Tag Archives: The Lord is my shepherd

What the Flock?! [Good Shepherd Sunday] Psalm 23, John 10:11-18, and 1 John 3:16-24

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 22, 2018

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; 1 John reading is posted at the end of the sermon.]

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.

John 10:11-18 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

[sermon begins]

Some of you may have figured out that I like a good movie. What you may not know is that I have favorites that I watch over and over again.  (My husband Rob can easily verify this claim if you need it backed up.)  Re-watching a movie is a bit like a kid asking to hear the same story that they’ve heard more times than can be counted. The story never seems to get old. I see new things about the characters or hear one of the well-written, well-delivered lines, and if Rob has drifted into the room I’ll turn to him and say, “I love that line.” Some of these tried and true favorites are the Lord of the Ring trilogy, The Hundred-Foot Journey, and A Knight’s Tale.  Every so often I’ll re-watch bits of disaster films like San Andreas or 2012. Towards the end of the movie 2012, the President is addressing the nation about the impending doom after giving up his seat on the rescue boat.[1] He concludes his remarks with the opening words of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall…”  The doom cuts short his prayer as the television screens go static. Psalm 23 pops up in many movies. It’s one of the best known parts of the Bible to non-churchy people. My guess is that movie makers use it to say a lot in a little amount of time, to say something about hope and comfort in a dire situation.

In dire, scary situations the shorthand of Psalm 23 gets us to the same point quickly, acknowledging life and hope while walking through the valley of the shadow of death. This notion occurred to me during yesterday’s training downstairs here about what to do in an active shooter situation. I was getting myself to the church on time to join congregation volunteers and our staff, as well as our next door neighbors – the priest from the Greek Orthodox Church and the head of security for the Jewish Community Center. I showed up pretty sad that this was even a thing in the world to show up for.

Two City of Glendale law enforcement officers led the training. They taught us to, “Run. Hide. Fight.” They clued us in that fire extinguishers are every 75 feet in public buildings by code and can be used as a weapon when running and hiding are not an option. They taught us to apply tourniquets and pack wounds. They said things like, “Your body can’t go where your mind hasn’t been.” Based on their information, we’re to think about what each of us could and would do on behalf of other people and ourselves – like the President in the movie 2012 who gave up his seat in the rescue boat, like the writer of the First John reading whose example of Jesus laying his life down for us challenges us to lay our lives down for each other.[2]  We practiced together because it’s tough to actually do what we haven’t first learned to do. Afterwards, it occurred to me not for the first time that “shepherding a flock” has a very broad scope in the “other duties as assigned” part of the job description. It also occurred to me, not for the first time, that being part of Jesus’ flock holds a tension between being an individual person and being together as a group.

As a small part of what Jesus calls his “flock” in the Gospel reading today, we worship in a style that’s called liturgy. We stand and sit, pray and sing together which is one way of experiencing faith together. I’ve heard it affectionately called “Lutheran aerobics.” Our shared experience with the liturgy is also practice – because our bodies can’t go where our minds haven’t been. We practice our faith together here so that faith has a chance at weaving into our complicated lives. Last week, someone asked me a question about the liturgy. The question was something like, “Do you think that people experience the liturgy as rote and mindless?” I answered that I can’t speak for all y’all but that for some whom I’ve spoken with about it, the liturgy we do together creates a container through which we experience the mystery of God’s transcendence. We move as a flock to acknowledge the mystery and hear God’s promises yet one more time. Because like actual sheep in an actual flock, our brains don’t seem to be able to hold onto any one thought for very long.

As a flock, we often say Psalm 23 at funerals here. If it’s chosen, we say it together like we did just a few minutes ago. This does a couple of things. It makes it a personal prayer from each one of us as we pray in the first person. But, because we say it together, it becomes something we pray for each other as well.  Simply put, as a flock we hold faith when those among and around us cannot. We hold faith when the valley of the shadow of death is too dark for someone else in the flock. This is where I think we Western Christian types get hung up on being a person of faith rather than a people of faith, where we make it about our own individual power rather than about the power of the shepherd. We can talk about what our flock power can accomplish so much more easily that we can talk about what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has already accomplished.

On the cross, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus accomplished the expansion of God’s love for the world into God’s covenant with the world. Out of the tomb, Jesus frees us into God and toward each other.  We are a flock set free and at the same time guided by the voice of the One who does the freeing. Borrowing the language of our Gospel reading today, there will always be wolves in sheep’s clothing and there will always be unreliable hired hands. It’s hard to understand why this is true but we can certainly acknowledge its truth. The truth of wolves and hired hands are evidenced by our own regrets of what we have done and left undone just as much as the truth of wolves and hired hands are evidenced by flashier sinners. As a flock, we can acknowledge this truth about ourselves because of God’s covenant accomplished by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, through death on a cross and life from an empty tomb. So we can proclaim together, “Have no fear, little flock, for surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord our whole lives long.” [3]

Alleluia and amen.

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[1] Video excerpt from the movie 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5uBrXLpt8Y

[2] 1 John 3:16

[3] Plural flourish of Psalm 23:6

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1 John 3:16-24 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

You Call Yourself A Christian? [OR Nope, Jesus Names Each of Us ‘Child of God’] John 10:1-10 and Psalm 23

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.

[sermon begins]

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.[1]  I added that being religious Christians is about a people and a practice because it was on my mind after just preaching about Thomas. [2] (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.”[3]  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.[4]  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.”[5]

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.[6]  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.]

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[1] 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

[2] My sermon for Sunday, April 23, 2017: http://caitlintrussell.org/2017/04/23/spiritual-and-religious-acts-214a-22-32-and-john-2019-31/

[3] John 10:3b-4

[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

[5] Pastor Kim Gonia, Priest-in-Charge, Intercession Episcopal Church, Thornton, CO.

[6] Psalm 23

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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.