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1 Easter John 10:11=22 Solid with God 20 th c. theologian Martin Buber tells the story of an incident which changed his life and the way he thought about faith. When he was young, his parents were divorced, and he went to live with his grandparents on a farm. He would feed the animals, clean the pens, and groom the horses. One day, when Buber was about 11, he was caring for the horse that was his particular favorite. He loved to ride and groom and feed that horse, and he often brought it special treats. As Buber was stroking the horse s neck, a strange feeling came over him. He felt that he could not only understand what it felt like to be an 11-year-old boy patting a horse, but because he loved the horse, he could understand what it felt like to be a horse being patted by a boy. The joy of that moment, of being able to go beyond the confines of his own soul and know what another soul was experiencing, was so much more satisfying than the sense of power that would come by making someone else do what he wanted them to do, that Buber founded his entire theology on that feeling. 1

2 Perhaps that story allows us to understand just a little bit better what it means to be the sheep of the good shepherd, Jesus; because after all, we ARE the sheep in this story. The good shepherd is not produced by good sheep. The sheep are the recipients of the shepherd s goodness and love. And the truth is, if Jesus is truly the Son of God and Savior of the World, he could Lord it over us with the power of the Almighty. But like the boy patting the horse, and then in turn knowing what it feels like to be patted by the boy, God in Christ knows what it is to be the Good Shepherd protecting the sheep even as God knows what it means to be a sheep being protected by the Good Shepherd. For us and for our salvation Jesus came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. That is what we confess in the Creed. It almost goes without saying, but we say it anyway. God took on flesh and blood so that God might know what it means to be truly human, even as God is truly divine. 2

3 But Buber s theology does not stop with the God/human relationship. Buber taught that our relationship with others also can go one way or the other. Our relationships with others can be either I- IT, treating the other person as an object, seeing the other only in terms of how the person looks, or acts or what the person does. Or the relationship can be I-thou, seeing those whom we live with in this world as a subject, being aware of the other person s needs and feelings as well as one s own. And so, we pass on that love to one another. The gospel can be summed up in the psalmist s word that God is with us, that we are with one another, and that we are with God when we are with one another. As Dorothee Solle put it, The best translation of what the early Christians called agape love-is still solidarity. God s love means solidarity, the embodied solidarity of God becoming flesh to get as close to us as possible, to be with us, to know us. And we find ourselves within God s life when we are drawn into the lives of others; friends and strangers, neighbors across the street or across an ocean. Isaac Villegas 3

4 World Malaria Day was observed yesterday. This week the ELCA is seeking to wrap up its 5 year campaign to raise $15 million to support programs throughout the world. We have raised 90% of that goal. Malaria has been eradicated in the United States and so it doesn t really affect you and mean. But still we contribute because the disease does affect millions of people in other places every year and because we find ourselves within God s life and realm when we are drawn into the lives of others; friends and strangers, neighbors across the street or across an ocean. The bottom line in all of this is that, even though you and I are among the sheep, this passage is not necessarily about us. That is, John is not calling us to become little shepherds. Nowhere in this story are those who follow Jesus depicted as shepherds or even assistant shepherds. Rather, all who gather around Jesus receive their identity as members of the flock. The communities that gather around Jesus are the ones whose relationship to Jesus is modeled on Jesus relationship to God. We are reminded, during this Easter season, that the community that gathers around Jesus receives its 4

5 identity through Jesus gift of his life for them, for us. To be a member of Jesus flock is to know yourself as being one among those for whom Jesus is willing to die. What does that say, then, about church? What if worship is not an activity in which you engage for God, but rather an activity in which God engages for you? What if church is not what we do, the result of our determined, hard work, but rather church is what the good shepherd does for us? It is important to note that Jesus says he lays down his life for the sheep, not for his sheep just as he speaks of giving his flesh for the life of the world. Americans aren t going to church like they used to. The number of Americans who never darken a church door is also at a new high. More than a third of Americans, 34% never attend a worship service (other than weddings and other ceremonies). There are nearly as many Americans who claim no religion as there are Roman Catholics -24%. If this growth continues, in a few years the largest 5

6 religion in the US may be no religion at all. What are we to do? Christian Century. The good shepherd who dies on behalf of the sheep does not do so from external coercion or fear. No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. The shepherd is no victim. The shepherds love unto death is something that the shepherd has decided to do. He gives his life for the sheep, rather than has his life taken. Jesus is not the passive victim in his death, rather, he offers himself up for the purposes of God of my own accord. His choice in the matter of his sacrifice makes his sacrifice unique. What does it mean for the church to live as Jesus sheep? What does a church that understands itself as Jesus sheep look like? How will it be known in the world? These are the challenging questions for the next generation of Christians. Jesus the good shepherd chose to make his identity known to the world through his death. And he calls us to live our lives according to the model of community envisioned here by Jesus, a model grounded in the mutuality of love, embodied in the relationship of Jesus and God. 6

7 Do you need somebody to invite you before you can come to church? a person asked one of our congregations members. Yes, you do, but not from us. God needs to invite you. We reach out to people like you under the assumption that Jesus has already invited you to come join us on Sunday. You are invited.. So take heart! There is much that we fail to do as Christians that it would be good for us to do. There are things that we ought to feel as Christians that we just don t feel. And there is much about the Christian faith at we don t understand. But take heart: you faith is a gift, not an achievement. Your feelings, your understanding, your actions are not what it s all about. What it s all about is the good shepherd. It s about a God who, thank God, didn t wait until we got it all together, until we got really serious about our religion and worked hard. The good shepherd came out and searched for the lost and loved us before we knew how to love. It is about a God who knows us inside out, and loves us. In life, in death, in life beyond death, this is our best hope. Amen. 7

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