be repaired but when they got the car back they noticed that not only was the accident damaged repaired but also the two dents as well. Unlike the Insurer God repairs us in a new way like the panel beater does not only fix the accident dents but also the old dents.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he knew enough to know that Jesus was offering a new kind of body repair. The temple, priests and traditions had for good Jews been the place to seek repair work. Now Jesus’ language implied there was a new fix, into the new kind of repair needed for the faithful, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to check it out. What Jesus told Nicodemus was shocking … shocking to Nicodemus and maybe shocking to us, too. Jesus said, “Nicodemus. You don’t need God in your life … You don’t need God to come into your life. That’s backwards. You need to come into God’s life. God doesn’t come into your life. It works the other way. God offers us God’s own life as a gift and beckons us to enter it. You need to be in the life of God. In fact, Nicodemus, “you need to be born all over again, this time born into God’s life.” “I don’t know how to do that,” said Nicodemus. “I don’t know how to be born all over again into the life of God.” And Jesus said, “I know you don’t know. Well, there is good news for you, Nicodemus. The life of God is not far away from you. The life of God has come near to you. Indeed, the life of God is sitting right next to you, speaking to you now.” The love that binds together Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the passionate love that flows in the divine life, in the relationships of the Trinity, has spilled out into the world in Jesus. God so loved the world that God has given God’s only Son … given a Son not to condemn the world but to save it … given a Son as a way into the fullness of the life of God. So where does it all begin? It begins with Jesus to enter and that leads us into a joyful loving life of God. To be a follower of Jesus is not just to ask “What would Jesus do?” but to be drawn into a communion with the fullness of God’s life. To belong to Jesus is to belong to his whole family, to be drawn through Jesus the Son into a deep and loving relationship with God the Father in the power of the Spirit.

So Nicodemus comes to Jesus secretly, under the cover of darkness, to say, “You come from God. Everyone can see that. I want to know God, too; I want to really know God. I feel like I want God in my life. But how do I begin?” Once a little two year boy was baptized and then the minister, John Buchanon, put his hand on the little boy’s head and said, “You are a child of God sealed by the Spirit in your baptism and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” The little boy looked up and responded, “uh ah”. That “uh-ah” was a recognition that everything had changed, that this boy would never be the same. He did not belong any more just to this biological family; he had now been born all over again, this time into God’s Trinitarian family. Now he would be called to live out in the world, the kind of love and self-giving that goes on among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He was being called in his baptism to live a different way in the world, God’s way. What an appropriate response. The Trinity is all about belonging to God is to belong to the life of God, to the community of one God in three persons, and to be called to live our whole lives in the same manner that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to each other – playing tenderly, playing with ecstasy, and playing with love. God loved the world so much that God gave his only Son, and this Son, Jesus Christ, opens his arms wide to welcome us into the very life of God.

So it all begins here with Jesus Christ. We all need to be completely remade – be born from above.

 

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/05/19

To listen to the message, please click Message

Reading:
Acts 2:1-21

Text:
Acts 2:4a: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled he whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and come to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Message:

The day of Pentecost is always a great celebration for the church. We gather together each year on this day, to hear the story of the birth of the church, told in Acts 2: when the Holy spirit came upon the apostles like the rush of a violent wind, with tongues as of fire dancing on their heads; people from all nations hearing the apostles speaking in their own language, and more than 3000 responding by being baptized into Christ. It is an amazing story to hear again, isn’t it? The miracle of Pentecost. But don’t you wonder a little, when you hear this story, whether we are missing something today? So are we missing something? Where is the wind and the fire today? Where is the excitement of that first Pentecost?

Where is the Holy Spirit Today?

Perhaps the better question to ask is: Where is the Holy Spirit today? After all, isn’t that the point of Pentecost? To give us the Holy Spirit? So the question to ask today is not, where is the wind and the fire, but where is the Holy Spirit? The flames and rushing wind of Pentecost usually get most of our attention in this story. If that loud wind came rushing through this room right now, with divided tongues like fire appearing over our heads, I think we’d probably be more than just a little frightened. We like our worship services to be orderly and predictable. We like our Holy Spirit to show up in words and music, but not necessarily in the chaos of noisy wind and flying flames. We like our Holy Spirit to be tame, to show some self-control. The gift of Pentecost is the gift of energy and excitement in the church.” Pentecost is God’s way of shaking the moss off the church, blowing the cobwebs out of the sanctuary, and allowing electricity and excitement to energize the church. Well, if that’s the gift, God knows we need it. Some energy and some excitement in the church.

Pentecost means that we can be confident of the Holy Spirit’s power for us. We are most likely here today because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts. That faith clings to Jesus as the certainty of our eternal life. The Holy Spirit makes us ever-confident that Jesus’ work is completed, that Jesus’ work is for the whole world, that Jesus’ work is even for us. Even if we feel all alone on an island in the world around us, we are never alone. Our ascended Savior is ever with us, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom He promised and sent, is with us as well. The Holy Spirit may not always come with outwardly impressive signs among us today. But that doesn’t mean that he is silent or absent. He is still at work in each of us empowering and equipping us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others and to keep the fire burning in our hearts for Jesus. Wouldn’t it be nice to be lifted up and to have the life of the church flying like a flag, snapping in the powerful wind of the Spirit, with energy and excitement? The gift we receive on Pentecost today is the gift of power. After all, Jesus did say to the disciples, “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you shall receive power.” And if it’s power we receive this day, then God knows we need that, too. There used to be a time, you know, when the church had a certain kind of clout in the world, when it was viewed with respect and prestige. But gradually, it is being pushed to the margins.

