Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ascension Sunday sermon--Jesus Walks

Acts 1: 1-11
Ephesians 1: 11-23

What do we make of this strange testimony? In our day and age, the idea of our savior flying away in the sky strikes us as somewhat fanciful. How do we envision the scene—does Jesus peek over the edge of the cloud as he is wisked away like Alladin on a magic carpet? Does he raise up one fist and take off like Superman? The ascension is part of the creeds of the early church. What is important about this anyway?
A closer look at our scriptural tradition shows us that it is customary for God’s most important prophets to be lifted up from the Earth rather than perish and placed in the ground. Elijah and Enoch are said to have ascended into heaven. Elijah was wisked away on a fiery chariot. The famous Rabbi of Alexandria, Philo, who was a contemporary of the Gospel writers and a favorite theologian among early Christians, wrote that Moses also ascended. John’s gospel speaks of Jesus being “lifted up,” as an implication of Christ’s death on the cross, lifted up in agony, an implication of Christ’s resurrection, lifted up in mystery, and Christ’s ascension—lifted up in glory. There is clearly more to this story than what is literally written.
The cloud that takes Jesus away is an allusion to the Shekinah—the presence of God formed in a cloud that can be found in the story of Moses receiving the law, and the presence of God in the tabernacle on route to the promised land, among others. In fact, Luke’s own gospel reports the descent of a cloud that covered the mountain at the Transfiguration of Jesus. And at this event, Moses and Elijah—both of whom ascended according to Jewish legend, are speaking with Jesus at that moment about what? Luke 9:30 tells us that they were speaking of “his departure, that would soon occur in Jerusalem.” All of these elements are linked together by the symbols chosen by Luke to report this story.
Ascension of Jesus/ Neo at the end of the Matrix. The Matrix is about Neo’s Mastery of the world that he used to know as reality. Through the help of others, Neo sees the world for what it is—the a complex computer program that occupies the minds of every human on earth while machines use the energy from their body to power their society. Over the course of the movie, Neo voluntarily enters the Matrix and learns to manipulate it. At the end of the film, there is nothing—not even death in the Matrix, which confines Neo to the laws of the world. The last scene of the film shows Neo taunting the rulers of the Matrix and then flying off—an illustration of his newly found power.
Ephesians tells us that our Christ was able to achieve a similar mastery of the world. “The world is under his feet, and he is above all power of the world.”
Are we to gaze up at the sky and imagine similar glory for ourselves? The two men in the sky tell us no—we are to wait for the power to come from on high down to us. How did Jesus master the world? The Holy Spirit came on him in the form of a dove at his baptism—he expressed this mastery in a no-holds barred Love for the entire Creation. He then said that he had come to baptize the world by fire. Next week at Pentecost we will talk more about this fire. It is a fire of Love. He Mastered the World by loving it. He conquered his enemies by loving them. This is not mere “fluffy teddy bear love” this love is called dynamis. Greek for tangible, visible power. Fire in souls. Fire of love so tangible and real it can be seen and heard by witnesses.

