We Are All Sheep, Rev. Fred Kinsey (with thanks to Rev. Dr. Kim Beckmann)
One Saturday morning some time ago, my friends Chris and Laura –both pastors- awoke to the sound of their four-year-old son, Smith, instructing his two-year-old brother Caleb, with a tone of voice that Chris recognized, from his own Children’s Sermons.
Smith was telling Caleb: “God is the good shepherd, and God loves us. We are God’s sheep. I am God’s sheep. You are God’s sheep. Miriam is God’s sheep. We are all sheep.”
When Chris and Laura heard their son Smith’s innocent testimony and trust in God, they were moved to join their hands under the covers, and think about this gift of love. They heard Smith continuing on: “I am God’s sheep, you are God’s sheep, Miriam is God’s sheep”
And then, after a brief pause, Smith added:
“But, we don’t have fur.”
This is pretty much the take-away, for this Good Shepherd Sunday: Smith’s trusting confidence; his awareness, of God’s relationship to us; and his sharing of that message with his brother – a brother by blood, and by baptism.
Today we baptize Joanna Kathy Kusserow. God is the Good Shepherd, we tell her. And God loves us. We are God’s sheep. I am God’s sheep. You are God’s sheep. We are all sheep. We will mark the cross ☩ and brand of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, on her forehead. In her baptism into Easter life, we trace the up and down portion of the cross with its movement, through death to life. We remember that Joanna’s life has come from God, and is going to God – just as we did two years ago for her older sister, Genevieve.
In the rite of Baptism, we will pray with Joanna’s parents, Justin & Jessica, that they will ever rejoice in the gift of her love in their lives. And that they will nurture Joanna in these ways of love, through faith and prayer, so that she might learn to trust God. We pray that they will learn from her, their sister in Christ, the gift of sweet confidence, and that together, they’ll learn to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd throughout their lives.
Then all of us --her extended family, her sponsors, and the whole congregation-- will pledge that we will keep teaching each other: God is the Good Shepherd. And God loves us. We are God’s sheep.
And not just those of us here in this congregation, but the people we encounter every day – in school, in our workplace, in the marketplace and neighborhood – all are God’s sheep. People whose lives we touch, even other sheep we don’t even think are in the fold – whoever it is we can’t quite get our hearts around to accepting, that the Good Shepherd already recognizes and loves – we are called to reach out to.
As we gather at the font, and follow Jesus’ invitation to approach still waters, to rest here a moment in safety, and drink in these words – we cherish these moments, like we did at the Easter Vigil with Ronald, to live among God’s faithful people, hear the Shepherd’s voice, and be reminded of God’s covenant of love with us.
We also covenant to look outward. To proclaim the good news through our words, that we are God’s sheep – and in every deed, serving all people, following Jesus’ example, to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
And as sheep of this Shepherd, this also means entering, the world-as-it-is – for this way of life that baby Joanna takes on with us, is dynamic, and interactive, and the valley of the shadow of death is all around. But as sheep, who are a baptized people, we are being carried in a passage from death to life, which is our hope – a table prepared and planted defiantly in the presence of our enemies, as Psalm 23 reminds us. When the Chaos monster stirs the still waters in the valley of our lives, the Good Shepherd carries us on his shoulders – even as that chaotic power washes through the highest offices in our land.
A hired hand will run, if the wolf is at the door, leaving the lambs defenseless. But the Good Shepherd, who knows the voice of the sheep, is present with us always.
I picture the sheep in this story, jumping in the Shepherd’s arms and hanging on for dear life. Then I picture the Shepherd engaging in extreme sports for their sake.
Jesus literally running with us in his arms, beating off the wolves with his rod, and scooping up scared sheep and lambs with the staff. Running with all of us – who are a rather unwieldy burden, a squirming mess – carrying us from death to life. Being held, even as our Shepherd attends to getting dinner on, and fending off danger, and going about the business of getting daily needs met, and nourishing both body and spirit.
Being nurtured in this way of life, learning through faith and prayer, to trust God, having confidence we’re in good hands, even with all the jostling and confusing chaos and terror of even ordinary days, makes a difference in our lives. It gives us a firm basis as we participate in the extreme sports of the vocation of parenting, and daily raising our lambs…
…And as we engage in the joys and challenges of our most intimate relationships; in our friendships; in making it work with roommates; and even the challenges of living with ourselves in times of solitude.
And when it sometimes seems like the wolf of cancer, and other life-threatening and debilitating diseases of body, mind and spirit, are forever howling at our doors and gaining on our heels – we’re being carried from death to life by the one who laid down his life for us – God’s sheep.
That’s a reality changing declaration for our lives! It’s a declaration of love!
We are God’s sheep. And God loves us.
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech,” John says in his Epistle, “but in truth and action.”
And because this way of life can be scary for us – facing the powers and the threat of death while reaching out and helping those in need – God is sending us the Spirit of Jesus – the Spirit of love, the Spirit of life, and the Spirit of the Lamb, to help us.
That Spirit is alive in our gathering here, especially in the baptism of Joanna, where we will hear God’s declaration of love for her, a reality changing declaration for our lives and the life of the world.
God is the Good Shepherd, and God loves us.
We are God’s sheep – I am God’s sheep. You are God’s sheep. Joanna is God’s sheep. We are all sheep.
But we don’t have fur.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!