Just think how on Sundays shops were closed and no provincial sport. No more Christian education at schools. Pentecost is the gift of power and God knows we need it. But the power Pentecost gives us is not like the power of the world. The power of Pentecost looks like weakness and vulnerability. Notice when the people at Pentecost saw the disciples they said they were drunk.” Now that’s a strange power. This gift of Pentecost is not the superficial gift of energy and excitement on injection of artificial adrenaline. It’s not the kind of power that the world thinks of power. The gift we get on Pentecost is the one gift we most desperately need and the world needs. Strangely enough, the gift of Pentecost is the gift of something to say, a Word to speak in the brokenness and tragedy of the world that is unlike any other word. Did you notice what happened to the church when the Spirit was given? It stood up and It spoke. It moved from silence to language. It talked and the whole world heard the good news in its own languages. As the prophet Joel said, “In the latter days, I will pour out my Spirit on all of humanity. And your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” Your sons and your daughters will have a Word to speak, that life is stronger than death, that hope is deeper than despair, that every tear will be dried, and that in the power of Christ’s resurrection, death and pain will be no more. That Word is our gift to speak.

When Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross was writing her famous book on death and dying, part of her research involved interviewing dying patients in the hospital, trying to find out how they felt and thought as they faced death. As she went from room to room in the hospital, she began to notice a remarkable pattern. Sometimes she would go into a dying person’s room and the person would be calm, at peace, and tranquil. She also began to notice that often this was after the patient’s room had been cleaned by a certain hospital orderly. One day, Dr Ross happened to run into this orderly in the hospital corridor, and she said to her, “What are you doing with my patients?” The orderly thought she was being reprimanded by the doctor, and she said, “I’m not doing anything with your patients.”

“I just talk to them,” the orderly said. “You know, I’ve had two babies of my own die on my lap. But God never abandoned me. I tell them that. I tell them that they aren’t alone, that God is with them, and that they don’t have to be afraid.” There’s the gift at Pentecost: a Word to speak in the brokenness and tragedy of the world, a word of good news and hope that is unlike any other word.

We see also that Pentecost shows us Jesus’ promises are trustworthy. Jesus in Luke 24:47-49. But there’s an even bigger promise here. Jesus had told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them. He would come to be their comforter, to remind them of everything that He had said, to speak through them the words that God had for them to share. Here Jesus fulfills that promise too. The Holy Spirit transforms these men from nervous people hiding in locked rooms to boldly proclaiming the good news about Jesus to the world. The Holy Spirit turns Peter’s impetuousness into confidently sharing Jesus’ forgiveness with all.

What are you drunk on this morning? What intoxicates your life? Is it success, business, exhaustion, self- importance, fear, self-doubt, self-criticism, perfectionism, being right and what others think about you? These poisons and distorts our lives. They cause us to stumble and fall and blurs our vision to the holiness and beauty of who we really are and who we are to become. I don’t think any of us really want to live that way. That is not God’s intention or desire for our lives. That’s not the life Christ lived or the one He offers us.

Pentecost frees us from this intoxication. It is the power of God to change and transform lives. At Pentecost a new spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, fills and intoxicates us. We are intoxicated by God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s generosity, God’s beauty, God’s deeds of power in our lives. Pentecost fills our lives to the brim with love. It opens our eyes to the mystery of God and the wonder and beauty of life. It softens our heart and calls us to find ourselves in the lives of others. It allows us to stand in that most holy place of our truest and most authentic self.

David Lose writes, “The Spirit doesn’t solve our problems, but invites us to see possibilities we would not have seen otherwise. Rather than remove our fear, the Spirit grants us courage to move forward. Rather than promise safety, the Spirit promises God’s presence. Rather than remove us from a turbulent world, or even settle the turbulence, the Spirit enables us to keep our footing amid the tremors.”

On Monday 24th in 1738, John Wesley reluctantly attended a meeting in a house on Aldersgate Street in London. As he listened to someone read Luther’s preface to the book of Romans, he felt his heart grow strangely warm, and he experienced the assurance that his sins had been forgiven. Wesley went on to develop a “method” for living a holy life that calls for full and complete commitment to the way of Christ.

Wesley’s experience all those years ago led to a movement of the Holy Spirit that is still at work throughout the world, despite repeated human efforts to quench it. The Holy Spirit will not be gamed. God’s Spirit cannot be limited by our feeble attempts to control it, to keep it within polite boundaries. Just as the Holy Spirit warmed John Wesley’s heart, and propelled those first apostles into the streets of Jerusalem, it propels us into our own streets, to share the good news that Jesus is who he says He is: Jesus is Lord.

Wesley then wrote a prayer that is used at the beginning of each year at our Covenant service as we renew our commitment to Jesus. And as we pray it, I invite you to make it your own, knowing that the Holy Spirit has come alongside you to be your advocate, your comforter, and your encourager in this life-long journey of faith. Come, Holy spirit, come. Let us pray together.

Lord, I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy spirit, you are mine, and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/05/12

Please note that there is no video for the sermon this week

Reading:
John 17:6-19

Text:
John 17:9 “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given me, for they are Yours.

Message:

Think about what we have here, brothers and sisters. We have recorded for us a prayer of Jesus. And it is not just any prayer, but a final prayer – a prayer which he uttered to God the Father, in the presence of his disciples, after instructing them in order to prepare them for the difficult road ahead, and before his time of suffering. Think about the treasure this is! We have before us a prayer of the Christ. The prayer is deeply encouraging because in it he prays for you and for me. And the prayer is insightful because through it his heart and mind are revealed.

Amazing, isn’t it? That Jesus prays for us? Just stop and think about that for a moment. It is such a gift and blessing to be prayed for. I know that I personally appreciate everyone who prays for me, and I consider it a privilege and calling to remember you in my prayers, too. Prayer is a remarkable gift, because it opens us up to God’s promises, and invites God to help us, and those for whom we are praying. Every prayer is heard by God; which means that every time we pray, or are prayed for, something quite wonderful happens. I believe that. But today, we are reminded that Jesus actually prays for us. What better gift is there? And not only that, but we get to actually listen in on this prayer. John heard this prayer and faithfully recorded it, so we actually know what Jesus was praying for.