And so—instead of standing there gaping at the sky—the utter mysteriousness of our Lord should not inspire us to be navel-gazers on an individual hunt for enlightenment—We are to manifest this power in community. Paul commends his followers in Ephesus for their enlightened hearts—that they have seen Christ in his glory. And what is the most glorious aspect of Christ? Look on the front of your bulletin at the painting of the Ascension by Salvador Dali. What is it you see? His feet! Isaiah 52: 7 says, How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Feet are important to God. There are many references to feet in the Bible. In fact, a search of the word feet in the Bible turns up 229 results. Foot turns up 100 more results. When Moses met God at the burning bush—God instructed Moses to take off his shoes—that he was standing on Holy Ground—God wanted God’s creation touching God’s creation. His bare feet and the solid ground. There’s the story of the priests crossing the Jordan on the way to the promised lands. The text says that everywhere the priests lay their feet, the water dried up and the people crossed on dry land. God told the people to take 12 stones that the priests feet had touched and make them into altars. One for each tribe. The gospels tell us that on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. The last and most important thing he did for his disciples was to wash their feet. A woman anointed Jesus’ feet and then washed them with her hair—when the disciples objected, Jesus praised her.
Yes, feet are most important in the Bible—the spot where the ascension is said to have taken place is marked by a rock with what is reputed to be Jesus’ footprint in a rock. I bet almost every person has the anonymous poem “Footprints in the Sand” committed to heart. We long for a footprint of Jesus—one to show us where he’s been. One to show us where we’re going. The disciples ask for an answer—is it time for the Kingdom to Come—are we going to be raised up as well? Jesus doesn’t give them that information—and he forbids speculation by saying It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
It seems that Jesus wants us to pay more attention to the footprints he left all over the Gospels. Yes, Christ’s feet take him to some surprising places—and he asks us to follow.
* Can you see Jesus' footprints in the wilderness? Each time he was tempted to claim earthly power and glory, he reached up and touched the words of Torah. One does not live by bread alone. Worship the Lord your God and serve only God. * Can you see Jesus walking on the wrong side of the street with the wrong people? * Can you see Jesus walking up to a sycamore tree, then looking up at Zachaeus, the tax collector, perched in the branches? "Come down, Zachaeus," Jesus said, "let's walk over to your house for dinner." * Can you see Jesus walking, then riding, into Jerusalem? * Can you see him stumbling toward Golgotha, loving us to the very end?
We have not yet referred to what is perhaps the most striking single phrase in the lessons for today, however. We read it in the very first verse of the book of Acts! That opening verse is startling. It must be read with the “enlightened eyes” to which Paul refers in the Second Lesson. “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach . . .” Now there is a verse to bring a discerning reader up short!
Did Jesus not complete everything he was sent to do? Is this not the very meaning we have just suggested that is contained in his ascension? He has finished his work! He, himself, cried out, “It is finished” when he died on the cross. What more is there to do?
Yet Luke speaks of that which “Jesus began to do and teach . . . “ Has he made a mistake in his reporting . . . or has he seen more deeply into that of which he is writing than we are prone to see at first reading? Is he not speaking of that which Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “[He is] head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”? There is every indication that Luke, beginning his account of the “Acts of the Apostles” (also properly called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit”) is telling his readers from the start of this second volume that “the body of Christ” is now hidden within and among and through those who will go forth in his name, bearing that Good News of Salvation as his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Meanwhile, we are reminded by the two men in white that “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Between now and then we are to keep in mind that which Jesus, himself, had emphasized in his last words recorded in the Gospel according to St. Matthew: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20b) In short, although he is gone from any one place in this world he now becomes available to his people everywhere and anywhere. His presence is not to be sought here or there, in the sacred places or in the secular places, in the expected places or the unexpected places. He is not to be identified by location any more, but he is present everywhere at once, to every person as though he / she were the only person in all of creation and yet to all of creation as though no place were without him.
Where can we look to guide us? Sometimes the footprints of a ubiquitous Spirit are hard to determine. It is easy to hear about and read about the doings of Jesus, but not as easy to apply in our own lives. Perhaps one place to look is at more recent footprints. At those of our loved ones who have passed beyond the veil of death. It is a fitting weekend to do so—We might remember the saints of our faith family who clearly followed the footsteps of our Master. We all remember Joe Huie—who used to stand in the back of the congregation and welcome anyone and everyone who came through the doors—yes his footsteps are there! They are following the Master’s we can all tell! We could look at the footprints of Dale Miller—footprints that from what I understand were made without shoes as he faithfully attended church even when the radiation therapy burned him so bad that he could not wear shoes—but he still managed to come to worship—without shoes! How fitting it is that I memorialize him today as I stand here and preach without shoes on. I actually found out that tidbit of information after I had planned to take off my shoes for the children’s sermon. How beautiful were his feet, indeed—and his footprints follow the Master, who exalted God in the midst of execution!
And in fact—it is not only from those whom we memorialize that we should look for footprints. We should watch the feet of those in this congregation now as well. We can see the footsteps of Christ guiding them as well. We don’t just come to worship to gaze up at the sky—we come to applaud each other’s efforts to follow the footsteps of Jesus. This is much more efficiently done if we use our mouth to actually reach out and encourage one another when we see our brothers and sisters following Christ. You might have to get out of your comfort zone to make a sincere statement to someone you don’t really feel like you know that well—but our “comfort zone” might actually be another term for “barrier” if you ask me.

