VicarSharonRichterSermon for Good Shepherd Sunday

In My Father's House There are Many Mansions
By Vicar Sharon Richter -


Everyone here today has experienced some trauma in their life.  Some death, some grief, some anxiety, some fear, some loneliness.

Today’s readings are for you in your place of hurt. They help us to find comfort in different ways.

The reading from Acts tells of the newly baptized followers of Christ living together, selling their goods, and sharing all money and goods in common.

The statements of communal living in Acts 2 and Acts 4 are exactly where Karl Marx got his concept of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." The New Testament is the original communist text. Sorry if that disturbs you, but it’s true.

Faith communities can be a safe harbor and a crucial support to people in times of trouble.  If they do not do that, they are failing in a crucial way.

 The 23rd Psalm tells us God is always with us, through times of peace and times of storm, and will bear us up and bless us. This Psalm has long been used to comfort people.

 The reading from 1st Peter is a primary source of Martin Luther King’s policy of nonviolence. The idea is that responding to violence with violence just perpetuates an endless cycle.

But many people have misapplied this lesson, hurting and endangering others by implying that they should just put up with whatever abuse comes their way.

manymansions by irving amenMartin Luther King got it right. He knew that publicly resisting while not fighting back would bring a watching world to the side of the resisters.  And in the new age of television, it did.

But neither Jesus nor Dr. King would have told anyone to remain in an abusive relationship. Resist! If someone is abusing you or your loved ones, please get to a safe place. Tell the pastor or me.  We will help you.

Finally we come to the gospel. You may have noticed that I added the next line in John 10, because I think it is important for understanding Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

The reading ends this way: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The Good Shepherd’s sacrificial promise is already accomplished.  And from his resurrection, the place of safety, he continues to call to us.

But do we hear his voice?  Do we know his voice?  It is often hard to discern the Good Shepherd’s voice among all the other voices clamoring for our attention: 
Politicians try to make us afraid of everything:  “Fear the terrorists!  Watch out for gang-bangers! Foreigners are hacking our computers and stealing our identities! Immigrants are stealing our jobs!” 

I’m here to tell you, that voice is not the Good Shepherd’s voice.

Hellfire and brimstone preachers try to make us afraid we’re not good enough:  “You’re sinful!” You’re not worshipping the right way!”  “You’re going to hell!”  That is not the Good Shepherd’s voice either.

Sometimes, even if they love us, those closest to us shame us and cut us down:  “Why can’t you get a job?”  “You’re so stupid!”  “You can’t do anything right.” 

THAT is not the Good Shepherd’s voice either.

In our text, Jesus uses two different metaphors to help the disciples understand who he is. First, he says identifies as the shepherd: “The sheep follow him because they know his voice,” but they will not follow a stranger, who he characterizes as a thief or a bandit.

So this is how we know:  If what we hear is a voice of hatred, intolerance, condemnation, judgment, or lies, it is NOT the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Contrarily, if we hear a voice of love, acceptance, peace, and truth, it IS the Good Shepherd’s voice.

The Good Shepherd’s voice will not scare you, or judge you, or shame you.  Rather it will beckon you.  “Follow me.” Close your eyes, and listen, and you will hear it. This is what we do when we pray.  We speak just a little, and we listen a lot.

The Good Shepherd tells us that everything depends only on us knowing the loving voice of the shepherd and the loving shepherd knowing us. 

So our status before God does not depend on how we feel, or what we accomplish, or on being free of doubt.

And, here’s something very important: our status before God also doesn’t depend on only one understanding of the Good Shepherd. Jesus is also, in his second metaphor, the Gate for the sheep. But as Jesus tells us in John 10:16, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. So the Gate and the Shepherd appear to different folds of people.

Our neighbor in church, our neighbor in a different denomination, and even our neighbor in a different faith will understand the Shepherd and the Gate differently, even if it’s the same Shepherd and the same Gate.

If anyone is following a loving voice, they are following the Good Shepherd.

The voice of the Good Shepherd is a voice that liberates rather than oppresses. It does not say, “Do this, and then maybe you will be good enough to be one of my sheep.”

It says, “You belong to me already. No one can snatch you out of my hand.” This makes us free to live the abundant life of which Jesus spoke.

This abundant life is not necessarily about abundance in years, or money, or status, or accomplishments. It is life that is abundant in the love of God.

We spread this abundance when God’s love overflows from us to the other sheep.  And we receive this abundance when God’s love overflows from the other sheep to us.

Amidst all the voices that evoke fear, make demands, or give advice, the voice of the Good Shepherd is a voice of promise that calls us by name and claims us as God’s own.

Listen also for the voices of the other sheep who support you and love you, and disregard all the others, who do not tell the truth.

What is that truth? The truth is that God, who made you, loves who you are and needs you to be, who he has made you to be -- in every moment of confidence and in every moment of self-doubt.

The truth is that you are indeed a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s fold and that nothing, no one, no scary or judging voice, no church, no institution, no government can change that. Ever.

Let us pray: Protector God, we thank you for the sanctuary you provide, in this life and the next.  Help us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and follow.

Vicar Sharon Richter
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
May 7, 2017

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