So, in today’s Gospel Jesus is praying. He’s not talking to the disciples and He’s not talking to us. He’s not teaching and He’s not giving instructions. He’s praying and we are listening in. and what a prayer it is. The disciples had always wanted in on Jesus’ prayer life: you couldn’t miss his passionate intimacy with God, and they had said probably more than once, “Lord, teach us to pray.” But in the shadows, on that last night after supper, Jesus wasn’t teaching them to pray, but he was praying for them – right in front of them.

There is something very tempting about escaping from the world, and we all pursue escape in one way or another. This desire to escape from the challenges of life is as ancient as human history. The human desire for people of faith, once we experience and begin to understand what is holy, set apart and good about life together within the context of Christian community, we have a tendency to want to avoid the clamor and conflict of the greater world. We tend to want to escape and cocoon ourselves within the safe, comfortable confines of Christian community while staying away from the major issues that confront the greater community, our country, or the world.

On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus speaks words of prayer and promise for all His disciples. And what is it that Jesus prays for? He prays that his followers may find God’s support, encouragement, strength, protection and courage to face the challenges that come from living in the world and bearing witness to the gospel of grace and love that comes from him. and, he prays that his followers may be one in fellowship with each other and with God. Jesus prays this prayer because He knows that He is going to the Father but His followers are not. He will no longer be with them in the same way which leads to this prayer. So Jesus is getting them ready when He is no longer with them so He prays “I protected them in Your Name that You have given me… But now I am coming to You.”

Firstly Jesus prays for their protection.

In verse 6-10 we read, we see Jesus is praying for those given to Him and not for the world that those given to Christ are, in and of themselves, no different than the others. They were given to Jesus “out of the world”. In other words, the ones given to the Son are, before they come to the Son, worldly. They belong not to a different order of things. They are by no means of a different kind. No, they are given to Jesus out of the world. The word world in John’s Gospel is used to describe this planet, and the people living upon this planet – sinful, fallen people, who are living in darkness and are at enmity with God. Those given to Jesus are taken out of that, and not from some other order of things. We see in verse 9 Jesus is not praying for those of the world but for those that have been given to Jesus out of the world and therefore belonging to Him.

The world was a hostile place for early Christians and the world can be a very difficult, challenging place for us today. The words we hear from Jesus on this day do not sugarcoat the challenges his followers face. Jesus speaks words of truth about the world in which we live. This is a world where war seems to be a constant. Terrorism is a threat both here and abroad. Poverty and homelessness are very real and present in our own community, throughout our country and around the globe. Hunger is a monumental challenge around the world. Chaos and uncertainty seem to reign supreme and explosive news confronts us every day.

Yes, the world is a difficult place and Jesus does not deny that. In today’s reading, we hear him speak words of truth about what the disciples will face. And, we who call ourselves Christian, need to hear these words, and we need to speak and hear words of truth about what we are facing in our time. Jesus’ words provide his followers with no escape from life’s difficulties. His words to the Father are, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” He asks for God’s protection and support against all the evils of the world for all his followers. Jesus does not pray that we be taken out of the world, but that we be fully present to its difficult and painful realities. Jesus does not promise us exemption from the struggles of life, but he does promise and assure us that we are not alone in the struggle. And, instead of retreating from the world, Christ offers us an alternative model that can empower us to live in the world without succumbing to its values and pressures. We are to live amid all the knotted complexities without getting ourselves entangled. And, by immersing ourselves in God’s word and God’s action through the living Word, by feeding us with the nourishment of Jesus’ very life through weekly worship services, God reorients our yearnings for escape. By immersing ourselves in the living Word, God transforms us as the truth of God’s word is revealed to us in the very real stuff of the world.

While Jesus was with His disciples He could protect them but now things have changed so Jesus prays “Holy Father protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me so that they may be one as we are one.”(verse 11) The evil one wants us not to be one. That is why Jesus prays that we must be one. So Jesus asks the Father to preserve or keep those true disciples of His. Jesus’ prayer is that the Father would keep us from the evil one (verse 15) who is trying to divide us. You know the saying that Christians are to be in the world but not of it. As Christians we are to live in the world. That means we will live on this earth and it means that we are to participate in society. We are to rub shoulders with those who are of the world. We are to work with non-Christians, serve with them, raise our children with them, vote with them, trade with them, serve on juries with them, and perhaps even fight alongside them. We, as Christians, are citizens of the kingdoms of this earth.

Notice that Jesus prays “I do not ask that you take them out of the world”. We should resist the temptation to isolate ourselves from the world, as if we were monks retreating to a monastery. This seems to be quite contrary to the way of Christ and to the way of his disciples. They walked in this world. They engaged. They ate with tax collectors and sinners. We are to live in the world. I would encourage you to think about this point. Jesus desires that we remain in this world but never be of it. We belong not to the world but to Christ. Jesus also prays that no one will get lost that the Father will keep them all. And that they be kept in His joy (verse 13) “That they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves”. Look at what you have in Christ Jesus, brothers and sisters! How could you not have joy in him? And if you have joy in him (a joy that remains even in the midst of trials and tribulation by virtue of the resurrection power of Christ), then you will indeed be kept by God to the end in that joy. Christ desires that you have joy, brothers and sisters. That is different from saying that Christ wants you to be made happy by the things of this world. No, it’s better than that! Christ wants you to have joy in him – joy in the Father – deep, lasting, and substantial happiness in God the Father.

Jesus prays sanctify them in the truth (verses 17-19)

There are two key words in this prayer, sanctify and truth. Jesus is praying that we would be set apart. We do not belong to the world, he says in this prayer, just as He does not belong to this world. We do not belong to the world, but we are sent into the world, he also says. So, we are set apart from the world in order to be sent into the world. The world can be a tough place to try and stay afloat. Even without a pandemic, there are many trials and tribulations in this world. As it has been famously said, we ought to be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting some sort of battle. And in my experience, that is exactly right.

