No Longer Sheep

This is a transcript from the May 12, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

I want to tell you about a certain type of animal. This is the fairy penguin.

No Longer Sheep - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

It's in Australia, off the coast. As you can see, it's really small, and it's really cute. These penguins, in the morning, they go out to the ocean to fetch food for their chicks that are in these burrows. Now, from the ocean to the burrows is about 100 meters of beach. What these penguins do when they get done hunting in the water for the food is go back, they get into these groups and they stand at the water's edge, and then they run about 30 meters and they come back. They run 20 meters, they come back. Then they run like 50 meters, come back.

This phenomenon, actually what's going on is penguins are really good in the water and really fast in the water. They can dive deep. They can outmaneuver and outswim predators, but on land, on the beach, they're wobbling and a lot more prone to getting caught by predators. They're going across the beach and then anytime they see any kind of shadow or grass move or something doesn't seem right, they're back into the water. Sometimes it takes some groups of penguins almost all day to make it back to their burrows because they start and they go back. Start, go back. I think animals can teach us quite a bit about ourselves.

Sometimes we're like this fairy penguin when we go out into something new, dangerous territory, unknown territory. We'll like it for a little bit and then we'll quick go back to safety. Where we know it's safe. Where we know everything there is to know in that area. There's another animal that the Bible uses to describe humans in a way. It uses images of sheep, and God and Jesus is our Shepherd. I don't know if God thought this would be funny, that He would compare us to sheep. Because if any of you know sheep, they're not the smartest of animals.

No Longer Sheep - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Often in the Bible and the Old Testament, Jesus uses it. We are often compared also to other animals like birds, "Be like the birds of the air," but most of the time, he'll use the sheep. That we are mindlessly following a shepherd around, that we don't really care much about anything except being comfortable. We care about food, a place to lie down. That's the image that sheep give us. I think in Christianity, we have used this image and we've said it in different ways. There's a song from a band called Building 429 that I listened to in high school, and this is one of their lyrics. It says,

"All I know is I'm not home yet. This is not where I belong.

Take this world and Give me Jesus. This is not where I belong."

For some of us, we can think of the hymn, I'll fly away. That's a fun hymn to sing. It's a good tempo. It's exciting. This song and that song conjure up images of like, "This isn't it. We're just passing through," that we're just really looking forward to heaven. We've punched our ticket. We just want to get there. Nothing really matters that goes on here. We just want to get there. That's how sometimes we set this up in the Christian church. Sheep are images of that. That they are just following. They're just passing through until something happens. They don't have any clear direction.

Instead of life being this beautiful, sacred thing, life is now you're just in a waiting room until you get to heaven. You're sitting in the waiting room and you could see out the window.

There's things happening out there. There's tragedies. There's good things. All you're doing is sitting there and seeing it through that window saying, "Well, I can't do much about it. I'm just waiting until the doctor calls my name. God calls my name," just passing through. It becomes more about just survival than flourishing. It's our most basic animal instincts of finding a place that feels comfortable, safe, it has everything we need, and we're just going to stay there until we're forced to not be there anymore.

When we think of Christianity of simply as a way, a means of getting to heaven, and not about the here and now, we're just living in a survival mode, just trying to get there. It becomes about transaction rather than transformation. That I'm just going to do the right things in order to go to heaven, "I'll give you this God if you give me that," Instead of about transforming our hearts, our lives and our world right now. I think in our lives, some of us feel like sheep in a way, that there are places in our lives that we don't feel comfortable going out on our own. We feel like the fairy penguins.

That there are places where if we go out a little bit, we get hurt, or something happens, and we retreat back to the water. We're just passing through. If we set up that mindset, that perspective that this faith that we're a part of no longer becomes about helping those in need, it no longer becomes about how we see the world, how we see the Kingdom of God here and now, but it becomes about let's just get on with heaven already. I wonder what are the things in your life, where are the places that you need to stretch yourself to be more uncomfortable, where are the places that you're just passing through.

Maybe for some of us, this week was a moment where it felt like we're just passing through the emotions. This is just another shooting, just another tragedy, and it just keeps happening. What are the places in your life that you're not paying attention to the Kingdom of God and what God is doing? We're going to take a time of silent reflection to think about those things, and then we'll move into some music and then a prayer. Let's move into that time of silent reflection together. Psalm 23 is a very well known piece of Scripture. We've used it in times when we want to be comforted. For a lot of us, it's one of our favorite verses.

