Sunday, December 26, 2010

In For A Sheep, In For A Herd

These are my sermon notes, what I write out and then use to create bullet-points to preach from. I get the overall movement down, the ideas, a few of the pithy phrases, and then I discard it and go from notes. These notes are more complete than usual, and I think the illustration is kind of cool, so here you go. This is what I'll be preaching in 30 minutes:

Luke 2:8-20
Luke 15:1-7

I want to give some illustration around the idea of shepherds - I recently read an article that changed my image, my viewpoint, and let me to understand something more deeply than I did before.  If you want me to point you in the direction of the article, I can after the service, but it was written by Professor Richard Beck on his blog Experimental Theology.

Go back to the text and our imagery - what is a shepherd like?  Relatively poor, might be watching someone else’s flock, considered scruffy and somewhat dangerous.  

What is a farmer like?

Herdsmen tend to be more violent than farmers.  You can see this in Westerns - cowboys are rowdy and carry six-guns.  Farmers primarily provide daughters for cowboys to marry.  They do so, settle down, and do what?  Go into farming.

The reason is simple - it’s really hard to steal a farm, or to steal food from a farm.  There’s too much of it.  It isn’t very mobile.  And for most of the year, a lot of it isn’t in edible form.  The farmer might have neighbors who will stick up for him, and so on.

Stealing a herd is really easy.  Cattle-rustlers, right?  From the same westerns.

Imagine life for these shepherds: the sheep are everything they have.  All of their wealth; their investment portfolio; their medicare and medicaid when they get old; their 401k retirement plan; their day to day paycheck - all of that.

To illustrate this, I did something I probably shouldn’t have.  I went to the bank a few days ago, and I withdrew all of the money we had there in cash.  Mostly small bills, actually, just to illustrate.  There’s what’s in our checking account, as well as all we’ve saved in order to pay taxes this year - my taxes don’t come out of my paycheck, for the most part, as a pastor, so at tax-time we’ll be paying a huge bill all at once for the whole year.

Anyway, in this box is everything we have.

And this is what it’s like to be a shepherd.  (Dump it out)

There it is, all we have, lying out there where anyone can take it, any time.  Imagine this being your life - all you have in the world wandering around, bleating.  You bet your behind you’d be watching your flocks by night.  And by day.  Would you dare sleep?  Say a stranger comes near your flock - would you be welcoming?  Hell no.  You’d be locked and loaded.

That’s what it’s like to be a shepherd - constant anxiety that in a moment of neglect, you can lose everything.  The difference between prosperous herdsman and starving beggar is one bad night.

And now we return to our cute pastoral story about the angels coming to sing carols with the shepherds.  Only it doesn’t look much like that anymore.  We already talked about how terrifying angels are - shepherds are little better.  Come up to a shepherd in the dark and startle him and see if you live to see the dawn.  Not likely.

And yet these shepherds, when they hear the news about the birth of the Messiah, leave their flocks and go into town looking, door to door one imagines, seeking Jesus.

We don’t know if their flocks are there when the shepherds return.  All it would take is one cynical shepherd to see everyone else was leaving their flocks, and he could take off with everyone else’s investment portfolio.  In a heartbeat.  Not to mention wolves, or other predators.  Or the fact that sheep are stupid, and they just wander off sometimes.

This is not just “Hey, let’s go see a cute baby guys”.  This is a group of tough, sleepless, violent men dropping everything, risking losing everything they own, to go see Jesus.

Then - the shepherds could have returned to find their flocks gone.  The question is - given that, did they make a mistake?  Should they have stayed in the field, guarded their income, and ignored the baby Jesus?

Should we do that?  Is it the prudent thing, the wise thing, the right thing?  To remain ever concerned about our income, our retirement, and to neglect the times when Christ calls us into the world to do something?  To live out our calling?

Would we be the shepherds who stayed behind?  Because when we hesitate to risk, that’s who we are.  We don’t make it into the story.  We miss Jesus entirely.


Let’s continue on the shepherd theme.  Not only is Jesus birth attended by shepherds, but Jesus is later, as an adult, referred to as the Good Shepherd.

Now, this is not because Jesus acts like a skillful shepherd.  If Jesus was caring for actual sheep, he would be broke in a heartbeat.

Jesus tells a parable about a good shepherd - but no one who heard this story would have agreed with him at first.  It is more like a parable of an idiot shepherd who is destined for poverty.

(Illustrate with fake money again - get a pile and walk and drop a bill somewhere)

This is Jesus’ so-called good shepherd.  He’s going along with his herd, a hundred sheep, or, let’s say, ten thousand dollars.  He drops a hundred dollar bill, and later realizes it.  (Throw money up in the air)  He goes off looking for this lost one hundred dollar bill, leaving nine thousand, nine hundred dollars lying out on the ground for anyone to take.  He risks 99 for the sake of 1 lost sheep.

This shepherd is a moron.  In economic terms, this shepherd is a failure.

This shepherd is Jesus.

The incarnation, the Christmas story, is among other things, the Good Shepherd loving us so much, valuing us so greatly, that he comes to find us where we are, seeks us out, and risks everything in the process.

So we do not go seeking a God who is indifferent, or who is removed from us, waiting for our approach.  We go seeking a God who has already sought us, so passionately and relentlessly, that he takes on flesh, and every weakness, and absolute vulnerability, in order to find us when we are lost.

That is a God like no other.

And so here we are, watching our flocks by night - guarding our interests even when we are at rest, ready to go to war, to fight, to defend what is ours.

And our calling is to set it all down and to go seeking Jesus while he can be found.


Aric Clark said...

Great stuff, man. Visceral and entertaining illustration. I can imagine that would stick. Hope the 3 people who showed up enjoyed it.

Doug Hagler said...

Seriously - my timing, right? That's precision right there.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Well done.

Plus, taking all your money out of the bank before the year's end is smart when it comes to IRS reporting.

Doug Hagler said...

Thanks. Seeing all the back and forth above, it's nice to see we don't always have claws out.