So bring the Good News—bring it with the enthusiasm and the passion of our Captain! That is what Christ proclaims right before he ascends to heaven. It is in this moment that his disciples become apostles. Disciples are those who follow Jesus—apostle means “sent.” Those who are sent to spread the good news throughout the land. Paul echoes Isaiah in Romans 10:15—How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good news!” In short—our feet can look like Jesus’ feet. Our feet can become his feet. We need to keep the tracks fresh so that others may follow! Jesus’ footprints lead us toward Pentecost—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—and we must set our faces toward that destination!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Confirmands learn about our Anglican heritage and the symbolism of architecture at St. John's Episcopal church

Friday, May 12, 2006

Making a Home in Christ

Sermon Texts
1 John 4 7-21
John 15:1-8

As we celebrate the confirmation and baptism of these five members of our faith family today, I can think of no better scriptures than what was assigned by the lectionary today. John’s gospel and epistle passages boil down our 8 weeks of confirmation lessons into two themes that illustrate the whole Christian walk. We must abide in Christ and we will bear much fruit. And, We are commissioned to love one another because God is Love.
First, I’m glad that we are presenting you with Message Bibles today, because I think Eugene Peterson’s translation of the word “abide” really nails what that word means for us. Christ says, make your home in me and I will make my home in you. Christ illustrates this by talking about the relationship of a vine to its branches.
What do you envision when Christ says, “Make your home in me?” or “Live in me?” I have had the privilege of making that parsonage right across the street my home. Over this past year, I’ve gotten to the point where I can walk down the hall at the dead of night without turning the lights on. I know how many paces it is down the hall to get to the refrigerator. Just last week, I stumbled into the kitchen at 6:30 in the morning, got out the coffeemaker and some coffee, and prepared a cup of coffee before I think I even really woke up. When we make our home, we become familiar with it inside out.
Christ invites us to make a home in him. If you have ever received a letter from me, you may have noticed that I try to take this to heart when I sign the letter “In Christ.” By signing my letter “In Christ,” I’m letting the person who I’m writing to know that I have found Christ to be a wonderful home—a spacious and warm home.
You confirmands may remember not too long ago making forts out of blankets and chairs and whatever else you could find to make a little dwelling place all your own. Did you do this? Perhaps if not, you had a tree house that your own little refuge. Do you remember that feeling you got when you hunkered down in that fort? That feeling of contentment and security? I remember it as a kind of fullness in the belly. A sense of wonder and peace—for whatever reason, when I think of the word “abiding” I think of those little forts I used to make in my room or of the treehouse that a friend and I made out in the field by my house.
Jesus asks us to “Live in him,” to “make a home in him as he makes in us.” However, the result of this close relationship with Jesus—what Peterson describes as “intimate and organic”—the result of this intimate and organic relationship is not just a feeling of security and contentment, it is fruit! Jesus tells us that there is something produced by this relationship—and the more grapes that are produced, the more the Master Gardener will prune us in order to produce even more fruit.
So what is it that the grapes represent? Truth be told, there is probably a lot of applications for this passage—and you may find that a close connection with the vine gives you more power and enthusiasm to express your spiritual gifts, which could be one way to think about fruit. But today I want to focus on something a little more basic that is a fruit of the vine. It is something that the letter of John calls to our attention today. It is simply: Love.
