Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 19, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 10:16-33
Sermon: "We Are Not Just Sheep"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
We Are Not Just Sheep
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - June 19, 2005
One of my favorite past times as a child was to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I would get up early and go sit in the den, turn on the TV and watch Bugs Bunny and a host of other characters on Merrie Melodies. One of my favorite cartoons concerned a flock of sheep. The sheep were protected by a sheep dog named Sam. His job was to protect them from a wolf named Ralph. It was Ralph's job to steal the sheep. Ralph would attempt to pull all kinds of tricks on Sam so he could get the sheep. One of my favorites was the use of a bottle of fast-growing ACME hair tonic. Ralph snuck up behind Sam and poured the tonic on his head. The hair grew farther over his eyes and very thick. Ralph decided to test and see if Ralph could see. He went around to Sam's front in a wide circle. He hid himself and then stuck just his hand in the air. Ralph didn't move. He waved at him and Ralph didn't move. He stood up in front of him and Ralph didn't move. He then stuck his tongue out at him and Ralph still didn't move. Satisfied that Sam could not see, Ralph goes out amongst the sheep.
Now, the sheep are really kind of dumb in this whole cartoon. The wolf is among them and they don't move. They don't pay any attention to Ralph at all. They just kind of go on their merry way eating the grass. Ralph is checking out which sheep he will steal. He finally chooses one. Just as his fingers touch the sheep, Ralph moves from his spot with lightning speed. He grabs Ralph and throws him out of the pasture. The sheep watch benignly and return to eating.
Wouldn't it be nice if God handled all the world's problems like Sam the sheep dog? We would be the sheep in the pasture eating to our hearts content. Jesus would be watching over us making sure that nothing bad ever happened to us. Any time anything evil approached, Jesus would reach down, grab it and throw it out of the pasture. We would be fully protected from the onslaughts of the world, evil, Beelzebub, and even one another.
Wait a minute, what is this comment about being protected from one another?
Well, if a sheep is hurting another sheep, then Jesus would have to stop that too. Jesus would have to remove that sheep from the pasture. So. If we were hurt by one of our brother or sister sheep they would be removed. If we hurt one of our brother or sister sheep we would be removed. While the pasture is safe it is not free. Absolute obedience is required. There can be no free will. There can be no change. There is no reason to grow and there is no reason to really love. All one has to do is be present, eat grass and grow fat. Sounds like a dull existence and it is.
It is also not what Jesus describes in the Gospel reading this morning. He is sending the disciples out. They are to be missionaries in the pasture of the world. This pasture was created by God to be good. However, there is a great deal of trouble in this worldly pasture. People do not follow God well. They hurt one another. They lie about one another. They kill one another.
Jesus has shown the disciples how to go into this world to share a new way of life. They are to tell the world about the way of Jesus Christ. This way promotes caring for one another and loving one another. It also promotes placing the needs of others first. It promotes non-violence. Jesus' way promotes following God's will over following our own wills.
As the disciples attempt to tell this message they will be confronted by the ways of the world which are opposite of God's. Because they are so diametrically opposed the disciples will run into fierce opposition. They will be arrested, betrayed and even killed. They will receive exactly the same reception that Jesus did by the powers and authorities that exist. Yet, Jesus tells them not to be afraid.
They are not to fear, because God will protect them. Now, God does not necessarily prevent us from being hurt in the world. God has a bigger plan. God's protection is an eternal protection. The disciples of God are offered eternal life in the presence of God. They are offered eternal existence in a place where there is no more crying. There is no more pain. There is no more hurting. They are offered eternal joy, eternal love, and everlasting peace in the presence of God. All they have to do is believe in God and share God's message of redemption.
When the world gets upset at the message the disciples are to tell it anyway. The disciples of Christ have the best message the world has ever heard. God loves you is the message. God loves the world and everyone in it. God the Father loved the world so much that God gave the Son to die to redeem the world. Instead of destroying it and starting all over again, God redeems the world through self-sacrifice.
This message is worth telling. This message is Good News to those who are hurting, to those who have suffered, to those who are in pain or sorrow. For they will know, if they hear this message, that they worship a God who understands pain and wants to heal it. They worship a God who understands illness and wants to heal it. They worship a God who understands death and has overcome it. This message is worthy of all to be received and heard over and over again.
Today we are the disciples. We carry on the joumey that the first disciples went on so long ago. This journey is a continual one. It was passed down to us by those who heard this message and believed, and now, we have the responsibility to share this message. All we are asked to do is share the message. God will take care of the rest. We are not responsible for how the world acts. We are not responsible for what happens in the long run. We are responsible for sharing the message and not giving up when it gets hard. We are called to be like Jesus and keep going even when it does get hard.
It does sound like a daunting task at times. However, we have an eternal promise that does make it easier. The promise is that God will always be with us. If the times are great God is with us. If the times are so-so, God is with us. If the times are hard, God is still with us. At the end when we have finished our course, God is with us. For we believe and trust in a God that has conquered everything we have witnessed or experienced that this world has to offer. The resurrection awaits those who believe and share the love of God.
We are not called to be fat, happy sheep eating our way blindly through a pasture. We are called to be messengers of God. We are called to be messengers of God's love to a strange and often difficult world. We are reminded constantly on this journey that God is with us. God is our ever present and never-failing companion. So, to our loving God and companion we offer praise as we say, "AMEN".