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Sermon Preached at Fort Bragg, CA, Good Shepherd Sunday, 7/23/2006

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Good Shepherd Sunday – July 23, 2006

Trinity Lutheran Church, Fort Bragg, California

Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 23 Ephesians 2:11-22 Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56

Standing Out in Bold Relief

Driving to Fort Bragg yesterday, we could do nothing again but marvel at the glorious countryside – the Anderson Valley, Mendocino, and Ft. Bragg. The beauty of this area stands out by being such a gift of God. I believe God uses the beauty of this nature: the holiness of the redwoods, the glory of the seashore – to invite us all to become the wonderful commonwealth that St. Paul writes about.

From it, however, we are still far off. We are aliens and strangers to this beautiful commonwealth, but the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ can lead, guide, and direct us by the cross, so that as a people we become taught and healed to be righteous by Jesus; healed of all the evil that clings to us, so that as followers of Jesus, we become so beautiful as this countryside.

When I was back in grade school, so many years ago, one of my teachers introduced maps in bold relief with so much enthusiasm that I still feel somewhat thrilled by these words today. Bold relief maps were not just flat and two dimensional, but in the place where there were mountains, it was raised up; where there were valleys, it was indented, and you could see the blues of rivers and lakes and the ocean.

Those of us who follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, need to stand out in bold relief as well, raised up as mountains of faith and lowered down in love and compassion in the beauty of our savior, who even surpasses natural beauty. “Fair is the sunshine, fair are the meadows;” but our beautiful savior is fairer, according to that beloved song.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads us to that beautiful commonwealth from the right hand of God just the same way as he did back there in the time of our lessons, when he sent out the twelve disciples, two by two, and they came back and gathered around Jesus telling him all the things they had done and taught the people. Jesus’ teaching raised them in faith and lowered them in love, so that they stood out and attracted so many people coming and going among them, that they did not even have time to eat. So Jesus said, “We need time alone. Let’s go to a deserted place, because we need rest.”

God needs us to rest, so that God’s gracious work can happen in us. The righteousness of faith needs to raise us, the love of God needs to fill us, because our ministry has to be sustainable, replenished as we rest and God ministers to us. Thus renewed we can again share this faith and love with the people of God, so we stand out as the beautiful people of the wonderful commonwealth of Jesus, the King of Righteousness, the righteous Branch, foretold by Jeremiah.

As our story continues, we discover, lo and behold, there is no rest for the weary. When the crowds saw Jesus and the disciples head off in a boat, they could tell where the little company was going, ran ahead and were waiting for them when they arrived at the shore.

Thereupon Jesus did not say, “Disburse them! I want a free-speech zone! It’s my day off! I’m on vacation. Push off from shore, we’ll lose them!” No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, so he taught them many things.

Jesus will feed them with real bread later, all 5,000 of them. But the lesson is also pointing out that his teachings are the bread of heaven. “We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3; Mat. 4:4; Luke 4:4). The word is the logos, interestingly, it is the same important word celebrated by the Greeks in their philosophy meaning “reasoning.” But for us it of course, stands for Jesus, but when Jesus uses it, as he does so many times when he explains the “sower and the seed” parable where he interprets the seed to be the logos, he means reasoning filled with faith, love, and the Holy Spirit. By his word we are raised up into the beautiful commonwealth governed by that King of Righteousness, that righteous Branch, Jesus Christ our savior, who died on the cross for us.

The bread of life, to repeat, is Jesus’ teaching. But we certainly need our daily bread. That is why Jesus puts this request into the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We need good nourishment. Too much of the physical kind just makes me gain weight of course. How much, however, we need the special education Jesus gives us! Our lesson says, he taught the people many things. His teachings are food indeed, and with them Jesus raises us up into the beloved community, into which we unfold into our new selves, washed in baptism, fed by the word, so that we stand out in the beauty of sharing love and forgiveness and service. Jesus’ teaching is the manna from heaven and when we gather to be nourished by it, we grow.