John asks us in the first epistle to Love our brothers and sisters because that love is itself an expression of God. That love is itself an embodiment of our Lord. That love is itself a fruit of the vine.
This part of the letter is a perfect companion to the gospel text—the theme is the same. In verse 15, John says Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God's Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. 16We know it so well, we've embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.
So, making a home in Christ—abiding in Christ—means letting God live in us. It means taking up permanent residence in a life of love.
And so, those of you who are taking the vows of baptism and of confirmation today, I ask you—are your bags packed? Are you ready to make a new residence in a life of love? The letter tells us that “everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. Are you ready for the deepest relationship you will ever have? Today is not the first day you have been involved in that residence—in your lives as preparatory members of the church, you have been learning about what is involved in that relationship—you have been gathered into Jesus’ arms as he gathers the children into his lap, as he gathers his sheep into a fold.
Now though, you have the opportunity to live in this “home” with a fuller appreciation for your surroundings. You know more about “the rules of the house,” you know more about the “foundation” of the house, you have heard some of the stories of this old, wonderful dwelling place that we call Jesus. Now you have the opportunity to confirm that decision that your parents guided you toward. It is as if your parents are handing you the keys to the home, letting you know that it is now your decision to make this faith your home as we have all hoped you would. That is confirmation!
One other thing that John tells us about this dwelling place though. If we make our home in Christ by bearing the love of Christ, we must understand that there is literally no room in the home for fear. The last part of the letter says it best, “This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we're free of worry on Judgment Day--our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. 18There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life--fear of death, fear of judgment--is one not yet fully formed in love.”
If we put our trust and our lives in Christ, if we make our home in Christ—then fear has to move out! We don’t have the room for that ugly old furniture! Fear of death? We can toss it out! Christ lives here! Fear of judgement? Put it on the bonfire! A fearful life is one not yet fully formed in love—so if we want to live in the continually close, organic, fruit bearing connection with our Maker, Redeemer, and Transformer, we’ve got to get rid of those things!
And a failure to love our brothers and sisters? That is usually a product of fear as well. That is a withering vine not connected to the source! The letter tells us that if we can’t love our brothers and sisters, whom we can see—how can we expect to love God, whom we cannot see? This is the tough part, because Christ opens our eyes to see that our brothers and sisters aren’t just the people we feel comfortable with—they’re the poor and the outcasts. Jesus shows us in his ministry that they are sometimes those people we can’t ever imagine God loving in the first place. So if you find yourself “hating” these people, chances are that you might have sleepwalked right out the front door of your home in Christ and are laying face down in the ditch! Run back into your home as fast as you can—take a shower in the outpouring Holy Spirit and get the mud out of your eyes, because God says we don’t love God unless we can love those around us! Do you hear what I’m saying?
If you hear me, then walk up here right now, because I’ve got some questions for you! This isn’t just a ribbon to pin on your shirt, confirmation is a means of grace, and the Church is wanting you to receive it!........................