Most of us just remember it from when we were a kid, that we had to memorize it at some point, and now you could just recite it whenever you're asked. I think sometimes we don't look at it close enough. Because what I'm about to talk about here is something unique that happens in this Scripture. The first part is all about how we are like sheep. "He leads us by still waters. He helps us lie down in green pastures, He leads me through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil. My rod and my staff, they comfort me." all these images of us as sheep and God as the Shepherd.

We are the sheep who are fully dependent on God, and that God is serving us, and we are the ones who are being served. We are not caring for anyone else but we are just the ones being cared for. As the Scripture goes along and all of a sudden switches to a table, "A table is set before me in the presence of my enemies. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."

It'd be a funny picture to think of a sheep sitting at a table. The imagery here that's being used, moving from sheep, all of a sudden a table, is that now you are no longer sheep. Now you're participants in the renewal of all things. You are participants with God.

You're not just following now but you are co-creators. You are co-healers. You are co-helpers in bringing the Kingdom of God to the world now. This changes our perspective from one of just survival, one of just trying to get to heaven and be done with it all, to things right now are important. Things matter right now. How we react to things matters. How we help those around us matters because it's one of our duties. It's one of our privileges as Christians.

Rob Bell has this quote:

"This participation is important, because Jesus and the prophets lived with an awareness that God has been looking for partners since the beginning, people who will take seriously their divine responsibility to care for the earth and each other

in loving and sustainable ways."

It's no longer about us just being sheep. Things are moving. If your faith is just in the sheep phase, at some point, you're going to have to make that trip across the beach like the fairy penguin does. That now, you are entering this mode of faith, that you're entering a space, for now. You're just not following God, you're not just listening to the rules that you have to do.

You're not just listening to the stuff you want to hear, but you're being stretched and grown by God. That you are now participating in this world. You're no longer in that waiting room looking out the window, but you have stepped out the door. This week as Allison had shared, this week, some of this really brought out more meaning for me. Tuesday, when I heard of the shooting I thought of the six families in our church with kids who attend there. One of the first reactions you feel is you just want to retreat. That you want to go back to that water that's so nice.

Like the world is getting so bad, these things keep happening, I don't want any part of it and you just try to close in, put the armor on and just try and get through it. I think it's a very normal thing. Kids had to grow up fast that day. Families' perspectives and feelings change. Now also bringing your kid to school feels different. Listening to the kids Wednesday night and having them share and be together. I'm glad Allison had shared some of that, of how Reese felt because that seemed to be a healing time in some ways. That we're able to come around each other. Support each other.

This is one of those moments as Christians, we should do better because we know better. That this shouldn't be something that we just say, "Well, it's the world we live in now," and then you just let life pass you by. You just let it keep happening and happening. If we're participants with God in the renewal of all things, we certainly are the people to stand up and say this is not okay. This shouldn't be this way, because sometimes if we don't do it, who will? Surely, God does bring people and God will use somebody else, but that is our role. It's to be light in darkness. To say, "This is not okay. What is happening is not okay. We're not just going to sit by and be passive about it."

No Longer Sheep - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

That God has called us to a higher responsibility, that we are no longer sheep, but we're now participants. This week, our youth group was able to act out being co-healers together. God's perspective is what's moving us forward. That we're no longer sheep, but now, we're even setting the table. He's giving us all we need. He's filling or cups. He's setting the table and He puts the enemies in front of us. Now, what this means is that we are sitting down with those we disagree with, even those that we hate. We are called to make peace. To continue to strive for that goal. You don't just leave the table because God has set it for us.

Last week, Russ shared a quote from Rachel Held Evans and I have another one this week. She recently passed on May 4th. She says this,

No Longer Sheep - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

This place is safe, it's safe to ask questions, it's safe to grow in your faith. It's safe to be sad, it's safe to be angry, it's safe to be happy, but we should never get comfortable. We should never sit in our faith and feel like this is it, we've arrived. We should always be looking for that next step that God is calling us to.

Because when we get comfortable and we're like the sheep just laying in the grass or we're like the penguins trying to go back into the sea, nothing happens, nothing gets done. We are not living out our calling as people of God. It's important to feel those things. It's important to feel the anger, frustration, sadness from this week. I know it's easy to numb ourselves. I'm sure, in a couple of weeks, we won't even be talking about it, but the families and the kids who were involved with it, it still lingers. I know I numb myself pretty good the second half of the week, and I numb myself pretty good until Alison talked.

Then brought back everything from Wednesday night with the kids. Don't let those emotions pass because if you numb them, then our mission is just about comfort and it shouldn't be. It should be about co-creating with God, co-healing. Bringing light in the darkness here, now, and that's our responsibility. Amen.

No Longer Sheep - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO