Sunday, August 3, 2014

What do you say when they are ready to vote on a new pastor?

I hope that this sermon paves the way for shared ministry.  The audio can be found at:
[ ]

JESUS MAFA. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved August 4, 2014].

Have you ever seen a hungry mob of 35,000 teenagers descend upon a downtown on a weekday night when all of the businesses have closed at 4:30 pm or 5 pm?  Trust me, It’s not a pretty picture.  Have you ever heard of a Mc Donald’s or Burger King running out of food?  Fancy restaurants suddenly becoming reservations only or not admitting guests because, shhhh, they were all teenagers…..  IT’s a stunning fate in the midst of the market economy of the century changing year of 2000.

Though the planners had conversations with the convention planners and hotel planning staff, prior to the arrival of the first 35,000, these business people of St. Louis were thoroughly unprepared.   The information that is shared when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America books a Youth  Assembly starts with the fact that they don’t count rooms or beds, they count the pillows, for our youth groups are assigned four and five to a room.  This is a distinct variable in entertaining youth, in terms of how many a city and their hotels can entertain, the spirited hungry hoards of youth that the ELCA can bring to a city.

 The twin towered Marriott hotel I was assigned to, assured me as Hotel Pastor in Charge, that they were ready.  I knew early in the day when the buses of youth began to arrive and they were having trouble getting all their rooms checked in that we were in serious trouble.  I didn’t think it could get worse.  But it did.  After the evening program at Edward Jones Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams, the church youth of the ELCA excited by the music and the presentations at the event Titled “Dancing at the Crossroads” trouped back to the cluster of hotels in downtown St. Louis and to buses for the suburban locations.  Back at the hotel I asked the management staff if they were prepared for our youth to return and order evening snacks.  They responded in the affirmative, but in the hour and a half after the final event at the Dome, the snack bar was empty the grills and restaurants were out of food and the youth were moaning that there was nothing available to eat……Fortunately we did have a band in our hotel which continued to entertain the hungry, moaning, energized youth until our mandatory midnight in your rooms curfew.

I know the fears expressed by the disciples in our lesson for the day.  In the middle of a city across the street from the St. Louis Cardinals this Marriott Hotel had become a “deserted place, and the hour is now late;” and I could only “send the crowds away to pray and to their bedrooms, so that they could get rest and in the morning go into the villages and buy food for themselves."  Ultimately I knew that these youth of America were not going to starve to death, though many of them voiced that concern.  Perhaps I didn’t have enough faith, but I’m not sure that I would have heard Jesus words when in scripture Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."  The moans of the 600 youth in ‘my hotel’ would have drowned him out.

Did you notice the subtle difference in what the words say in scripture and the way we talk about the miracles of Jesus?  Almost universally we say that Jesus fed the 5000 or 3000, the number changes from Gospel to Gospel or even chapter to chapter.  It was a working of the spirit that was important to the early life of the church, thus the story is a shared experience.  In today’s lesson: 14:16 Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."  14:17 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish."  14:18 And he said, "Bring them here to me." 

Please note who does the feeding.  Jesus says that the people do not need to go away.  Jesus instructs the disciples to feed the people, YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT.  While the disciples plead that they have limited resources, 5 loaves and 2 fish, Jesus follows with a simple instruction, “Bring them here to me.”  Like any dinner party he invites the guest to take their seats, he says grace and blesses the food, and instructs the disciples to act as their waiters and distribute the food.
There are at least two lessons here.  First there is recognition of how to both see a need and address it. For Jesus when he sees the sick, he heals. When he sees the ignorant, he teaches. When he sees the demon-possessed, he exorcises.  When Jesus sees disciples noting a need, he challenges them to go to work: “You do something.” (Or, more specifically, “feed the hungry.”)  Quite rightly it would have been easier if Jesus had just sent them away, but they were the ones who recognized the need, and Jesus was, in one way instructing them that, should they see a need, then the task is not to pass the need on to someone else, but survey your own needs and address the need. 

Were the disciples looking for a feeding method that did not involve a great deal of work on their part?  There certainly could have been other ways of feeding the hungry that didn’t involve so much work by the disciples. Jesus could have miraculously made the people’s hunger pains disappear. If Jesus was going to miraculously make food appear – why not have it appear in the stomachs – no work for the disciples and no garbage to clean up. Jesus could have waved his hand and the magic words, “Colonel Sanders,” and every family would have their own bucket of chicken right in front of them.