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Thoughtful Interview with a famous pastor and theologian about the Da Vinci Code

Brian McLaren on The Da Vinci CodeAn interview by Lisa Ann Cockrel
With The Da Vinci Code poised to go from bestseller list to the big screen on May 19, pastor and writer (and Sojourners board member) Brian McLaren talks about why he thinks there's truth in the controversial book's fiction.
What do you think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code reveals about pop culture attitudes toward Christianity and the church?
Brian McLaren: I think a lot of people have read the book, not just as a popular page-turner but also as an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown's book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Why would so many people be disappointed to find that Brown's version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church's conventional version? Is it possible that, even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church's conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?
So you think The Da Vinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?
McLaren: For all the flaws of Brown's book, I think what he's doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that's true. It's my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith in America today has to realize that the Religious Right has polluted the air. The name "Jesus" and the word "Christianity" are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that's distorted and false.
I also think that the whole issue of male domination is huge and that Brown's suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has been is very attractive. Brown's book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organized religion, and it is exposing organized religion's grasping for power. Again, there's something in that that people resonate with in the age of pedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus I resonate with their concerns as well.
Do you think the book contains any significantly detrimental distortions of the Christian faith?
McLaren: The book is fiction and it's filled with a lot of fiction about a lot of things that a lot of people have already debunked. But frankly, I don't think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels. And in a certain way, what the Left Behind novels do, the way they twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, I think Brown is twisting scripture, just to other political ends. But at the end of the day, the difference is I don't think Brown really cares that much about theology. He just wanted to write a page-turner and he was very successful at that.
Many Christians are also reading this book and it's rocking their preconceived notions - or lack of preconceived notions - about Christ's life and the early years of the church. So many people don't know how we got the canon, for example. Should this book be a clarion call to the church to say, "Hey, we need to have a body of believers who are much more literate in church history." Is that something the church needs to be thinking about more strategically?
McLaren: Yes! You're exactly right. One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history - it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn about church history. I think the disturbing would do them good. But a lot of times education is disturbing for people. And so if The Da Vinci Code causes people to ask questions and Christians have to dig deeper, that's a great thing, a great opportunity for growth. And it does show a weakness in the church giving either no understanding of church history or a very stilted, one-sided, sugarcoated version.
On the other hand, it's important for me to say I don't think anyone can learn good church history from Brown. There's been a lot of debunking of what he calls facts. But again, the guy's writing fiction so nobody should be surprised about that. The sad thing is there's an awful lot of us who claim to be telling objective truth and we actually have our own propaganda and our own versions of history as well.
Let me mention one other thing about Brown's book that I think is appealing to people. The church goes through a pendulum swing at times from overemphasizing the deity of Christ to overemphasizing the humanity of Christ. So a book like Brown's that overemphasizes the humanity of Christ can be a mirror to us saying that we might be underemphasizing the humanity of Christ.
In light of The Da Vinci Code movie that is soon to be released, how do you hope churches will engage this story?
McLaren: I would like to see churches teach their people how to have intelligent dialogue that doesn't degenerate into argument. We have to teach people that the Holy Spirit works in the middle of conversation. We see it time and time again - Jesus enters into dialogue with people; Paul and Peter and the apostles enter into dialogue with people. We tend to think that the Holy Spirit can only work in the middle of a monologue where we are doing the speaking.
So if our churches can encourage people to, if you see someone reading the book or you know someone who's gone to the movie, say, "What do you think about Jesus and what do you think about this or that," and to ask questions instead of getting into arguments, that would be wonderful. The more we can keep conversations open and going the more chances we give the Holy Spirit to work. But too often people want to get into an argument right away. And, you know, Jesus has handled 2,000 years of questions, skepticism, and attacks, and he's gonna come through just fine. So we don't have to be worried.
Ultimately, The Da Vinci Code is telling us important things about the image of Jesus that is being portrayed by the dominant Christian voices. [Readers] don't find that satisfactory, genuine, or authentic, so they're looking for something that seems more real and authentic.
Lisa Ann Cockrel is associate editor at Today's Christian Woman.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Easter 4 Sermon, "the Good Shepherd"

Scriptures related to this sermon
John 10
1 John 3:16-24
Psalm 23
Ezekiel 34

(For the first half of this sermon, I have elected to share the reflections from the New Interpreter's Bible, after the "gathering at the table" bit, the work is original.)

