Readings for the day:
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
When I was in college, I was the manager of a non-profit, volunteer run coffee house in Fargo, ND. As the manager I was responsible for the ordering and maintaining of the supplies, determining and setting the prices of the beverages, and the recruiting and coordinating of student volunteers to come and work in the coffee house as a volunteer – meaning no pay. And I was amazed at how many college students actually said yes, that they would voluntarily spend time working in the coffee house without any financial compensation. We did allow them to receive one free beverage per shift as a thank you for their service. On average we had around 30 volunteers that helped out in the coffee house.
But since these were volunteers, we saw lots of turnover and while most of the volunteers were reliable and if they said they were going to be there, they would. Some however, we not reliable at all. Some would say that they were going to show up, but then if something came up, they would just not show up for their shift. After all it was a volunteer position. So I struggled with how to create an incentive for people to follow through on their commitments.
This is what Jesus is talking about in the gospel lesson about a shepherd and sheep. Jesus says that there are some hired hands working with the shepherd in tending the sheep. But since the hired hands don’t own the sheep, they have no vested interest in protecting the sheep when the wolf comes. So they run away; they aren’t at all reliable.
I’m sure that you can think of a time where someone let you down. They weren’t there for you when you needed them the most. Maybe it was your spouse (or ex-spouse). Maybe it was your mom or your dad. Maybe it was a brother or sister, aunt or uncle. Maybe, it was a close friend (or so you thought). All of us have someone who let us down and made us question how much they really care about us. “Well if he couldn’t even show up to my baseball game, then he must not care about me.” “Well if she promised me that we would hang out this afternoon but couldn’t bother letting me know her plans changed, then she must not care about me.” Have you ever felt like that?
Politicians seem to let us down all the time – they say one thing during the campaign and then do something completely different while they are in office. Our boss may make a promise about a raise, but then months go by and the paycheck hasn’t changed. This world is full of unreliable people and information. The internet can be great, but we don’t know what or who to believe anymore. Even the church and our pastors can let us down. I’ve heard the stories about some of the former pastors who have served this congregation and how some of you felt that the pastor and the synod were unfair; that they let you down.
With everyone else letting us down, it becomes very easy to feel like even God has let us down. When a prayer isn’t answered the way we would like it to be answered. Or when a friend moves away. Or a loved one dies before we expected them to. Or what God calls us to do is really not what we want to do. Then we feel like God has let us down. God has failed us. Why even bother with a god because our God apparently doesn’t care about us.
This is exactly what Jesus is getting at when He is talking to the Pharisees. He calls them, and really everything and everyone else in the world that lets us down, that all of them are the hired hands who run away from God’s sheep (that’s you) when they see the wolf (or trouble) coming towards them. Our parents, friends, bosses, pastors, and even our church can and will at times let us down because they all are part of this sinful world we live in. But Jesus says that He will NEVER let us down because He is the Good Shepherd and the shepherd is the one who owns the sheep.
At your baptism, the shepherd put his brand on you. (I know that people brand their cattle, but I don’t know if they actually brand sheep.) The brand that the Good Shepherd put on you is in the form of a cross on your forehead. God marked you as one of his. Kasey, in just a few minutes, we all get to witness and praise God for soon he will put his brand on you.
When the world abandons us at the first sign of danger, God says, “I’m not leaving your side.” When you feel like no one is reliable or trustworthy anymore, God says, “I haven’t broken a promise with you yet, and I don’t intend to start now.” Jesus is indeed our Good Shepherd, who always has our best interest at hand. He may not always do what we WANT, but what he does is always what we NEED. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who claimed us through the waters of baptism, promises to ALWAYS be with us through the good times of life and especially through the tough times in life – when volunteers just decide not to show up to work their shift in a coffee house, when a parent lets us down, when a spouse chooses their own interest over the interest of your family, when a so-called friend turns out to be not a friend at all, when your boss could care less about you, and when it feels like the entire world is against you…Jesus, your Good Shepherd, will stop at nothing to ensure the safety, security, and needs of ALL of His sheep in His flock – including YOU! And to show that He would do anything for you, Jesus laid down His life, of His own choosing, in order to take it up again so that just as Jesus was raise from the dead, you too have the promise from God of having a resurrection like Christ’s and eternal life with God. Amen.
© 2015 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.