May 12, 2019

2019 May12

Easter 4 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Today is not only Mothers’ Day, it is Good Shepherd Sunday. Can anyone guess why? The Gospel, the Psalm and the reading from Revelation: All three reference shepherds and lambs. In the Gospel, Jesus refers to His followers as sheep who know His voice. In the Psalm, the writer refers to God as the shepherd, who guides the writer as if a sheep. In Revelation, the Lamb is in a different role as Jesus Christ on the Heavenly Throne.

 

There is an obvious aspect of the sheep/shepherd metaphor that no one ever seems to mention.

 

In the lamb industry, it doesn’t
end well for the main subjects.

 

A shepherd does not raise lambs as pets or family. He raises them to be sold for food. And whether or not the reader of these passages is against the killing of animals for food, this is the stark truth, and one of two purposes of lamb rearing in 1C Palestine. The other purpose was sacrifice.

 

A part of lamb rearing in the Temple and Second Temple periods was offerings to God. Lambs were offered as sacrifices for a couple of reasons, and from what I can tell, the Temple priests went through quite a lot of lambs.

 

The first lamb offering came well before the first Temple in Jerusalem. That was at the Exodus, the first Passover. From Exodus 12:

 

Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

 

The annual commemoration of the Passover continues in the Jewish tradition to this day.

 

Jump forward about 1,300 years to Jesus, and at the Last Supper, Jesus offers Himself as this sacrificial lamb. Today, our Eucharistic Prayer says:

 

our Savior offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice,

 

This is a reference to Jesus being that sacrificial lamb at the Passover.

 

The victory of the sacrificial lamb is realized in Revelation:
Jesus Christ is the Lamb at the center of the throne.

 

In the Psalm and John, we are the lambs. At the Crucifixion, Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover Sacrifice. As His followers, we are to follow Him into death and then into Eternal Life.

 

The food and sacrifice aspects of shepherd/lamb metaphors in the Bible cannot and should not be ignored. The end result is actually key to our faith. Christian history is full of sacrifice, and the Christian faith is full of death, which we are not to fear. In our Baptism, it says in the service:

 

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism.
In it we are buried with Christ in His death. By it we share in His resurrection.

 

Furthermore:

 

  • We recall Christ’s Death at the Eucharist.
  • We routinely speak of not being able to have Resurrection without Death.
  • As faithful followers of Jesus Christ, we are brave in the face of death, because we know that death is not the end because of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus warns or prepares His followers for death, and the New Testament writers continue that warning or preparation, however you wish to look at it.


The reading from the Book of Revelation is where the inspiration to remind us of what happens to the lambs came from. It is a re-telling of the writer’s dream. Broadly, it suggests that we must be prepared to die, “victory” comes through faithful witness to the point of death. It is then that we will be with Jesus Christ, the Lamb, for eternity. Jesus, like an actual shepherd, has been and is preparing us, His faithful followers, for our ultimate purpose: No, not to be food for the gods, but for our whole selves and beings to be offerings without blemish in Eternal Life with the one, full, sufficient sacrifice, Jesus Christ Himself. Some Eucharistic Prayers state that we the People offer ourselves as a Living Sacrifice.

 

This is some heavy theology that we divvy up into little pieces throughout the church year. Those pieces all converge during Holy Week and Easter, and then we rejoice! Our rejoicing is: Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, indeed. Alleluia! But it’s all actually grounded in Passover theology and our “exodus” from this earthly realm into the heavenly realm.

 

So, I apologize for tackling this from a dense theological perspective rather than from a fluffy lamb perspective. But Easter comes only once a year, so we might as well dive in for one Sunday.

 

So…what does this mean for us today? What do we do as we wait for our day at the sale barn? We live into being Acts people and an Acts community.

 

The Acts of the Apostles has a self-explanatory title. This book of the bible recounts what the followers of Jesus did when – after the Resurrection and the Ascension – they realized what Jesus had been telling them and teaching them while He was physically with them. They went forth to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ and were devoted to good works and acts of charity in Jesus’ name. They not only began to do these things which glorified God through Jesus Christ, but they learned to be witnesses of this Good News.

 

Doing and Being a Christian is hard work. The Acts of the Apostles make it look easy. But, they, too, experienced hardship. And many of them ended up at the “sale barn” prematurely. The first 3C of the Early Church was riddled with martyrdom. This is where Psalm 23 applies.

 

Overall, despite me mentioning that it doesn’t end well for the lambs in the shepherding industry, the lamb/shepherd metaphor is not intended to be morbid or depressing. Quite the opposite. It is because of Easter that we are not to fear death. It is not to say that we should hasten death, but we should not fear it. That is precisely what is suggested in Psalm 23.

 

The psalm is often associated
with a trouble-free life through
faith in God. However, if you
explore the short poem, you will
see that faith in God doesn’t
bring a trouble-free life, but a life
in which God is actively present
in the midst of life’s troubles.

 

One commentator writes:


“…in the midst of dangers and threats one can rely on the protective presence, abundant love, guidance and care of the Lord.”

 

The psalm, like all of the psalms, expresses the realities of everyday human life, including evil, darkness, and enemies – and they all express that God is with us through all of it.
As we go out to Do and Be Acts people and an Acts community, witnesses of the Good News, we are to know that God is with us.


Doing and Being Christians involves all the “good deed” stuff that we engage with at St Stephen’s and what many of you do with other organizations and colleagues. We are to care for the marginalized, be champions for social justice, care for the earth, and love our neighbors.

 

  • “Get On The Bus” is a perfect example of being an Acts community. To volunteer or support children to visit their incarcerated fathers is a selfless act which is a small step toward a better society with better behavior of prisoners, lower re-offending rates, better success in school for the children, and lessening the generational passing down of crime as a profession.
  • Supporting Heifer International is being an Acts community: supporting those who are unable to feed themselves by no fault of their own; giving them the resources and training in order to begin to feed themselves is making stronger communities and a stronger global village.
  • Supporting Hunger Awareness Day is being an Acts community. Gathering with your fellow residents of this city and county to support the 1-in-6 residents of this county who are food insecure makes a stronger local community.


These are the simple ways of being an Acts community. They come without strife or fear of persecution. We are fortunate that very little of what we endeavor to do as Christians will come with fear of persecution. That degree of comfort should not lead to complacency, but to lead us to take the more courageous step and begin to draw others into our experience of an ever-growing Acts community.

 

As we work our way through the Book of Acts up to Pentecost when we receive the Spirit as our commissioning to Do and Be an Acts community, listen to what the followers of Jesus are doing as the original Acts community. Discover yourself in the stories, and turn your passion of the 21C into becoming an Acts Apostle in an Acts community.

 

Do not worry that being a lamb who follows Christ the Good Shepherd – in the window you gaze into every Sunday. The Good Shepherd Sunday readings reassure us that the final stage of the shepherding industry is not the end, and we are in good company for the duration. Jesus’ shepherd analogy in the Gospel is a mirror to the Psalm. The writer of the Psalm recognizes the protection of the Lord, and Jesus in the Gospel expresses that protection:

 

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”

 

In Psalm 23, God’s “rod and staff” are concrete manifestations of the Lord’s protecting presence. And as lambs of the Good Shepherd, we again remember the Thanksgiving over the Water at Baptism:

 

We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism.
In it we are buried with Christ in His death. By it we share in His Resurrection.

 

“We share in His Resurrection”:

 

Easter is our reminder that, as Jesus’ sheep, as His followers, as we Do and become Acts people and an Acts Community, death is not the end, for:

 

the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd,
and he will guide us to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Connected Sound - Websites for the Barbershop Community