Given Passages for Today: Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30
I am a called and consecrated Minister of Word and Service in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I attended seminary and received a Masters of Arts in Christian Ministry with an emphasis in Missional Outreach. Many of those with an MACM may serve in congregations as Minister of Children, Youth, and Family or as Minister of Christian Education, Minister of Worship and Music, Minister of Outreach – Usually there is a specific area they are called to. Some Ministers of Word and Service are called to ministries outside of the church walls. My call currently is outside of a congregation in a non-profit. This call allows me to serve as a supply preacher in congregations where their Pastor is away for the day. This morning I lead worship and preached at Silverstreet Lutheran in Silverstreet, SC. In the ELCA most congregations follow the Revised Common Lectionary which is a three year collection of given readings for congregations to follow as they work through the church calendar. Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday – so obviously my sermon included a farm story! Enjoy!
Good morning! Thank you again for having me today. It is always an honor to be invited to lead worship in congregations, but I get extra excited when it falls on a day like today! In our lectionary, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, which is one of my favorites! I’ll be honest, Good Shepherd Sunday hasn’t always been that special to me. Really, I’m not sure I even knew this day was a part of the church calendar just a handful of years ago, but that is no longer the case. Let me give you a bit of background…
I grew up in a neighborhood in Greer, SC. My childhood and my life into my young adulthood was very far removed from the rural lifestyle and the realities of farming. That all changed when I began to date a farmer. That farmer is now my husband and we now live on our farm in Pomaria, SC. For over 6 years I have been learning and continue to learn so much about this life. One of the greatest gifts to me from this place I now call home, is the way in which scripture has taken on new meaning and come alive in some incredible ways. So, even though Good Shepherd Sunday may not have been on my radar before, now I have seen aspects of today’s given passages happen in many different ways on our farm and I’d like to share one of my favorites with you.
Last spring we had a lamb born on farm whose mother didn’t take care of her. We are not sure why, but luckily we found the lamb early enough to start her on a bottle. Bottle feeding any animal, as many of you may know, is never a sure thing. We kind of just cross our fingers and hope for the best. When she was just over a week old some of my nieces and nephews were at the house. They loved meeting and playing with her, even though she really didn’t look so great, and they lovingly named her Marshmallow. Brandon told me, “We are not naming her.” I knew his fear was she wouldn’t make it. (Farm Rule: You don’t name animals you’re going to eat and you don’t name animals that aren’t going to make it.) But, she really started to turn the corner after their visit, and one day, about a week later, when Marshmallow had escaped her cage and was frolicking around our porch when we got home from work, Brandon said, “Alright, we can call her Marshmallow.” So we did.
Marshmallow would follow me around everywhere. When Romney Ann and I would go on walks, she was right there. When we would play on the porch, she was right there. When we would go inside, she would try to be right there. We would let our dogs out and throw the ball for them, and it was like Marshmallow thought she was a dog and would run around with them. Marshmallow was great! But eventually, she was getting bigger and stronger and really needed to be out in the pasture with the other sheep. This was not the smoothest adjustment for her. The first time we took her up to the pasture, she just stared at the flock of sheep like they were aliens. She was glued to the side of our legs. Finally, after many introductions, she finally started to hang out with the other sheep, which was wonderful! She was no longer there on every walk or running with our dogs or trying to sneak into our house. I missed her. But she was where she needed to be. That all being said, anytime we would go to the fence of the pasture and start yelling “Marshmallow,” we would immediately hear her making noise and trying to make her way through the pasture to get to us! She knew our voice and she never forgot it. We were her shepherd.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is beautiful. It is powerful and it is intimate. Jesus knows each of us. But we aren’t just born knowing God’s voice. Marshmallow didn’t always know her name, she learned it. The Christian faith is one that is passed down. It is taught, learned, and experienced. The crowds walking with Jesus, had him as their shepherd, their teacher, but later he sent them with the power of the Holy Spirit to share the good news and be shepherds to others. Who have been your shepherds? Who are those in your life that have helped you learn about God and helped you listen and discern God’s voice? Who are those who are beautiful examples of God’s love in the way they live out their faith every day? This may be a tougher question, but who have you shepherded? Who are those in your life who look up to you and who come to you for advice and counsel in tough times? We are all sheep and we are all shepherds.
In our reading from Acts we hear of a woman named Tabitha. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that women of this time were not equal to men, not even close. So anytime we see a woman is named in scripture it’s a big deal and we need to take note. Here, not only is Tabitha named in this passage, but she has TWO names, an Aramaic name and a Greek name, Dorcas. One commentary I looked at said this could mean she was working with different communities and she was a part of building bridges between different cultures, which is amazing. So, not only is Tabitha named, not only does she have two names, but this is the ONLY time in scripture where the feminine of the noun disciple is given! She was a follower of Jesus, she learned from him, she was part of the inner circle of the early church.
These are all important details to get us started with this passage but there’s more. When Tabitha died, they sent two men to get Peter to come and help them. This tells us that Tabitha was not just another member of this community, she was super important and beloved! Her community was at a loss and didn’t know who would replace her. She was a servant to her community. We also can’t overlook the mention of the clothing that Tabitha made for the widows of the community. Widows of this time would have been dependent on the charity of others for things such as clothing. They were showing Peter all that Tabitha had done for them.
Tabitha is a sheep to the Good Shepherd and a shepherd to her community. She lived her life in a way that was a witness to God’s power and love. Those in her community knew her voice and followed her example. Tabitha’s very life became a miracle and a testament to God’s faithfulness. How are we called to live lives like Tabitha – committed to good works and acts of charity? How are we called into our communities to make a difference, to be disciples, to be a witness to God’s life changing love? How are we called to be shepherds and examples to those around us?
We are ALL called to be sheep and to follow Christ’s example of unconditional, unexplainable, undeniable love. And we are ALL called to be shepherds to share that unconditional, unexplainable, undeniable love with those around us. May we all be Marshmallow, that when we are called we immediately run with excitement and joy to follow the Good Shepherd. And may we all be Tabithas, that our lives will be a living witness to Christ’s love.