Education really changes us and usually we do not even notice it when it happens. Suddenly we realize we have changed “by the renewal of our minds.” It never occurred to me that even while Jesus was ministering the disciples were also going about doing miracles and teaching people like Jesus. But Jesus sent them out and they were ministering the way he did – and in our lesson they come back and tell Jesus what they had taught the people. And the gravity of so much love attracted so many people, Jesus and the disciples cannot even meet their own needs: that is how much the people crowd around them.

Thank God! Trinity Fort Bragg has the same Good Shepherd, whose righteousness, love, and compassion for the people stand out in bold relief against the apathy, the debauched partying (of the Herodian crowd that sealed the fate of John the Baptist), the corruption, the readiness to take life, and cold calculated bloodshed, and the lie that anything goes when you can appeal to security. Herod even justified the slaughter of Bethlehem’s babies for the sake of security.

Jesus does not emphasize security. He breaks down the wall of hostility, because he became vulnerable. He was willing to go to the cross to break down the dividing wall, not to build one; to reconcile people, not write them off and make them fair game for killing; not to injure, maim, and bomb them to smithereens.

We certainly are far off from the commonwealth of Israel – to use St. Paul’s words. We are in very dark times, very much outside the beautiful commonwealth, aliens and strangers to it, indeed.

With the words, “the commonwealth of Israel” Paul means the spiritual Israel. I am not making a judgment on the flare-up of the war in the Middle East right now. Jesus is about the Gospel. The nations are under the law and reason. But that should not seal off the nations in a special compartment. While the nations use cold, calculating reason, which is all too ready to inflict terrible injuries and destroy life, the reasoning of the Gospel is filled with good faith, love, and compassion, that raises us up into the beautiful commonwealth.

What can be said is that the nations are at loggerheads with the reign of God and we see how far outside of it, how they rebel against it (see Psalm 2), and how far off we are. How we are not putting hostility to death, but fanning its flames to make it become more alive. . . as right now – as we speak – missiles fly and bombs fall and lives are being taken and the beauty of the earth is being changed into a landscape of ugly craters telling of new hostility and hatred, because we have all let loose the dogs of war.

Let Jesus teach us many things. His body which is our church, our community, has to stand out in bold relief from those whose sole concern is worldly bread, irrational security, and those who make the concerns of the nations ultimate. But Jesus shall separate the sheep from the goats, so our nation had better pay homage to the King of Righteousness, our Zedekiah, which means our “righteous Lord,” the Righteous Branch, our Messiah, Jesus Christ. Both the Greek word “Christ” and the Hebrew word, “Messiah” mean the one that God anointed and sent to rule over us. The Good Shepherd come to lead, guide, and direct us on the way of life. He did not come to take away life, but to give life and life more abundantly.

As the King of Righteousness he came to proclaim peace to those near and to those far off. The Righteous Branch brings the reign of God by showing us the way of life. It is not one of security but vulnerability – Jesus goes to the cross. He offers his life for the sake of reconciliation. He demonstrates the greatest love the world has ever known. If we could only learn what he taught us, then our nations would be turned inside out and we ourselves would discover how beautiful we become: America would be beautiful “from sea to shining sea” – when we have compassion, when we give our lives, spend them, pour them out, feed others with ourselves, until the point comes, where we even have to seal our love with our blood, so the love letter of God gets to the right address, so that the wall that divides enemies is broken down, and the friends of God become as beautiful as this God-given countryside. As Abraham Lincoln said, “How do you destroy your enemies? By making them friends!”

We have to be taught by Jesus and we have to teach others so that the reign of God becomes real among us – by a change of hearts and minds, because the Good Shepherd is our peace, we are touched by the cross, this vulnerability, this love that is victorious, because it heals, renews life, washes, feeds, enlivens, makes us beautiful.

Let’s stand out in bold relief! Be raised as mountains of faith, empty out in valleys of love and compassion, find our security in the vulnerability of the cross that puts to death the hostility that divides enemies and makes them friends of God, who sent Jesus, the Righteous Branch, and we pledge our allegiance to the reign of God, our crucified and risen Lord, who showed us the way of life that goes through the cross into the glorious resurrection of the beautiful commonwealth of the children of God. Amen.

Pastor Peter Krey, July 23rd 2006

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Written by peterkrey

July 25, 2006 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

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