The world is full of battles. But we are not of this world anymore. We follow Jesus. We know that our God loves us and all this world, and that makes all the difference. We have made our way onto the lifeboat, or more accurately, Jesus has lifted us onto his lifeboat. Now, we are in a unique position to help others. To be sanctified is to be set apart and made holy for the service of God. Christ is praying that those given to him be set apart and made holy for service. Truth is God’s word that is the truth we stand in and share with others that God created us, that He loves us and without Jesus we are lost.

Jesus now sends us

The words that come now immediately after the prayer of sanctification and truth is “As you sent me into the world so I have sent them into the world”. We have been sent into the world, in the same way that Jesus was sent into the world. Not to save the world, of course. But to introduce the Savior to the world. To remind the world of God’s undying love for all this world. This is the truth that anchors us in the storms of life, and that fills us with hope and faith. It is the truth that makes our joy complete, in the beautiful words of this prayer. It is the truth, our shared, objective truth, that has a name, and his name is Jesus.

As this prayer continues, we then hear a great crescendo as Christ prays, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This is a very strong phrase because the words “sent into the world” are the exact opposite of escaping from or “getting out” of the world. This verse in today’s gospel is patterned on Jesus’ own life and calls the church to follow his example by becoming engaged with the world in all of its distorted powers and pressures. It is Jesus’ prayer that we be able to engage the dangers of this world while wholeheartedly entrusting our protection to God.

We do live in a difficult and often painful world. And, we can at times become exhausted, even feel despair as we view ceaseless violence and corruption both here and around the world. However, Jesus’ words today tell us we have been sent to bear witness to the truth that God loves this whole world, broken as it is. Our work and our mission is to trust that God does protect us while we are in this world so that we might engage it fully, unafraid and free. And, we have been promised Christ’s presence with us and to us as we vitally and faithfully live into this mission. Energized and fed by the truth of God’s word, we are called not to escape, but to do the necessary work to which we are called so that all people might have a more abundant life here and now.

Jesus. Our way, our truth, and our life. Who loves us, who died for us, and who prays for us. Then and now. Praying that we would be protected from evil. Praying that we would be one. And praying that we would be so secure in his truth, that we would be able to rescue those around us, who are struggling to find a truth on which to rest, and to build a life of meaning and hope. Jesus is that truth. And he asks that we share it with the world. Let us do so faithfully, to the glory of God.

Amen

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/05/05

To listen to the message, please click Message

Reading:
John 15:9-17

Text:
John 15:9-10 “As the Father has loved me so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.”

Message:
In verse 9 we read a profound declaration that Jesus made “As the Father has loved me so have I loved you.” At first it’s so lovely, warm, fuzzy – God is love. Jesus loves me, Love one another. But if I think about these words, they had seen the way the Father loved Jesus. Oh yes, they were dumbfounded by his passionate intimacy with God, and they wanted in on that. But they had seen what issued from that intimacy. How did the Father love Jesus? He had pushed him out of the comfortable confines of heaven down onto earth where, as a baby, Herod tried to kill him, the Father sends him into the wilderness for 40 days under assault by the devil trying to get his claws into him, the Father loved him by pressing him into conflict with the super pious and with violent bureaucrats who plotted to put an end to him, and the Father loved him by encircling him with friends that never “got” what he was about, and they ran for the exits when he could have used a few friends. How did the Father love Jesus? Peril at every turn, demons to be cast out, the sick pulling on him, crowds pressing, a woman yanking the hem of his garment, no roof over his head, and then the worst conceivable end.

We might wish Jesus had said something else, like: “As the Father has loved me … well, I will spare you all of that; I will love you differently; I will let you live on an island of ease and weave a spell of protection around you.” But, no, it seems that Jesus’ words of love are the same as the Father’s; and if we abide in his love, we may lose the roof over our heads, we will battle devils, people will wrinkle their brow and be totally puzzled by our weirdness, we won’t get ahead in the world, we will be catapulted into serving in daunting places, and that is why being loved by Jesus is so good. It’s hard, unfathomable, something you have no ability to pull off, but you go, and you know the one loving you has been there, and it’s so hard, which is why it’s meaningful.

Jesus was firmly rooted in the love of God. Jesus was firmly established in an intimate living fellowship with God and faith in God. His actions and teachings had their life-source in God’s love. The secret of the life of Jesus was his connectedness with God. He withdrew regularly into a solitary place to meet and have fellowship with God. Jesus was always abiding in God. In our day we find it hard to withdraw from our busy schedules to be with God. We are hard pressed for time to listen to His voice of love and grace. When we take the time to speak to God, we are often not patient enough to wait on Him and listen to His voice. “Remain in my love”, we hear the invitation of Jesus coming to us. Don’t just do a hit-and-run kind of deal. But, remain! Abide! Stay for a while! And listen… “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you…”, says Jesus in verse 9. You might ask the question, “How, exactly, did Jesus experience His Father’s love?” What did he get from God in exchange for his obedience?

But we know also that the heavenly Father gave his son Jesus an infinite sense of belonging and being rooted in his love. “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”, we hear the blessing spoken at the time of his baptism. God gave Jesus a firm foundation … the conviction of His Presence, his counsel and his faithfulness in times of trial and temptation. Jesus received from His heavenly Father a peace that far exceeds the restlessness of this world. The Father’s love assured him of a sense of security and safety in this harsh world. That is the confirmation that we too can experience through the love of Jesus. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you…” As we experience the love of Jesus, we are the beneficiaries of a love that goes far beyond material things. It is a love that exceeds human understanding. It is a love that cannot be earned … a love that knows no boundaries … a love that we couldn’t get if we chose it . That’s right! We did not choose Jesus. Rather, He chose us.

We are to remain in His love

Now Jesus calls for his disciples to remain in his love. Live your life in the love of Jesus. But how do we do this? Is remaining in the love of Christ simply a feeling? How do we remain in that incomprehensible love? Jesus explains how in verse 10. Jesus remained in the Father’s love by keeping his Father’s commandments. In the same way, we remain in the love of Jesus by keeping his commandments. Jesus is not here saying that when you obey the commandments then He will love you and when you disobey them He will not love you anymore. If we see it this way that the love of Christ depends on our obedience to His commands we are doomed. Our joy will never be full of every sin and every mistake takes us out of the love of Christ.

