St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Easter IV 2011 Sermon
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Rev. Bonnie Campbell

Walter Brueggemann got me thinking--as I often do when I read what he has written or said. He titled his commentary on this week’s readings “Living an ‘Awed’ Life”, which said out loud may not make sense. That is not “odd-o d d”, but “awed-a w e d”.

Walter wrote this in Sojourners--Living the Word May, 2011 about the Gospel reading today: “We may take the ‘shepherd-sheep’ metaphor as a way to discern our life.  On the one hand there are false shepherds, false religious leaders, greedy economists, phony politicians, even mistaken parents who offer an illusionary world for their children.  On the other hand, there is life with no shepherd, being on one’s own, vulnerable and without resources, stumbling from one failed prospect to another.  Into this false shepherd/no shepherd world comes the gospel alternative.” 

The alternative Jesus offers is a shepherd who doesn’t have to sneak into the pen because both the gatekeeper and the sheep know him.  From The Message [Eugene Peterson], “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”  In the Acts passage, the new community formed after Pentecost was living this better life.  They were living the “awed” life//living in awe of what they had--the love of God. “They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.  Everyone around was in awe--all those wonders and signs done through the apostles!  And all the believers lived in wonderful harmony, holding everything in common.  They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship…followed by meals at home, every meal was a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God.  People in general liked what they saw.”

In Peter’s letter he reminds us that this “awe” must become endurance.  “What counts is that you put up with it for God’s sake when you’re treated badly for no good reason. … continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God.  This is the kind of life you have been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived.  He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it… His wounds became your healing.  You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going.  Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.”

So, Walter’s take on the readings got me thinking about the God I knew as a child.  I trusted God completely.  Yet, I was always worried about that rod mentioned in today’s Psalm.  I didn’t know who I was or where I was going.  I liked rules, though.  Rules needed to be observed and kept because I could often (and still do)--I could see that the rules were good--I could see why there were rules.

So, I could keep that rod at bay if I observed the rules.  I wanted God to continue to love me.

I went to a different kind of church because the one I was attending was too judgmental in my eyes.  Yet, I still was worried about that rod all the way until I went to college and heard a gospel of a different kind.  I had never wanted to give up this bad shepherd I imagined for no shepherd, but I came to know this good shepherd through the sermons of Doug Dickey who was a campus minister.  I learned that God loved me no matter what and I stopped imagining this rod-wielding god who was just waiting for me to screw up.

It was a wonderfully freeing experience.  I didn’t stop observing the rules but I cut myself a big old piece of slack, as the Righteous Mothers say in one of their songs.  I quit going back to the hole of regrets to fish and moved forward as a child of God.

And, when I could cut myself a big piece of slack, I was more willing to give some slack to others, too.  “Goodness and mercy” followed me wherever I went.  Life wasn’t about feeling guilty or making others feel guilty, it was about abundance of mercy.

And in this frame of mind, I joined the Episcopal Church.  After a few years, Jim and I were sent to Cursillo--it didn’t matter who sponsored us because there was a whole community holding us up in prayer on our weekends.  It was on this Cursillo weekend that I learned something new.  Now, there are 15 talks that comprise the Cursillo weekend and I can’t say there was much new material there for me.  I kept trying to be patient because I knew there was a gift for me there.  And, this describes the gift I received: “And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common.  They… pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship…, followed by meals…, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God.”

In that little community we formed just for those three days, we had harmony and we were cared for as I had never been cared for in the past.  There were somewhere around 60 people who were making sure that we had what we needed close in and hundreds out in the community who were praying and who had provided for us.  I felt the true sense for the first time of Christ’s unconditional love for me.  That cocoon that we were living in for those three days, listening to people talk about what Jesus wanted from us, and talking to our new friends at our tables about how we could apply that--that cocoon made me feel so loved and so cared for that I could envision Christ’s love for me, his need to have me following him.

I had made the switch from the bad shepherd already--this shepherd who had convinced me God had a big stick and he was willing to use it.  I had been following and rejoicing in this good shepherd who loved me the way I was.  After going to Cursillo, I had a community that would stand with me and meet with me and hold me accountable.  But, it was all done in love--Christ’s love.  And I was living an awed life with the kind of support that could help me endure.

The circles I have studied with here at St. Mark’s have been those same kind of supportive, loving communities.  I live in awe at what our Good Shepherd can do with ordinary people like me.  The apostles were awesome and they were ordinary people.  We are all of us here fairly ordinary people with an extraordinary shepherd, and He is what makes us awesome and durable.  He is the driving force behind cutting each other a big old piece of slack.  It is awesome that though we disagree on some things, we can love one another and listen to one another and hold one another accountable.

We “…were lost sheep with no idea who {we} were or where {we} were going. Now we’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of our souls.”  Now that is living an “awed” life!

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