The image of Jesus as the good shepherd has a perennial hold on Christian imagination and piety. Some of the most popular pictures of Jesus are those that depict him as a shepherd, leading a flock of sheep. This picture of Jesus has influenced the church’s images of its leaders, so that in many traditions the ordained minister is referred to as the “pastor,” and ministerial care of the congregation is referred to as “pastoral care.” Behind both of these understandings of ministerial vocation is the sense that the minister is called to lead in the image of Jesus’ leadership, to be the shepherd as Jesus is shepherd. Because these images play such an important role in the life of the church, it is critical for us to distinguish among the various uses of shepherd imagery in the NT.
The move to pastoral images of ministry, for example, belongs more to other NT texts (e.g., John 21:15-19; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Pet 5:2-3) than to the interpretation of John 10. The pastoral images of John 10 are primarily focusing on Jesus’ identity and his relationship to the sheep.
The heavy concentration of OT pastoral images in this discourse, particularly images associated with God in the OT texts, points the reader to the discourse’s christological heart: Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to God’s people. Yet Jesus is more than the good shepherd for whom Israel waits (Ezekiel 34), because he is also the gate for the sheep. Jesus is the way to life (the gate), and he leads the way to life (the good shepherd). While these are closely related, they are not the same thing. Jesus is the way to life because he is himself life (v. 10; cf. 14:6). Jesus leads the way to the life because he lays down his own life (vv. 11, 14-15). These are non-transferrable attributes; they derive from the heart of Jesus’ identity as the one sent by God. Later in 14:6, Jesus says perhaps more boldly, but also more explicitly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you know my Father who sent me.
The “I am” statements of John 10, then, deepen the array of images of Jesus available to the church. The images of Jesus as the gate and the good shepherd are intensely relational; they have no meaning without the presence of the sheep. These “I am” statements do not simply reveal who Jesus is, but more specifically reveal who Jesus is in relationship to those who follow him. The identity of Jesus and the identity of the community that gathers around him are in-extricably linked.
The relational dimension of the Christ images provides the bridge to what these images have to say about being the church. The identity of the community is determined by the shepherd’s (Jesus’) relationship to it and its relationship to the shepherd (Jesus). For the community of faith, human identity is determined by Jesus’ identity. Who Jesus is with and for the community determines who the community is.
What image of community life does this discourse present? Nowhere in this discourse are any 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 community that gathers around Jesus are the ones who share in the mutual knowledge of God and Jesus, whose relationship to Jesus is modeled on Jesus’ relationship to God (v. 15). Listening to Jesus’ voice is the source of its unity (v. 16). By taking Jesus as its point of access to God, the community receives abundant life (v. 10).
Most important, however, the community that gathers around Jesus receives its identity through Jesus’ gift of his life for them. In the end, to be a member of Jesus’ flock is to know that Jesus died for you. In the freely chosen act of his death, Jesus shows the way to life (gate) and offers abundant life by the example of his love (shepherd). It is important that Jesus says he lays down his life for the sheep, not for his sheep (v. 15), just as in 6:51 he speaks of giving his flesh for the life of the world. It is an inclusive, rather than an exclusive, gift, just like God’s love for the world (3:16). Jesus makes the love of God fully available by expressing that love in his death (vv. 17-18).
That love and that sacrifice is what we celebrate at the table today as a community of faith. We remember Christ’s offering for us, and in so doing pledge to sacrifice our lives for his sake in this present day. As we feast and fellowship together as forgiven and forgiving people, we see that the table is the gate—and because our Christ is a loving, good shepherd, that gate is open to us.
As the 23rd Psalm goes, Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
This Good shepherd is a restorer of relationships. Though we may find our vision clouded with notions of enemies and friends, this shepherd calls us all his flock. When we come to the table, even a table in the presence of people we may consider enemies, we are forgiven and healed—our head is anointed with oil. Anointing symbolizes both healing and the commissioning of kings. When we realize that we are forgiven and our enemies are as well, we are both healed and commissioned. The experience of this healing is like a cup running over.
Friends, here at this table, the cup is running over. Jesus says in John 7, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,
and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.' "

As we come to this table, and our cups runneth over, we have the potential to be living water for those around us. As a community, as a flock, we are asked to also be the body of Christ. At the end of John, Jesus comes to the disciples in his resurrected form. After asking for some breakfast, the disciples realize it’s him, and he asks Peter 3 times, “Do you love me?” to which Peter answers, “yes, of course!” What is Jesus’ response? “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.”
In relationship with our savior and maker, we are asked to share the duties of our shepherd. We are asked to lay down our lives for one another, as in the first Epistle of John 3:16. We are asked to not love only in word or speech, but in truth and action. In the sustaining meal that we take together, we are asked to fellowship with our enemies, and in doing so becoming healed and blessed with abundance.
Being a flock means following the shepherd. The shepherd did these things for us, and by following the actions of the shepherd, we enact the sacrifice of Christ for this world.
Let us feast then! Let us be led into green pastures and beside still waters. Let our cups run over, and let the life giving rivers flow from our hearts, because we believe and we hear the shepherd’s voice calling us—and not only us. We hear the shepherd’s voice calling the world! Amen.