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The Good Shepherd and His Enemies (sermon)

May 1, 2012

Psalm 23      John 10: 11-18          1 John 3: 18-24

I wrote this sermon on Anzac Day morning. It certainly helps to focus the mind on what it means for us today to follow the good shepherd.

 

Our readings are all about leadership in different ways… the beloved psalm of the shepherd, The Lord is my Shepherd… is about the leadership of God. God is likened to a shepherd and the psalmist is likened to a sheep in the flock.

 

In John’s gospel Jesus takes up the same theme and says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” In other words for John’s gospel the leadership of God is understood to be played out in the life of Jesus, particularly in his death.

 

And then in the letter of 1 John the theme of leadership flips over and we see its outcome in what we might call “followership”. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

 

You hear this business of ‘laying down one’s life’ and of ‘sacrifice’ at Anzac Day. So what I want to do today is ask ‘what does the leadership of God look like when Jesus takes up its mantel?’ and secondly when we go back to the Old Testament, to Psalm 23, what does that look like when seen through the eyes of Jesus.

 

So what does the leadership of God look like if it is demonstrated by Jesus?

I want to suggest that the answer to this question is quite straightforward. Following Jesus might not be straightforward, but the answer to this question is straightforward. Jesus leads by laying down his life, not just for his friends and disciples but also for his enemies, even for the ones who are crucifying him. While on the cross he repeats over and over (the Greek is in the continuous tense)… Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. Father forgive them and so on. Jesus says in today’s reading I have other sheep, not disciples in my flock. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (enemies and friends)

 

You might remember, a few Sundays ago at Easter we looked at how the resurrection assures us that God is like Jesus… we talked about how Jesus nearly got killed on his first sermon in Nazareth when he dared to suggest that God would not come in vengeance on Israel’s enemies, but had a place for those enemies. I mentioned that in the three places in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) that Jesus talks about God directly he talks of a God who gives unconditionally, rain on the just and the unjust (good and evil), who gives good gifts and finally Jesus declares. You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’, but I say to you love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you… Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.

That’s the Jesus revolution. That’s Jesus’ way of taking up the mantel of divine leadership. God is like Jesus…so God loves his enemies

It is quite clear that the flock for which Jesus gives his life includes his enemies. Jesus dies for his friends and his enemies.

 

Here’s a question for Anzac Day: When two countries go to war and both believe that God is with them… which side is believing in the God of Jesus Christ?

 

Let’s hold that question and think back to Psalm 23 but now with Jesus as the good shepherd. In particular there’s a line in it which mentions enemies. Anyone remember?

 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

When you hear that line where do you imagine the enemies? Do you imagine them looking on hungrily while God gives special favours to the psalm writer?

How would Jesus read that Psalm? in particular that image of the table?

Is it possible that the enemies are actually present at the table? Is it possible that the leadership of God, as it is played out and lived out by Jesus… even today provides hospitality for enemies? That God provides a place for people to sit down at table with their enemies? Is it possible that God provides a table where people who would otherwise not meet together, who would otherwise have nothing to do with each other, would get to know one another?

If that were the case we would call it “The Table of the Good Shepherd” or “The Table of the Lord”…. If God did that it wouldn’t be some kind of ritual occasion where we sat in the privacy of our own spiritual isolation and contemplated the welfare of our souls and our future in heaven. No! It would be a gathering where people of all different kinds were drawn together by the death of the shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.  It would be a meal where gay people meet with straight people, where muslim terrorists meet with CEOs of casinos, where Jews meet with Gentiles, where liberals meet with conservatives, where people who like old buildings meet with people who couldn’t care less about buildings….

When we debate war and violence at times like Anzac Day people like to imagine a scenario, where they are convinced that there is no solution but violence, where the only way to respond to violence is violently, where their enemies are not really human… that they have to train up an army who are psychologically prepared to regard their enemies as not really human (US army practice). The standard wisdom tells us that enemies would never respond to an invitation to dinner.

In other words following Jesus is our calling only if we can imagine how it will work! If we can’t imagine how it will work, we need to find our own wisdom, which usually involves meeting violence with violence… as if that will work.

Not long after 9-11 a little traditional church in Tennesee called Heartsong Church, learnt that a Mosque and Cultural Centre was being built adjacent to them. Can you imagine the protest that created? Actually, the pastor Steve Stone and his congregation put up a large sign which read “Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Centre to the Neighbourhood”

The Muslim leaders were floored. They’d been hoping that their arrival might be ignored. They never imagined they’d be welcomed.

While the building was under construction members of the Muslim community used Heartsong Church for Ramadan prayer services. Heartsong’s community barbecues served halal meat. And according to Pastor Stone the two congregations were planning joint efforts to feed the homeless and tutor local children.

In 2010 Pastor Stone got a call from a group of Muslims in a small town in Kashmir, Pakistan. They said they had been watching CNN when a segment on Heartsong Church was aired. Afterward, one of the community’s leaders said to those who were gathered: “God just spoke to us through this man.” Another said: “How can we kill these people?” A third man went straight to the local Christian church and proceeded to clean it, inside and out.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies…

I wonder who in your street would be least likely to be invited to a meal at your place?

Imagine if a ‘mission formation group’ had their principle purpose to create opportunities for hospitality in their local neighbourhood… to create a neighbourhood, where previously there had just been houses where people sleep in.

Imagine if Jesus was the good shepherd preparing tables in our neighbourhood… because there was followership in your neighbourhood.

Imagine the Table of the Lord!

Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 1, 2012 3:06 am

    Great sermon, Christianity 101! Good to hear straightforward preaching.
    You know, as for all this “just” and “justified” war talk, it all of one piece with the guy who was standing before a judge, accused of murdering his wife. The judge says, “What do you have to say for yourself?”
    The man replies, “It is true, judge. I killed my wife. But she needed it.”
    That’s it. Nobody ever kills or justifies killing anybody who doesn’t need it.

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