Loving Jesus is not a feeling but a call to obedience. We cannot love the Lord and not keep His commands. Obedience is not a duty and hardship. Like we have to go to church, do we have to go to a bible study, do we have to read the scriptures. Obedience is seen as slavery keeping us from doing the things we want to. But is this the picture of how Jesus remained in the love of the Father? Is this the idea that Jesus left for us: that he served the Father in obedient misery? Obedience was not duty, hardship, or doom and gloom. Obedience to the Father did not keep Jesus from doing all the things he wanted to do. What Jesus wanted to do was be obedient to the Father. It is not that we have to obey to show our love. It is that we love the Lord and want to show that love, which is only displayed through obedience to the Lord. When we are living in the love of our Lord, we will want to obey. This is what Jesus is saying. No one is living in the love of the Lord and not obeying Jesus. This was the point of the first eight verses of John 15. Branches that are remaining in Jesus bear fruit. Remaining in the love of Christ means that we will do as he asks of us. Listen to how the psalmist pictures this truth:

“I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8)

Obedience to the Lord is the means to full, lasting joy. Joy logically follows when disciples realize that loving Christ is true life. This is what will fill us. This is what we are looking for. Satan tries to deceive us that his temptations are the way to true joy and that God’s way is restrictive and joyless. The world insists that turning from sin to follow Christ will take away all your joy and all your pleasures in life. Jesus insists on the opposite. True, lasting joy that fills your life to the maximum is found in remaining in the love of Jesus. Listen to what Jesus is saying: you will find true joy by doing what he says. God chose us for you. Jesus says in verse 11: I have told you this that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” The love of Jesus toward us is motivated by joy. Happiness is a human quality. We are happy when we get our way.

But the joy Jesus is talking about is a quality of happiness that surpasses the purely mundane everyday joy. This joy springs from an inner peace that we have only in the belief of our salvation and love in God. A joyful person is one who knows that he or she is a forgiven sinner and we are all sinners. Jesus now shows the high standard of the love that is given to us. Love one another as Jesus has loved us. This is an amazing call for Jesus’ disciples. Remaining in the love of Jesus means that we will love one another. If we love Jesus then we will desire to express our love for one another. Loving Jesus leads us to love others. Full joy comes from loving one another. Once again, loving others is not a dreadful duty. We are filling up our joy by loving others. Where the world tells us that true joy is found in selfish living, I believe most of us have recognized how empty such a lifestyle is. Jesus again gives us a counter-cultural, counter-intuitive command that our joy will be full when we love others as Jesus has loved us. Jesus died on the cross for everyone, in fact if you were the only person in the world Jesus would have died for you because He loves each one of us.

We are chosen for love. There is a wonderful and challenging word that Jesus speaks in verse 13: “No one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” What more can a person do to show love for another person but to give your life for another! Now listen to what Jesus does with this in verse 14. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus is going to lay down his life for his friends. We remain friends with Jesus by doing what he says. His friends are characterized by obedience.

Jesus no longer calls us servants. There is nothing better than serving our great God. However, there is something better. Jesus has revealed his plan to his disciples. Therefore, they are not merely servants who serve without any knowledge of what the master is doing. They are friends because they serve knowing what the master is doing. Jesus has revealed all that he has heard from the Father. Jesus calls us friends. How amazing is it that God can come to us and call us his friends! Our joy will be full when we are friends with Jesus! We will be friends with him when we remain in him and live in him and He in us through his words.

Jesus calls us to be his friends. We can come to him at any time. We are full partners with Him in trying to save this world because He has made His business known to us. We are fully fledged partners with Him in the cause of bringing the world into God’s kingdom. We are his partners, his ambassadors. Jesus chose us to be His voice, his hands, and feet. He has appointed us to Go and Bear fruit in other word go and get results. There are many ways in which our friendship with Jesus can find expression. The fruits of love that we bear for Christ are limited only by our imagination and by the depth of our love of Jesus. Kindness is the sweetest of fruits. Kindness is that quality of love which is as much concerned with the feelings of others. It is as concerned with the sorrow, the struggles, the problems of other people. Kindness has learned the secret of looking outward at all times, and not inward. What this really boils down to is that we have no choice in the matter. Jesus says, “This is my command: Love each other as I have loved you.” The way I read this, if we want to be His friends, if we want to remain in His love, if we want to obey Him as He has obeyed the heavenly Father, then we have no choice but to oblige.

Finally Jesus filled our joy full by choosing us. Jesus is speaking to His apostles about how He appointed them to be His apostles. They did not choose Jesus but Jesus chose them. Their appointment to apostleship was not based on their own merit, but by the grace of Jesus. Further, Jesus did not choose them because they were rich or powerful or eloquent. No apostle submitted a resume to be one of his chosen apostles. Jesus simply appointed them to go and bear fruit. The disciples had a mission to focus on. While these words were directed to his apostles specifically, the application is for us also. We were chosen to be holy and blameless before our God. To use the words of this gospel, we were chosen by God to bear fruit. God’s election removes all pride and any consideration of merit and forces us to rely completely on the glorious grace of God. Looking at God’s grace to love us despite our actions, we must love God and, noticing John 15:17, we must love one another. Jesus says that your joy can be full. You can be satisfied in Christ alone. Be satisfied by knowing that Jesus loves you like the Father loves Jesus. Joy and satisfaction is found in obedience to God’s commands, not running away from God’s commands. Be satisfied in the knowledge that we have been drawn to the Father in a deep relationship that we are not merely servants, but we are friends of God. This knowledge propels our faith and causes us to love the Lord our God and to love one another. This love for God and one another will bear fruit, showing that we are remaining in Christ.

