This week we have a special opportunity to share with you the sermon notes of a dear friend of the Luther Glen Farm. We are blessed to share this message of hope, given over the weekend by Mary Shaima who is a Candidate for Deacon in the ELCA.
Sermon Notes – Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church, Big Bear Lake, CA.
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018
What does it mean to be the good shepherd?
What is “good” anyway?
Is “good” a quality that only Jesus has?
Or is “good” how he models for us a life of discipleship, a life of service?
What does it mean to lay one’s life down for others? We have studied examples of this from the past, but we have also seen examples of this all too frequently in the last few years – the coach in the Parkland school shooting, the young female activist in Charlottesville, and people like Martin Luther King Jr.
These are not examples of an ego-driven show, but of acting on a passionate belief – something that drives one to choose the greater good over the individual’s safety.
Have you ever done this – risked your own safety or security, be it physical or status-wise, for something you believe in?
Before we jump to any conclusion that this can only happen in life-or-death situations, let’s think about what it means to simply feed the hungry.
In many cities, ordinances have been enacted forbidding churches to feed the poor and the homeless.
And those churches have basically said, “yeah, no” and gone ahead and done it anyway.
Because as shepherds following the Good Shepherd, we lay down our lives, even if figuratively, for the sheep. Even if it means standing up to an unjust law.
Not for recognition – and not for notoriety – but because this is what it means to follow Jesus.
At the camps of LRCC, they have a program called CIT – counselors in training.
These young people are apprenticed to the work of leading other young people – they are learning what it means to be a leader. Maybe another name for them is “shepherds-in-training” especially as we consider this broader idea of being a shepherd.
The hired hand is the one who turns away and says, “I don’t want to get involved.”
But we shepherds-in-training lean in – and even in our most fumbling of efforts, we find that the blood runs more soundly in our veins. We breathe this mountain air more deeply. Because when we lay down our lives, when we stand up for what Jesus’ words and actions tell us is real justice – we find ourselves in that place that he called “abundant life.”
Our shepherd story is from John’s gospel – one of the texts from what is known as the “Johannine community.”
This community of Christians was in existence about 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and they were trying to live out what it means to follow Jesus.
Their hallmarks are their writings – this gospel, which takes a significantly more poetic and philosophical direction than the other three, and the letters of John, the first one of which we’ve been reading in this Easter season.
The letters are some of the most beautiful writings of the Bible, and they get at the heart of what Jesus outlined as the greatest commandment: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
This IS the gospel, dear people. Love.
So if we are shepherds-in-training, it gives us an opportunity to consider a specific line in this gospel: “other sheep.”
John’s gospel is so rich and full that some of these lines can get lost in the richness. And when Jesus says “I must…” we might make the mistake that sees that line as a signal that we haven’t got any responsibility here, that Jesus will handle the whole thing.
Do we come to Jesus on our own? No, Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism, in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, that “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel…” and so on.
But we also know that the Holy Spirit is fond of working through the most unexpected people and experiences, no? To bring Jesus’ message of love and grace into generally unexpected places.
But sometimes, the Spirit works to bring that message of love, of what it means to be a shepherd and lay down one’s life, in places where it’s already present and understood – but in ways that demonstrate a new dimension of the gospel.
At Luther Glen Farm, as we have heard and will hear more about, the mission of LRCC has expanded beyond camp and retreat center to include a working farm. Not only does the farm provide produce for everyone, it provides eggs in copious amounts. You can buy some after church! Fresh eggs!
But the farm is also home to more animals than the chickens. Now there are two pigs, two horses, several sheep, and lots of goats.
And three Great Pyrenees dogs.
Great Pyrenees are some of the best protector dogs there are. They are big and affectionate, but they are also vigilant when protecting livestock. The matriarch dog of Luther Glen Farm, Annie, proved this last fall.
Fall is a somewhat quiet time at the farm. The gardens are still producing, but the days are getting shorter and only the tomatoes are making a last stand. Camp is done for the summer. Aside from some retreats and the Brew Boldly weekend, it’s a time for preparation for winter and planning for the upcoming year. The leaves are turning. Offsite business can more readily be done in the fall.
Both Lauri and Pastor Glen were off the property on business. Nate and Anthony and the others were done with their day’s work and were in their quarters. Pastor Glen arrived back at almost 10 PM, and as he got out of his car, Annie jumped the fence at the retreat center with a rattlesnake in her mouth.
It was still alive.
Pastor Glen raced to dispatch the snake – relocation was not an option. Annie was barking ferociously at it and had certainly fulfilled her guard dog duties of protecting the herd.
But no one realized what she had really risked until the next day.
The next morning, her face was horribly swollen, and she was having trouble breathing. Lauri raced back from El Camino Pines, and the vet confirmed their worst fears: Annie had been bitten by the rattlesnake, more than once.
She had had the anti-venom vaccine, of course; this is standard procedure in the back country and the mountains for dogs. But being bitten more than once compromises the effectiveness of that vaccine, and Annie was struggling. Even with steroid injections and all the anti-venom follow-up that was safe, she was likely seeing the foot of the Rainbow Bridge in the distance.
It was a very frightening several days. When I arrived with women of my home congregation for a retreat, Annie was still sequestered, only allowing Lauri to be with her. We had been praying for this sweet, brave dog, and she seemed to be holding on.
At the end of the weekend, I stayed on for a few hours to absorb the beauty and the calm energy of Luther Glen. Lauri brought Annie up to the retreat center, and she was doing better. “Don’t touch her face, though,” Lauri cautioned. Understandable.
Annie and I sat out on the patio in the fall sunshine. And after a time, she got up and walked carefully around the fenced perimeter, nose to the ground. I followed her, and we explored the area together. Eventually she laid down under the big oak tree and went to sleep. I took that opportunity to help out by pulling some weeds that were coming up through the bark cover.
Not fifteen minutes later, I came back around the corner of the retreat center and Annie was gone.
“You had one job!!!” I yelled at myself as I grabbed her lead and went tearing down the hill.
But I didn’t need to be afraid. Annie had jumped the fence and was back down by the herd, checking on their welfare and making sure her younger cohorts were doing their jobs.
She, along with Jesus, is the good shepherd of Luther Glen Farm. She quite literally laid down her life for the sheep. And goats, and pigs, and chickens, and so on. Today, she is as healthy as ever. And if I were a rattlesnake, I’d stay far away from Luther Glen!
Dear people of God, I tell you this story as a reminder that following Jesus is not a path without risks. Perhaps not as risky as what Annie endured – but risky all the same. Every time you host a Simple Supper, you take a risk to live as shepherds-in-training and disciples of the resurrected Christ. To make a choice not to live in fear. To believe passionately in the in-breaking peaceable realm of God, that feeds hungry people.
Every time you make a choice to love and not suspect. To love and not fear. To love and not be compromised.
It is said that following Jesus is a profoundly counter-cultural thing. Listen to these words from the first letter of John: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
The culture says, security at all costs. Jesus says, welcome the stranger. The culture says, if you share things you won’t have enough for yourself! Jesus says, feed my sheep. The culture says, be afraid of the “other.” Jesus says, love one another.
What distinguishes followers of the resurrected Christ is love. Love that pursues justice, abides in kindness, and walks humbly with God. Love that is exemplified in the selfless action of a big white dog named Annie, and the selfless action of the people of Spirit of Peace every time you open your doors.
May we continue to walk the path of love, and widen it as we go. Amen.