Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on May 7, 2017 – Good Shepherd Sunday
[sermon begins after the two Bible readings]
John 10:1-10 [Jesus says] “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 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 hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
At a small dinner party last weekend, spirituality and religion came up in conversation. In particular, a dear friend brought up a negative church experience that she had as a 10 year old girl. She talked about being spiritual but not religious. The conversation meandered around with good listening and good comments. I talked about the Holy Spirit giving life to all things making all people are spiritual by definition. (Yes, I’m that fun at a dinner party.) So when people say that they are spiritual and not religious this is scripturally accurate. I added that being religious Christians is about a people and a practice because it was on my mind after just preaching about Thomas.  (Yup, once again, really that fun.) After I added the bit about Christians being about a people and a practice, my friend Karen looked at me and quietly said, “…and a person.” The dinner talk kept moving while her comment settled in my brain. “…and a person.” Being a religious Christian is about a people, a practice, and a person.
Last week, high school senior George Willoughby, preached to us about our tendency to want Jesus to be a certain way. He made the point that we often try to make Jesus into something that we want him to be rather that who Jesus is. He talked about his understanding of Jesus and how it’s changed during the time George has been a teenager. It’s changed from wanting certain things from Jesus to instead being led by Jesus to compassion and love for our fellow humans. His sermon brings us nicely into the Bible story today.
Jesus’ shepherd speech follows his argument with religious leaders about giving sight to the man born blind. The restoration of sight and who Jesus says he is causes quite a controversy. In a classic Jesus move, his next words are about as clear as mud in a sheepfold. He talks about the shepherd and the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the shepherd in Psalm 23 also makes an appearance. “The Lord is my Shepherd,” sings the psalmist. This psalm may very well be one of the best known pieces of scripture in and outside of the church. Psalm 23 is often one of the last available memories of Christians with Alzheimer’s disease. Psalm 23 also shows up in movies so that many people know at least the opening, “The Lord is my shepherd.” They also know something about “the valley of the shadow of death” although this translation reads, “darkest valley.” Not only was shepherding an obvious metaphor in the first century, it’s also a good bet that Jesus knew and prayed the Psalms.
Lots of people connected God with the shepherd in Psalm 23. It could be one reason that the shepherd talk confuses Jesus’ listeners. Jesus takes the confusion one step further by saying, “I Am the gate…” Jesus says, “I Am…” In biblical Greek, “I Am” is the name of God. Naming Jesus “I Am” also names him God. His listeners hear it. Hence their confusion. The Lord who is my shepherd in Psalm 23 is also Jesus who is my shepherd and my gate. Jesus says about the shepherd, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Jesus’ leads using his voice.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how and where Jesus leads. These last few days brought Lutheran church members, staff, Deacons, and Pastors together with Bishop Jim Gonia for the annual Synod Assembly. We came from all over the Rocky Mountain Synod – Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, El Paso Texas, and Colorado. We sang, prayed, voted, and talked about being the church. We heard about our thriving companion synods in Madagascar. We heard about partnerships with churches south of our border trying to keep fleeing people safe. We heard about AMMPARO ministry that focuses us on helping children migrating by themselves. With earnest faith, we try to follow where we think Jesus is leading us as the church.
Describing opening worship at Synod Assembly, my friend and colleague Pastor Kim Gonia wrote this on Facebook:
“A truly ecumenical night. Lutheran liturgy in a Methodist Church with an Episcopal bishop presiding, a Lutheran bishop preaching, and greetings brought from the Colorado Council of Churches/African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ. Church better together. Really.”
Amidst all the enthusiasm for shared ministry, it’s hard to remember that following Jesus isn’t about the gathering of the like-minded. It isn’t about agreeing with everyone else on how we follow. It isn’t about who gets to calls themselves a real Christian. Although we certainly try hard on this last one. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say why someone else is or isn’t actually a Christian. People base this on what they think about Jesus or what they think the Bible says or what they think Christian ministry should be. For crying out loud, there are people who think I’m not a real Christian because I’m a woman standing a pulpit. Will the madness of our drawing lines ever end?! According to the Gospel of John, Jesus is the one who names his followers, who calls us each by name through the waters of our baptism as he will once more this morning when Aspen is baptized and named Child of God.
Surrendering to the voice of Jesus, we follow as he leads. The one who leads us to risk being outside the walls of safety on behalf of each other and on behalf of the world, on our way rejoicing, ministering, and disagreeing. Outside the walls of safety as the psalmist describes it, on our way feeding, anointing, and setting a table with enemies, through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s just part of the good news. Jesus comes so that you may have life and have it abundantly, naming you Child of God, and moving you through death into life today…right now…no waiting. This is good news indeed.
[See the Acts Bible reading for the day after this list of sermon references – a preacher cannot cover every gem in a sermon and there’s plenty in the Acts reading for several sermons.]
 As Genesis tells it, the whole world is enlivened by the breath of the spirit. The assertion makes all people spiritual by definition, if not by confession. Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 2:7
 My sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2017: http://caitlintrussell.org/2017/04/23/spiritual-and-religious-acts-214a-22-32-and-john-2019-31/
 John 10:3b-4
 The word “amparo” in Spanish means the protection of a living creature from suffering or damage. The ELCA’s strategy to Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) was envisioned after witnessing the plight of children who are forced to flee their communities because of complex and interrelated reasons, including chronic violence, poverty, environmental displacement and lack of opportunities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Learn more about AMMPARO here: https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Publicly-Engaged-Church/AMMPARO
 Pastor Kim Gonia, Priest-in-Charge, Intercession Episcopal Church, Thornton, CO.
 Psalm 23
Acts 2:42-27 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 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, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.