Knowing plainly Jesus’ words is rarely enough. Love is required.
Waffles for Jesus
Two hungry young boys sparred with each other while eating breakfast. Finally they got to the last waffle which they both wanted. Their fight almost got ugly before their mother stepped in:
She said to them, “Didn’t you learn in SS last week that Jesus taught us to share what we have?”
So the oldest boy said to his brother “Joey, you be Jesus!”
Powerful Love, Handle with Care
As we hear Jesus’ voice and follow him Jesus calls us to love one another, just as he has loved us. This love is powerful. It can give life. Peter exercises this love and it brings Dorcas back to life. Jesus promises that no one will snatch us away or that we will eternally perish.
But like Joey’s brother we can also turn this power of love just a few degrees, and it becomes something that destroys instead of giving life. This love should come with a warning label: Handle with Care!
Revelation code Great Ordeal
In our reading from Revelation we hear the code used then to keep people and the writings safe from the destruction readily handed out by Rome to Christians. The great ordeal is code for the persecution that cost many their lives before Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD.
Every generation faces it’s own great ordeal. Often the ordeal is not openly recognized, but it sits hidden in plain view like an elephant in the room.
Franz stood looking at his boss in disbelief. Two weeks before his girlfriend had broken up with him, telling him he was a loser. He believed her because his big investment with all his savings had turned out to be a scam and he’d lost everything. Then he found out that his girlfriend had been seeing his best friend for at least a month and she had taken the money he’d given her to pay the rent. The fridge and cupboards were almost bare.
Then this morning his boss told him he was fired, even though he was good at his job. It was the last straw. He simply did not know what to do.
Shepherd of (dumb) Sheep
When we hear that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we often forget what an insult it is to be compared to sheep. Sheep are just dumb.
Growing up on a farm with sheep, I watched as my brother showed me how dumb sheep can be. In the evening, herding them into the safety of the barn through a narrow door, my brother put a pitchfork handle a foot off the ground in front of the third sheep coming in through the door. She jumped over the handle as did all the rest of the 100 sheep, even though the handle was already removed after the tenth sheep was safely in the barn.
It is no accident that Jesus compares us to sheep, and that we need a Good Shepherd to guide us to what is important in life, and to save us from what robs life from us.
Franz’ Dark Plan
Unemployed Franz came up with a plan, a dark plan. He was done and no one would miss him. He went on to the group chat that he’d been on for a few years, to say good bye, that he was moving on. He could have just headed out on his last walk, but he remembered what Aaron had said.
Aaron, as a young boy, had lived through a pogrom. His father was intent on not just feeding his family, but also on keeping the Sabbath, which always included the lighting of a candle. When their last candle was gone, the father used some of their meager ration of butter and a piece of string to make a candle. Aaron had said it was foolish to use precious food for a candle. His father replied, “Without food we can survive a week. Without faith we wouldn’t survive an hour.” ( SERMONSHOP, August 5, 2000, Bill Adams Trinity Episcopal, Sutter Creek, CA reworked TL).
When Aaron had greeted Franz, they were just strangers in the grocery store exchanging kind words. Then as Franz was paying at the checkout, Aaron came walking back into the store, to thank Franz, and to say good bye.
Aaron was moving to another city, but it was important to say good bye, anyway, as Aaron said so often, “It helps us remember the light of life.”
Remembering Aaron’s words, Franz decided one last visit on-line would be the right way to say good bye. No one on line seemed to notice him saying good bye. Franz was ready to sign off when the moderator popped in and asked him to meet her in a private chat in a half hour. She had something she wanted to get his input on. So Franz waited with his last plan.
As we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow him Jesus calls us to love one another, just as he has loved us.
Price of Love, a Mother’s Love: I’ll go with you.
Even when we seem to be totally lost, the Good Shepherd sends someone to save us, to feed us and give us living water, to protect us from the ravages of sin. The price Jesus paid is high. Sometimes when Jesus sends us to love one another with that love, the love of a mother, the price is just as high.
During the Holocaust the Nazis worked people in concentration camps until they could no longer work, before they executed them. A father and mother, among the many, were crowded in with their two children. The older had a deformed leg since birth. Every day, the mother and two children were taken to one work site and the father to another. One night the father returning to their wood bunk found only his one son. “What happened?” he asked. The surviving child said that his brother had collapsed, so the guards had ordered him to be taken away. He clung to his mother’s skirt, sobbing. She picked him up and, holding him close to her, said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll go with you.” Mark Daniels, Do Not Worry!
The Watch, a day at a time
As we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow him Jesus calls us to love one another, just as he has loved us. Our love can make all the difference in the world.
When the moderator met Franz in their private chat she said she needed Franz’s help with a project. Franz knew this kind of work inside out. He easily sorted the confused plan of the moderator into something workable.
Franz was about to summarize the modified plan to the moderator, when she had to sign off. She asked Franz if they could meet again tomorrow to finish the plans. The plans turned into some work for Franz, not much at first, but enough to pay for food and rent. Before long Franz was the project’s manager.
A year later the moderator told Franz that she had noticed he was in a dark place, and had kept a suicide watch on him. Franz was surprised that she’d seen through him, but he thanked her, and asked her how he could repay her. She said “pay it forward as she had”. She taught him everything she could about keeping a suicide watch on anyone who seemed to be at risk. It was a skill, she said, that had saved people in more than 5 generations before it saved her, and always people had paid it forward to others in need.
Franz still does not know the moderator’s real name or where she lives. But he knows she kept him alive through the valley of the shadow of death, and more. Against all odds she kept him from hunger, saved him from despair, and showed him how to give life to so many people around him.
As we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow him Jesus calls us to love one another, just as he has loved us. Our love can save lives.
Against all Odds: Jake
In her book The Spark Kristine Barnett tells the story of her son Jake.
At age 2, Jake started to crawl into his shell, because he was autistic. Once this had been diagnosed, everyone predicted what was not possible including that in just a few years Jake would not speak or communicate at all.
Kristine simply would not believe it. She did everything she could to give Jake exactly what he was most interested in, not what others told her she should. Instead she did everything that she dared to do. It was a lonely, difficult, and unrewarding road for years. It seemed it would never end.
Then, at age 16, we see little Jake, a small boy for his age, standing and talking with the professor. Jake then joins one of the groups of college students working on the difficult problem the professor has given them. In his group Jake stands at the whiteboard and writes a bit and then, giving the other students leading questions, entices and invites them to understand what he sees clearly … in a multitude of ways.
Soon one and two students from the other groups come across to Jake’s board. Not too much later most of the students are there listening, eagerly absorbing what Jake offers to them, until first one, then another, and then most of them, nodding understanding, return to their own whiteboards to work through the problem before them.
Jake is one of the most brilliant minds of this century.
And we almost lost him completely.
As we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow him Jesus calls us to love one another, just as he has loved us. Our love can give the world gifts it would otherwise never know.
Jesus Knows Us: Breath, be Bold.
Whatever the challenge is that we face, more important than us hearing, following and loving as Jesus does, is that Jesus knows us. Jesus the Good Shepherd will protect us, comfort us, guide us. Jesus knows us completely and still loves us. Then Jesus sends us out to be the voice, the hands, the feet, the rod and the staff of Our Good Shepherd to one another.