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/04/28

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Reading:
1 John 4:7-21

Text:
1 John 4:11: “Dear Friends since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God but if we love one another God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

Message:

The first reason we love is because it is the character of God. God is love. This means that we do not get to make excuses for ourselves. We cannot bypass this command because we are just not a loving kind of person. Now it is important to define what the scriptures mean by love. Love does not refer to feelings or being an emotionally soft person. Love is the denying of self for the gain of another. This is what love looks like in marriage. I don’t do what I want or what is in my interest, but what is for the gain of the other. This is what love looks like among us as well. Our actions are controlled by what will bring gain to another person through the denying and sacrificing of ourselves. So if we are not loving people what we are admitting is that we are self-consumed and only act selfishly. We are looking at how others can deny themselves for the gain of me. This is not love but selfishness and is sin. Love is thinking about others and not thinking about ourselves. Relationships are destroyed when we think about how things affect us, rather than thinking about how our acts are affecting others. Therefore, we cannot excuse ourselves because we think we have an unloving personality. We need to repent of being that way and change our personality toward being self-sacrificing.

If we are born of God we are going to share in His character traits. Loving each other is the proof that we know God and are born of God. It isn’t always easy to love one another – and for some it is a struggle. “The love that Christ commands is not easy, even for people who are blessed with great natural warmth of heart. and it is not impossible, even for those of us who tend to be crabby and short-tempered. For Christian love is not a vague feeling of affection for someone. It is rather a condition of the heart and will that causes us to seek the welfare of others – including people we don’t particularly like, and even people who have done us wrong.” ( Louis Cassels). If there is any overarching characteristic that Christians are to have, it is love. God’s love makes our love look puny! His eternal ever-forgiving love appears gigantic next to our small efforts at love. Yet God calls us to love each other – and to love others – even our enemies. How is it that this incredible unbelievable love of God can become our love?

I   We love because God first loved us

God reveals His love in the most dramatic and powerful way in sending Jesus His only Son to die on the cross so that we might live. We see the depth, height and width of this love that while we were yet sinners and rebels that Jesus died for us that we might be forgiven and have a new life. God denied Himself for our gain. Jesus reveals to us the heart of God. We see in verse 10 “This is love: not that we loved God but that He loved us.” So our proper attitude we should have is love is not that we love Him but that He loves us. Love is not that we do things for God but God does so much for us. We are motivated by what God has done for us.

He sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins. God removed the offense and covered our sin with his mercy so that the relationship is restored. The greatness of the sacrifice reveals the love. So we read in verse 11 “If God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.” What God did for us drives us to do the same for one another. No one has seen God but the love of God should be seen in us by loving each other. We cannot see God and the world cannot see God. But the world is supposed to see the love of God in us by the way we treat each other. We are convincing people that the invisible God truly exists. God is seen in that he abides in us. His love is perfected in us. We prove God by the love we show for each other. God’s love is perfected when it is reproduced in us and among us, the community of faith. In this community of faithful believers we see God’s love have its ultimate fulfillment. To put this another way. God revealed his love for us by sending his Son in a sacrifice for us. When we do not sacrifice for each other, then it shows that God’s love is not in us and God’s love has no meaning or value to us. When we see God’s love and act upon that love by loving others, then God’s love is being made complete in our lives and God’s love is being brought to completion on this earth because we are carrying out God’s purpose.

Qualities of this Love

Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling, it is a decision. That is the kind of love God has, not fuzziness that overlooks sin – the decision to love and forgive sin. C.S. Lewis says “Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved persons, ultimate good as far as can be obtained.” “Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.” This is the heart and soul of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s what distinguishes us as Christians. In the words of the old camp song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” God loves us, and we, in turn, love one another – that’s the essence of the Christian faith. Yet, when you try to put love into action, it’s a lot easier said than done. Face it, sometimes we don’t feel very loving, and, to be honest, some folks are a lot easier to love than others.

What lies behind the admonition to love one another as God loves us, in order that we might rediscover what is the source of love, and, in so doing, tap into the well-spring of a love that is both encompassing of all those we meet and enduring over the changing seasons of our lives. As we read in verses 7-8. From these two verses we see that the source or origin of love comes from God. Proud people think that love comes from them, and while it’s true that we can do some things with our love, realistically it’s difficult to maintain. So, spiritually speaking, love comes from God. If you glance through this passage the word “love” appears 27 times and God appears 20 times. The implication we get from this is that God and love are related. In fact, this passage clearly states: “God is love,” not once, but twice in the hope that it will sink into our thick skulls. Since God is love, he becomes the source of pure, genuine, lasting love. Just as a battery is the source of power in our cell phones, or the engine is the source of power in our cars, God is the source of love in our lives. If you want something, it’s best to go to the source to get it because the source is where the greatest supply and the purest form is going to be found. If you want water, you go to a water source and if we want to love we have to go to God.

If the source of our love is not God, the real thing, then ultimately, we’ll find that our love will be limited in some way and unsustainable. When we think about the topic of love, most people think about the romantic side of love, or the emotional type of love. While this can be really good, and we need it, if that is all we have, it will eventually fall short because frankly our emotions are fickle and unreliable and can change like the wind. When God is the source of our love, our supply is unlimited. We don’t have to go someplace to get recharged or filled up like we do with our cars. Not only that, when God is the source of our love, we actually get to know Him better, because in order to genuinely love others, we have to draw near to God and rely on Him to do it. And when you’re working closely together like that you naturally get to know God a little better. When we love deeply, not the shallow superficial kind, we begin to understand God’s heart and how hard it is to really love genuinely. To be consistent, compassionate, and patient is not always easy. Usually we can take just so much and then we want to explode. But in the process of experiencing this, we become more thankful to God because we realize just how hard it is to love, it must have been just as hard for him to love us and yet he still bore with all our rejection, failures and shortcomings. If you want to get to know someone better, try doing what they do. So we know how to love because God put it in our hearts when He made us.