Have you ever thought about how much work it would be to distribute food to 5000 men, besides women and children – and then to clean up the mess? How significant is it that there were 12 disciples and 12 baskets of garbage picked up at the end?  Was Jesus teaching at every step along the way?  Was this a way for one more lesson on the observation and the practice of being a Jesus follower?  Was Jesus just demonstrating that it is possible to use what seem to be meager resources to address the problems that face the Christian Community?  For Jesus being a disciple was more than being a learner, but a worker.  In the end after sending the disciples out into a boat after the leftovers are gathered, he did exactly as the disciples had suggested at the beginning of the parable, “Jesus sent the multitudes away.”

Two learnings from within the lessons and parables: 1: No one leader does it all.  Rev. Silas D. Daugherty, Rev. Paul S. Wagner, Pastor Robert J. Mayer, Pastor Daniel Shook, Pastor William Heisley, and Pastor David Shaheen did not lead this congregation alone.  Each of them has people who worked alongside of them.  They were not only disciples of the congregation, but of the Christ who redeemed them and died for them.  Some of those partners in ministry were the ones who signed the charter in 1921, but some of the partners in ministry are the people sitting next to you in the pews.  How many of you have played any role in the life of this congregation beyond just sitting, singing and praying on Sunday morning.  Don’t be bashful.  Disciples are not bashful people; they are the ones who say loudly and proudly that they are a child of God and a disciple of Christ.  They are the ones who say to others I belong… to Christ Lutheran Church.   They are the ones who invite others to join them at Christ Lutheran Church.

As this congregations takes the initial steps toward new leadership, no that you are not the first ones to do that, even in this location of God’s outpost for feeding those who are hungry for the food and the word.  But you are the ones who are to be called upon to introduce your new leader to your friends, families and neighbors.

Lesson 2: No leader accomplishes the ministry of the Gospel without the support of the members of the congregation.  We made commitments in the vacancy to fund a new furnace for ministry in this building.  We agreed to reduce our debt load.  We will agree to support financially a change in leadership in the congregation.  And all through these years we have said that we support the work of the Community Outreach Corporation which uses our building for many of their services.  You see nothing stops.  The ministry of the gospel continues even during the vacancy all by the grace of God and your support.  None of that stops.  It just gets more interesting, to us all by the Grace of God.  AMEN.

Thanks to Brian Stoffregen.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Baccalaureate Sunday/Trinity Sunday at Christ Lutheran Community Church Upper Darby, PA

The audio can be found at: [ ]
The text follows:
It may not be a good idea to focus a sermon on just the graduates from a particular educational endeavor, but baccalaureate tends to do that. We take great pride in the moving up of children in kindergarten, or from primary to middle school. I was absent on the first Sunday in June and enjoyed my role as proud grandpa of a graduating grandson, who is now preparing for college, so it is not unusual that we should be gathered to smile and offer congratulations to Kameron Mickens and Jacob Dykhouse.

Yesterday one of my former students from South Africa was communicating about her new degree. This pastor who has served in the region around Durban South Africa, received a Second Master’s Degree in Global Studies, with an emphasis on Christian Studies in Stavanger, Norway. With pictures and a frame able piece of paper she is preparing to return to Natal South Africa with a hope to return for a PHD.

Last Sunday, Pentecost was a sort of Graduation Day for the disciples. Our Gospel Lesson for today revisits some of the instructions that Jesus laid down to his disciples before his taking leave of this earth and returning to God. It follows that as they gathered after his resurrection. They “…went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Perhaps those are the same words I need to direct to Kameron and Jacob, but they are words that have as much power for these graduates from educational endeavors as it does for those who also joined this congregation last week. These words have been with all of us for a number of years, but each time we hear them we have had more experience in living in education, in dealing with distress and happiness that the words take on new meaning and a different kind of power as we live both outside and inside the church.

Jacob and Kameron have probably both realized that their education is not yet finished. They may have even come to the conclusion that their education may never be a finished product. With their confirmation finished a few years ago, they probably encountered the first lesson for today, the biblical creation story from the first and second chapters of Genesis. Yet at the same time they have completed high school academic studies that gave a different scientific explanation of how the world began. I hope that they have been able to make the distinction that they are two different explanations of how we all got here.

