May 07, 2017 sermon (Easter 4)
Acts 2:42-47/ John 10:1-10
Community Rules: Trust and Sharing
Since we are celebrating today as the Holy Humour Sunday, let’s start with some jokes. “My wife told me I had to stop acting like a flamingo. So I had to put my foot down.
My friends says to me, “What rhymes with orange.” I said, “No, it doesn’t.”
And God said to John, come forth and you shall be granted eternal life. But John came in fifth and won a toaster instead.
What do you call a French guy in sandals? Phillipe Phillope. A blind man walks into a bar. And a table. And a chair.
I have the heart of a lion and a lifetime ban from the Toronto zoo.
Knock knock. (Who’s there?) Dishes. (Dishes who?) Dishes Sean Connery.
Some people think it’s romantic to carve their names on trees while they are on a date. I am more worried about why they are bringing knives to their dates.
How may opticians does it take to change a lightbulb? Is it one or two? One… or two?”
Speaking of light bulbs, let’s now make fun of our diverse church denominations. “How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? None. God has predestined when the lights will be on and off. How many Roman Catholics does it take to change a light bulb? None. They use candles. How many Pentecostals does it take to change a light bulb? Ten: one to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the darkness. How many Nazarenes does it take to change a light bulb? Six: One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy. How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was. How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Bring a bulb of your choices to the Sunday lighting service and a covered dish to pass. Last one; how many Amish does it take to change a light bulb? What’s a light bulb??” Unfortunately, there is no joke for the United Church of Canada. We will probably need a committee to make the decision on buying a new lightbulb, one person to change it, one person to hold the ladder, and another person to test out the switch when it’s done (you know, because we tend to work together in an egalitarian way).
I started with jokes because during this Season of Easter we are learning that we are called to be a community, and sharing joy and laughter is a vital part of bonding with each other in a community. Through today’s scripture readings, we will learn two crucial rules of being a community; first, that our relationship as members should be based on intimacy and trust, and second, that community is about sharing with one another.
First, let’s take a look at our gospel text about Jesus the Good Shepherd. This analogy that God is the shepherd of Israel or that Jesus is the Good Shepherd is commonly seen throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. In order to understand the message, let’s learn what it is like to be sheep and shepherds in Palestine. In Palestine, sheep are mostly kept for their wool, so the shepherds tend to keep their sheep for longer periods and often give them names. But these names are usually descriptive, to help them identify their sheep, such as “Brown-leg” or “Big-ear”. Personally I would name my sheep something like Tweedledee or Tweedledum.
Anyway, the relationship between sheep and their shepherd is remarkably intimate in Palestine both because the sheep are kept for a long time and also because sheep are a stupid animal. But since they are stupid, they trust their shepherd absolutely. And they do recognize their shepherd’s voice and do not follow anyone else. Just by learning this, I fantasize about trying to lure some sheep away from the herd. “Yoohoo, come with me! I have candies!” They’ll probably say, “We might be stupid but we’re not that stupid!” There are two elements about this relationship in our gospel text; the analogy of sheep’s gate, and the fact that sheep know their shepherd’s voice and follow only him. Jesus both mentions entering through a sheep’s gate and him being the sheep’s gate. In Jesus’ time and culture, sheep were kept in a cage with an entrance but no gate. The shepherd had to sit at the entrance all night to guard his sheep from thieves and wolves. Judging by all this information about Palestinian shepherds, we know that it was a life full of hard work and sacrifice. A shepherd only had a sling and a staff as weapons; fighting with a wolf could have been physically dangerous. By the way, do you know the difference between a staff and a rod? I didn’t know it because if you search the images on the internet, they confuse you with sticks looking exactly the same; but in reality, a staff is a short wooden club that is used as a weapon, and a rod is a long hooked stick intended to catch and pull back any sheep that might go astray. That was today’s trivia knowledge. But the point is, the relationship between sheep and their shepherd is intimate and based on absolute trust.
The image of a community that we can see in the Acts of the Apostles is a radically egalitarian society. They shared everything they owned so nobody would be in need. It’s like rich people paying more tax so the underprivileged can benefit from free education and medical care. Community is about sharing stuff. Even for us who don’t live together and share our possessions, when one of our members become needy, or we hear about a group of people in need, we share our resources to help them. As I mentioned last Sunday, if we open our space and resources to become a community to the marginalized of our world, we are essentially doing the same thing the first Christians did; sharing and becoming a community to each other. This is what our community as the disciples of Jesus are called to be.
As the community of disciples and members of God’s kingdom, we should trust and follow Jesus as sheep do their shepherd. And as sheep being loved and cared for by our shepherd Jesus, we should in turn BE the shepherds for others in our world. It would be pretty selfish of us to enjoy the love and care but not provide the same to others in our lives, now, wouldn’t it? This is what community is about; giving and receiving, sharing together, and helping each other. Love is about giving and receiving, and sometimes having to make sacrifices for each other. In good times and bad, we share time, food, fun and memories, food, activities, food, support for each other, more food, and a little more food. A community is made of love, trust, and sharing together; as well as joy and laughter. As members of the same community of love and justice, we should be both sheep and shepherds to each other. As sheep and shepherds, we should be trusting and trustworthy to maintain the kind of intimate relationship that sheep and shepherds share. Also, to be a community, we have to enjoy being together and loving one another. Therefore, as we leave this place with laughter in our hearts and smile on our faces, let us love one another more and more; and spread this love like a virus.
Rev. Sunny Kim