In verse 10 we see the ultimate expression of God’s love. “This is love not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God’s love is the highest expression for love there is (verse 9). We see that true love requires tremendous life-giving sacrifice– This is the definition of true love. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 we read about love qualities. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

We don’t have the capacity to love, separate and apart from God. We can feel infatuation, and we can practice reciprocity, returning a favor to someone who does something nice for us. But, as for love – genuine love – that can only come from God. The Good News is, when we’re willing to place God at the center of our lives, God’s love fills our hearts and gives us the grace to love one another, not just in part and for the moment; but fully, intimately, completely, and for all time. Only love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Only love such as this lasts forever.

We read in verse 16 “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Sometimes man’s love can be incomplete. This can be so irritating and unsatisfying like finishing a puzzle only to find that you’re missing several pieces. However, when we love, God’s love is made complete in us. The cycle starts with God loving us, and it’s completed when we love others.

Conclusion

In verse 18 we read, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. Through God’s love, we don’t have the fear of judgment. When we are caught disobeying the law, we are fearful because of the judgment we will receive. But when God’s love is complete in us, we are not afraid of judgement anymore because Jesus paid our price as an atoning sacrifice, so we are no longer under God’s judgment and have been set free.

In verse 21 we see “And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” Ultimately God has given us his command to love others. And when we obey his command it is one way that we reveal we love God. So how can we love God? First off, we can’t hate. Verse 20 says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” Therefore, we need to forgive people. How can we love if we don’t forgive?

We know that our love at best is limited so we must come to God for wisdom and strength to love as God first loved us. When we reach our limit, and it happens, we must come to God in prayer and ask for his help, just like Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane. Ultimately God must be living in our heart for us to be able to love others. God’s love is anything but abstract. It is concrete and specific and this is why we are called to love one another not with husky feelings but with deeds of loving kindness. The source of our love is God, and God’s love is concrete and specific, first in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and repeated, over and over again, in deeds of loving kindness we’re able to share with others in Christ’s name.

We have to direct our love toward the people around us. Love is action, we can’t just love with just emotion, with just a warm fuzzy feeling inside of us, we must love with action and truth to become a person of action like Jesus (1 John 3:18). Even married people fall out of love all the time, if we want a lifelong commitment it must go beyond just our feelings, it becomes a decision for us to love one another. Love must be action otherwise it could fade according to your fickle feelings. Therefore, practically speaking, we must not envy or dishonor others. We must not keep a record of their wrongs against us but forgive. We must not delight in evil or boast. Instead we must be patient and kind to each other. We must be humble and always trust, protect, persevere, hope and rejoice in truth.

Well, here’s what I hope you’ll take home with you today: 1 John 4:11, “Beloved if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.

MESSAGE FOR SUNDAY, 2024/04/21

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Reading:
John 10:11-18

Text:
John 10:14-15 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Message:

Today is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. The image of God as our Shepherd and Jesus as our Good Shepherd is such a familiar one. But is it still of help to us? It is rather old fashioned, is it not? In Biblical times everyone knew a shepherd. It would have been a very familiar and helpful metaphor. But is it still so today? And yet somehow, this image continues to speak to us as people of faith. Psalm 23 is still one of our most beloved Psalms and passages in Scripture. Jesus as the Good Shepherd is still one of the most familiar ways of thinking of Him and of picturing Him. It is so because we all long for a shepherd. We all know that we need someone to lead us and to protect and to guide us. We are a lot like sheep. And sheep need shepherds.

Our world is in such a mess and needs someone to lead us. Our world certainly needs a good shepherd now. We need someone that we trust to lead us as a nation with coming elections and our troubled country and also all around the world with the wars and murders. Times like these are when we need a shepherd more than ever. Because we are a lot like sheep. Whether it is an old-fashioned image or not, it is still true. We are still a lot like sheep.

The main point of our Gospel reading today is found in verse 11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Note the different reaction of the hired hand in verse 13: since the sheep do not belong to the hired hand, he does not care for them. Tending sheep is just a job. But the good shepherd cares because the sheep are like his own family. They are his sheep; they belong to him, they have an intimate relationship with him (“I know my own and my own know me”). He calls each of his sheep by their name, and they hear his voice. They follow only his voice and no one else’s. That’s what Jesus is and does for us. He lays down His life for the world, for you and I in particular.

I   Sheep require a great deal of maintenance. We see this is Psalm 23. Shepherds tend to be quite busy. This means that if Jesus is the good shepherd we are the sheep. In Psalm 95 we read “we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” Being called a sheep will upset many today. We like to think of ourselves in more flattering terms than as sheep. Sheep are not very bright, stubborn, often mean and irritable, prone to wandering off. We butt heads with each other, and we bully the weak. We are sheep who hurt each other and hurt ourselves. Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; everyone has turned to his own way.” We don’t naturally like to stay close to the flock. Sheep are prone to straying, and so are we. We’ll drink any contaminated water that promises refreshment. We like to munch on any grass in the pasture that looks appetizing, no matter how poisonous it might turn out to be. We want to jump on board political band-wagons, embrace erring philosophies, and swallow the narrative our culture gives us hook, line, and sinker. We’ll wander off on our own, thinking we can go it alone. Just me and God, thank you. Who needs all the difficulties of congregation and community when you can go it alone? I know better after all. But, a lone sheep is an easy meal for the wolves. As independent as we like to think we are, we follow the leader, and if that leader isn’t the good shepherd, we’ll follow the leader to our own death and destruction.

When you spend any time studying Scripture, it becomes very obvious that God’s plan is for us to be together, in a community of faith like this one. You might remember that the first thing Jesus does when he begins his ministry, is to call a group of disciples together. And the early church – after Jesus is crucified and raised – spent a lot of time together. In the Book of Acts, we learn what life was like for those early Christians. In Acts 2:46 “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”

Christians are supposed to spend much time together. We are not intended to be on our own. That’s why Jesus created the church. That is one of its primary purposes: So that we sheep can come together and be kept safe. And so that we can join together in seeking guidance from our shepherd. Especially in uncertain times like this one. Which brings us to the second way that we are like sheep. Our waywardness comes from the original itch of wanting to be gods in place of God, doing it our way instead of God’s way. You and I have that same stubborn tendency. It manifests itself in our spiritual restlessness, our boredom, our itch to hear things that will give us warm fuzzies inside instead of something that will point out our faults and call us to repent. Left on our own, we’d be dead sheep, devoured by the wolves.