The Bible was never intended to be a book of scientific fact. It was always designed to be a shared experience of the faithful explanations of how life came about and lived by people who raised similar questions about “Why am I here?” “How did I get Here?” Sometimes people have expanded upon their reading of both science and scriptures like James Weldon Johnson as he spoke of creation in a slightly different way.

The Creation:

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'm lonely--
I'll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That's good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That's good!
Then God himself stepped down--
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas--
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed--
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled--
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That's good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I'm lonely still.
Then God sat down--
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I'll make me a man!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.

James Weldon Johnson

Now while I may seem to be focusing on just those who are graduating, the reality is that the focus is on all those who have been baptized. For if you have just completed Pastor’s class, a public or private school year of studies or even if you are just reading on your own, each time you close the last page of a book, there is a graduation of sorts. Just when you envisioned the completion of your academic exercise, everyone around you is challenging you by asking what you are doing next. For our baccalaureate students the question may be College, military, job? Whatever you choose is something that has a continuing learning curve that will both challenge what you think you have already learned and ask you to conceptualize in creative ways what you thought you already knew.

You see last Sunday four adults of varying ages decided to join this fellowship of believers. They too have been challenged to look once again at scriptures and themselves to see what their relationship was all about. Even our relationship with God is not static. It is continually evolving, by our study and the way that we respond to the challenges of the world.

We are given a lesson that follows us each in our lives no matter what stage or what sense of completion of accomplishment we achieve. For at the Apostle Paul’s taking leave of the people gathered at Corinth, he shares, “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

That really sounds like a great way to end a service, but today I want to make it an invitation to everyone in the congregation, all who hears the recorded message, or those who read the sermon to join this fellowship next Sunday as Christ Lutheran Community Church celebrates its 95th anniversary as a gathering place for those who find that they need a community to be a part of their growing as a child of God.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rockiness - Easter 5 Sermon

The Audio can be found at [ ]
The Text follows:

What is a living stone?  Is it something worth desiring to have?  [How many of You remember the Pet rock fad?]  How does one become a living stone?  Do you want to be one?

In today's second reading, Peter refers to Christ as the "Living Stone" which has become the cornerstone of the church.  What does he mean by this phrase "a living stone"?  After all, a stone by its very nature is an inanimate object, that is, one that does not have life. 

Well there are a few exceptions.  We think of coral as a stone.  It is when we see it in someone’s home on a shelf or a mantel.  It can be a beautiful rock hard decoration that someone uses to accent their home.  Yet prior to being broken away from the sea floor, this was a living element of the universe.  Extremely slow growing, affected by other elements in the water which affects color and shape, we know that pollution can even kill the coral.

In some of the old construction around St. Croix, the builders used almost anything they could get their hands on to build walls and stairs.  The bricks used for ballast in the holds of sailing vessels were generally thrown overboard when the ships arrived in port.  For the casks of rum would provide the ballast for the return trip to Europe.  Builder’s helpers would dive into the harbor and pull up usable items to build the walls and stairwells in this island community.  Along the way they might gather in some of the coral and discarded bottles from rum that never made it to Europe.  So living stones are not necessarily inanimate objects, and they are not always carefully chosen.

Webster defines a stone as a rock which is used for a specific purpose, such as a building block, a paving block, a grindstone or a gravestone.  Occasionally in television commercials that celebrate the longevity of companies or cities, filmmakers will use old film footage of the construction of trademark buildings in NYC or Philadelphia.  These films generally start with scenes of the foundation stones being quarried.  These stones are cut and lifted into place for use in the building of skyscrapers.  Even this week we saw the same evidence of the bedrock of Manhattan being the foundation of the new World Trade Center. 

If stone is used for these specific purposes, then we must next ask why it is used for these purposes.  Obviously, a stone is known for its permanence, its imperviousness to change or to things like the weather.  It is also not easily moved from one place to another, especially if it is a large stone.  Once placed in a specific spot, it will stay there unless a greater force is exerted upon it.  We have witnessed that in the reconstruction of the stairway into the Upper Darby Township Building at Garrett and Long Lane.

