Sunday, April 22, 2018

4th Sunday of Easter

Readings for Today.

Listen to the Sermon.

Baa.  You might have guessed from the themes running through this morning’s lessons – it’s Good Shepherd Sunday.  On the 4th Sunday of Easter every year, we talk about sheep and shepherds.  We hear how Jesus is the Good Shepherd, whose sheep know his voice.  And we are the sheep, for whom the good shepherd lays down his life.
Being a shepherd is no easy task – your sheep are your life and your livelihood - if they die, so do you.  You have to protect them from predators, make sure they have enough to eat and drink, and tend to them when they are sick.  Shepherds give, sustain and restore life for their sheep; they are stewards of their sheeps’ lives. As sheep of the Good Shepherd, we, too, are stewards of life, and not just our own lives, but all life.

Our readings this week crack open some nuances of being stewards of life.  In the gospel of John, having life is not just a matter of drawing breath and a rote pattern to daily living.  Jesus says, in the verse just before our gospel reading today, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Life in John is about abundance, about growth and new life: love and life are verbs, transforming, multiplying, spreading, active and infectious.

In Acts, Peter and John have been arrested because the priests and temple leaders are “much annoyed” (Acts 4:2) that they are teaching about a resurrection of the dead.  And, it doesn’t help their case that the day before that teaching, which converted 5,000 people (talk about infectious!), Peter healed a man born lame. In today’s reading, Peter proclaims that the the power to live into the fullness of life is given in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  
The 23rd Psalm, most familiar from funerals and times of pain, proclaims that life-stealing fear is overcome by the companionship and providence of the Shepherd.  We rely on this psalm for comfort in times of despair because its powerful promises about eternal life overflowing with goodness and mercy remind us of God’s faithfulness to us.
First John comes back to the shepherd’s promise to lay down his life for his sheep, and extends that relationship to us who live in Christian community.  If we love one another as Christ loved us, we will lay down our lives for one another. Giving up our lives may not be literal, but it does underscore that all relationships based in love include some measure of self-sacrifice by everyone involved.  We give up something of ourselves, we sacrifice, to create a new relationship on the foundation of love. In that sacrifice, we are transformed or changed or softened, maybe just a little, into the image of the Shepherd who is also the Lamb.

Our gospel from John is the one place in scripture where Jesus proclaims himself the Good Shepherd.  My childhood Bible included the traditional image of Jesus with the rescued sheep slung around his neck.  Extending the shepherd idea evokes images of pasture, abundant life, nurturing, sustenance, shelter and protection, and tenderness.  Jesus reminds us that he knows us and that his life giving works (and ours) reveal his identity to the world.

Not only is today Good Shepherd Sunday, it’s also Earth Day.  And it’s still Easter season - when we proclaim with the recent joy of Easter that new and abundant life is available to everyone!

In the late spring last year, we spent a whole day together, discovering and articulating our deeply held values as God’s flock here on Mercer Island.  Those values, and the purpose statement that came from it, are on the Bell on page 23 in your bulletin.

In our values, we see our own Good Shepherd statement, our own identity as stewards of life abundant.  We steward our own lives, individually and as a community of faith, through our commitment to joining our voices in worship and our bodies in communal meals.  We learn and grow, and we invite others to join in. Being good and generous stewards means we don’t hoard what we love for ourselves, but we share it with the world - by inviting others to what we have found feeds us and reveals life abundant.

Caring for God’s creation and serving our neighbors, as the shepherd cares for her sheep, are also acts of stewardship.  

God has given us, through the planning of those who have gone before, a beautiful piece of property to share with our neighbors.  Caring for the creation is like caring for sheep. It requires love and attention, and our vestry and staff make decisions daily to ensure that our buildings remain functional and welcoming.  So many volunteers, some of whom prefer anonymity, work to keep our gardens weeded and filled with shrubs and flowers that bloom continuously from spring through fall. There’s a small but faithful group of lawn-mowers - who deserve special thanks for making sure our south lot was mowed this weekend.  And Emmanuel has a history of being a “green” congregation, where we actively recycle and compost, we use washable coffee mugs instead of styrofoam, and continually look for energy-saving measures to reduce our carbon footprint. Smaller utility bills are nice, but we do this because we know that we have just one creation from our Creator, and being good stewards means that we take care of it and use as little of the irreplaceable resources as we can.  If you’re passionate about how we live our “green” faith, Betsy Eason would love to collaborate with you on practical stewardship.

Serving our neighbors, being stewards of the relationships we have with those outside our immediate Emmanuel family, is also about life abundant.

Today we bless and break ground for a rectory that will provide a home and haven for rest for the clergy who will serve this community for years to come.  We wish life abundant for those who lead us. This project also provides an opportunity to steward our neighborly relationships, as those who live in homes nearby will gain a new neighbor.

We serve our neighbors as we provide affordable and welcoming spaces for other organizations whose ministries strengthen the community life on Mercer Island - Patti’s Play Care and Emmanuel Day School preschools, Youth Theatre Northwest, AA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, meditation groups, and local non-profits who meet here periodically.  This is stewardship. This is providing sustenance and life for our community.

We provide literal sustenance and life for people in our community through our support for the Food Pantry and Northwest Harvest, by making comfort bags to hand out to homeless people (please pick up a couple to keep in your car), by feeding the residents at Tent City in Bellevue, by building and rehabbing houses in Seattle.  Our community of neighbors extends around the world through our financial contributions to child-supporting organizations in Africa all the way to domestic violence relief in East King County - and so much more.

Following Jesus the Good Shepherd, we find abundance of life for ourselves.  In turn, we, too, lead others to these green pastures and life giving waters as stewards of life.  As we follow Jesus and give of ourselves to give, to sustain and to restore life in the world we testify who Jesus is.

Stewardship of life abundant is not something we simply sing, pray or preach about on Sunday mornings.  Stewardship of life is lived - in caring for God’s creation, in walking with others through the valley of shadows, in offering our lives as living worship, in sharing our hope found in Easter life of resurrection.  
As we follow the Good Shepherd and listen to his voice, we not only reveal his identity, but we also reveal our own. It is there we find our own true life, and give life to the world.

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