II   It turns out that sheep are very good at hearing, and especially at hearing the voice of their shepherd. A practice typical in Jesus’ time was for shepherds to get together with other shepherds and their sheep during the day. A bunch of shepherds, all together with lots and lots of sheep, usually at some kind of watering hole. It was noisy and chaotic, to say the least. But at the end of the day, the shepherds would call for their sheep. And the sheep would follow their own shepherds to a safe place to sleep. In the midst of all that chaos, and all those competing voices, the sheep would hear their shepherd’s voice and follow their shepherd. And that is, of course, what we are supposed to do, too: Listen to our shepherd, our good shepherd, and follow him.

There are plenty of competing voices these days, all clamoring for our attention. Voices from our TV’s and our computers, and our phones and tablets, and on and on. But there is only one voice that truly matters to our soul. And that is the voice of the shepherd, the voice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Sheep are good at listening to the voice of their shepherd, and we need to be, too. Now, more than ever.

III   Jesus says also I know my sheep. “I am the good shepherd,” says Jesus. Jesus tells us what he means. “I know my own, and my own know me”(verse 11). You are Jesus’ own sheep, and he knows you, and likely better than you know yourself. He knows you. Your strengths are known, and your weaknesses are understood. He is aware of your fears. He perceives your sins. He understands you the way an architect understands a house he planned. The way a shepherd knows each one of his sheep and calls them by name. He is the God who created you; that brought you into being inside your mother’s womb. Even now, he sustains your very existence. You are known deeply, down to the depths of your soul.

IV   Jesus tells us about the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep and the hired hand who runs away when the sheep are being threatened. They represent two completely different kinds of leadership. The definition of the good shepherd is that he isn’t in it for profit. The most crucial test of what he is in it for will come when he’s faced with a choice. A predator appears – a lion, a wolf or a bear. You can tell the difference between the good shepherd and the hired hand by what they do. The hired hand will cut his losses because he’s in it for himself. The good shepherd shows who he is by being prepared to die for the sheep. The violent death of Calvary was not a terrible accident. Jesus says it is his vocation.

The sheep face danger; the shepherd will go to meet it, and, if necessary, he will take upon himself the fate that would otherwise befall the sheep. In Jesus’ case, it was necessary, and He did. The good shepherd is the suffering, dying, and rising shepherd he lays down his life for the sheep. That’s what makes this image so wonderful. Not the hard-working shepherd tending his flock, but the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. When the night came, and the sheep were in their pen, the shepherd would lay down in the doorway, opening the pen. There he would sleep. If anyone wanted to get to the sheep, he would have to get through the shepherd first. At the cross Jesus lays down His life for His sheep, for the world. He is not some hired hand who runs off at the first sound of danger.

He’s the good shepherd. He’s fully invested in the sheep. God has authorized Jesus to lay down his life and then take it up again and take us along for the ride. Jesus came to give us life through giving up his own life. He did this not as a victim but as a willing, voluntary sacrifice. “No one takes it from me,” he said, “but I lay it down of my own accord.” This, he said, is a command “I have received from my Father”(verse 18).

V   Sheep are natural followers. In the day of Jesus the sheep followed the shepherd unlike today on the farm, we drive our sheep. When as a student at university I shoveled coal on the steam engines to get money to get through varsity because my parents were poor, we used to push the trucks which load sheep at the stock fares with the engine and then a goat will lead the sheep into the truck and run out to lead the next flock into the next truck. Sheep must be led. And, when you think about it, that’s really not that stupid. Sheep trust their shepherd, and go where the shepherd goes. And they let the shepherd go first, to make sure the way is safe, and then to invite them to follow him. And isn’t that what Jesus is asking of us? To be his followers? He’s not going to push us. He’s not going to force us. Instead, Jesus just keeps calling us, in many and various ways, and inviting us over and over to follow him. He promises to lead us, to protect us, and even to lay down his life for us. And He invites us to trust Him. Trust Him and follow Him.

Where the Shepherd goes, there also go His sheep. Sheep and shepherd always are together. To follow Jesus is not to take a privileged detour around the hardships of life but to go through them together with Jesus. Jesus isn’t the way around suffering and death but the only way through suffering and death that leads to resurrection and life.

Conclusion

Jesus is our shepherd, the Good Shepherd. The leader that our world needs right now. And we are his sheep. Flocking together, listening for his voice, and following him. Perhaps this image of being sheep, and Jesus as our Good Shepherd, is not so out of date as I might have thought. Or perhaps, we need an out-of-date image, to remind us that what we need right now is not going to be found in technology, or progress, or any of the things that we are tempted to believe in and follow.

Our world has not out-grown its need for a shepherd. It is now, just as it has always been, a world in need of a good and faithful shepherd. And today, Good Shepherd Sunday, we pause to remember this. That we are blessed to have a shepherd, who is good and loving and faithful; who promises to lead us all the days of our life, through the trials and tribulations and whatever this world throws at us. We can help this shepherd by being good and faithful sheep. By continuing to flock together, faithfully listening for his voice, and by following him. The Lord is our shepherd. Still… so, let us be his sheep. Still. Until that blessed day when we shall be gathered, by our shepherd, into the house of the Lord forever.

The great good news of this Good Shepherd Sunday is that sheep have a shepherd, and you have a good shepherd, who laid down His life so that you might have life in Him and dwell in His house, His flock, His green pastures, forever. The Lord Jesus is your shepherd, you shall not want.

Here are the words of a children’s hymn:

I am Jesus’ little lamb;
Ever glad at heart I am.
For my Shepherd gently guides me
Knows my need and well provides me
Loves me every day the same
Even calls me by my name.

Thanks be to God
Amen