It is no wonder that contractors use stone for the walls in foundations.  It is built to keep out the soil that has been carved into for a basement.  The stone keeps out the dirt and the water, and the roots of other intrusive living things.  That’s why the builders of this church first planted a stone basement on this site at 7240 Walnut.  Often times in Philadelphia I have seen churches that worshipped in there basements before they began to make plans for finishing the building.  Sometimes they never built the upper structure of the church. 
If and when they finished it they did not build a frame structure to fit on top of the stone foundation.  They wanted something with permanence.  They wanted a fortress to fight against sin.  They wanted a safe haven for the gathered community of believers.  They wanted shelter for those who were lost, but by the grace of God could be found.  They finished building this church with stone.

Now what Peter (who himself was named "the Rock" by none other than Christ) is doing in this second reading is attributing the qualities of a stone to a living person, Jesus Christ.  This is someone who can sleep through storms that toss a ship and frighten the entire crew.  This is someone who can speak to stormy waters and calm them down.  This is someone who can do verbal battle with lawyers and judges, and even the leaders of his church.  This is someone who when confronted with the choice of living and dying, chose death so that others might live, and live abundantly.  Someone who is "a stone" exhibits the qualities of bravery, courage and loyalty in the face of danger, but who is also willing to pay the ultimate price, to lay down their life for others.

In his definition of the word "live", Webster points out that it can describe someone who has attained eternal life.  Thus, someone who is said to be "living" has attained eternal life through Christ, by following the model of self-sacrifice which Christ provided.  Most of us do not come into situations that call for that kind of sacrificial giving.

2:6 For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a  stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes  in him will not be put to shame."
2:7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,"
2:8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Not everyone hears on the first reading.  We are fortunate that God knows that our senses continually need to be tested.  God is asking us today and every day, how are you witnessing to your faith for those who walk by my planting.  Are you continuing to be a fortress for those seeking safety?  I don’t find it any wonder that that there are significant crowds in our stone building on any day of the week. People who come to this stone building know that they need the support of one another.  They need the reinforcement of gathering together in community.  They seek personal support in their beginning a new life in a new country with a new language.  They seek support in caring for their children after school while they are still at work.  They seek a save place for their children to learn and play during a summer of vacation. They seek support in sustaining life in a time of food insufficiency on a weekly or monthly basis. They need the spiritual support of the stories of the power of God that has kept others on a path where they can be a foundation stone and not a tumbling rock.

Our challenge is to see if we can identify ourselves as stoned Christians, who are ready to share our space and place of support that is based on the Rock of our Faith.  It is not just for other, for we too need the support of one another.  We need the reinforcement of gathering together in community.  We need the spiritual support of the stories of the power of God.  When we gather to study scripture, when we gather to teach scripture to others, it is our own Christian story as a disciple of Jesus that helps us focus on the path set before us by Jesus and his disciples.  It is our own Christian journey that keeps us on a path where we can be a foundation stone and not a tumbling rock.  It is our own consecration and dedication to the mission of Christ to go into the entire world baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that defines our reason for being here.

2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,  God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty  acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous  light.
2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


My thanks to the following colleagues: MARK STAHLHUT, SILVERIUS F. GALVAN

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fourth Sunday after Easter or Mother's Day or Good Shepherd Sunday

With a trifecta in the works for this past Sunday, my thoughts are really in my sermon.
The audio can be found at: [ ].
The text Follows:

We have three lessons that focus on the Good Shepherd.  Often we speak of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  There are times when people look at me, sometimes out loud, but often in thoughts, their eyes seem to say that I am the shepherd.  Recently, I asked one of our members if another member could be a closer contact for them, so in essence I was asking them to be a shepherd.  Our confirmation students recently wrote letters asking for members of the congregation to serve as their mentors for the coming year.  These mentors are being asked to shepherd these young members in our midst.  In many ways we all share in our roles shepherds in the body of Christ. 

We have several persons who are in new member’s class.  They have chosen to join this congregation, this flock.  For in our midst, they feel that they hear the voice of the shepherd and it is with this flock that they want to travel and follow the shepherd.

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 2:43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 2:47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

I must admit that it seems like every week is a tough week, when it comes to living together in community.  For over a month, families in Northern Nigeria have been seeking the return of their daughters, who have been kidnapped.  Violence attributed to religious differences seems to be overpowering common sense.  Religious leaders of all faiths have condemned this taking of young girls from a school and then stating that they are to be sold as wives.  And that does not account for the villages and towns that have been decimated.  Sin still happens, even when there is a shepherd in Town. Perhaps that is the place of the church, to be a safe place, a sanctuary, where shepherds and sheep dogs are available.

We may already be meeting the challenge to this church and others to be one of the places of safety (another meaning of "saved" in v. 9), and, perhaps, places for the grieving to lament before God.  Perhaps the church is a pasture for the feeding of the flock, as we come and hear the words of God and share in the meal that is presented at the table.  For those joining the congregation, they have chosen this place to be a place of salvation and grace.  They will publicly announce that they want to continue in their lives as people saved by the grace of God through the loving act of Jesus Christ upon a cross. 

1 Peter 2:19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 2:20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 2:22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 2:23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

There are others in our midst, who come faithfully.  They too are a part of God’s enduring plan.  They lead, they teach, they clean, they sing, they read, they study, they work, they are the people of God who find their support in this flock.  This is not unlike a small town. This congregation serves as a well that continually offers a cup of water to the thirsty and a morsel of food to the hungry.  As I have looked at the directory of the church, it is clearly a place that has been at the center of this community. Many of you have lived within 10 blocks of the church.  That is a significant number.  This neighborhood is like your flock’s village, your grazing ground.  This is home turf.  This is comfortable turf.  This is a place you know and love, even those of you who now live beyond that 10 block target.

We lift up the caring hand of the shepherd who knows the sheep and says that the flock is larger than you imagined.  The grazing land is broader than the eye can see or the feet can walk.  Our hope is that we can find leaders in our congregation that can continue to reach out and support those who are new to the community.  An even greater challenge is to let go of those who have been in our midst who find new places to work and live that are no longer a commuting distance form Christ Lutheran Church.  In the past year a number of our members have relocated out of the neighborhood, or out of the state.  Our task is to share with them the pain of leaving and the guidance to find a new community who will meet their needs.

John10:1 "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold  by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and  a bandit. 10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear  his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them  out. 10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them,  and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from  him because they do not know the voice of strangers." 10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did  not understand what he was saying to them. 10:7 So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I  am the gate for the sheep. 10:8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the  sheep did not listen to them. 10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will  come in and go out and find pasture. 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came  that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

How do sheep hear and what do they hear when they are noted to respond to the voice of the shepherd.  The ambiguity of "phone" as "sound" or "voice" may be intentional. Somewhere I remember hearing that each shepherd had a special whistle or sound that called his own sheep. While the sheep were grazing on the hillside, different flocks would mingle together. When it was time to return to the fold, the shepherds made their sounds and their own sheep knew that sound and went to it.

However, I know (from watching National Geographic specials) that there is often a sound (and smell?) connection between young animals and their mothers.  The offspring recognize their mother's call and follow it, but not that of another. Perhaps that is why on this day we remember the household shepherd who seems to be the rock to who many of us turn for guidance and support. That image, as well as the shepherd calling his own sheep by name, denotes a close intimate relationship between shepherd and sheep, not unlike mother and children.

We have tended to see our Christian life as that which happens in the sheepfold (i.e., in church) -- when we can all be huddled together in the safety of the enclosure.  In sports, the purpose of the huddle is to inform and encourage each member of the team on how we plan to win a victory.  If they only stayed in the huddle talking about what they are going to do, holding hands, slapping each other on the butts, etc., nothing will get accomplished.  That is avoiding the contest which can take a lot of effort and cause a lot of pain, but which God has guaranteed we will win.  Note that the shepherd leads the sheep *out* of the fold in v. 3. V. 9 talks about coming in and going *out*.  We need to discover better ways of helping our people live Christ centered lives in this sinful, difficult world.  Perhaps a start would be not to degrade any human being, yet, at the same time, be aware of the reality of evil that can exist in individuals.

Maybe as we seek to dedicate our lives to Christ, as we seek to consecrate our ministries to the Lord, maybe we need to repeat again the psalm that seems to give strength in all times that seem illogical, at all times it defies explanation, Yet at all times when we need to recognize the identity of the shepherd, we say Psalm 23.