April 25, 2021 “Gettin’ Our Groove Back”

“Gettin’ Our Groove Back”

1 John 3:16-24/ John 10:11-18

“I have all things and abound; not because I have a good store of money in the bank, not because I have skill and wit with which to win my bread, but because the Lord is my shepherd.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31

Madeliene L’Engle, in her book “Glimpses of Grace,” tells a story that is custom made for today. She writes, “There’s a true story I love about a house party in one of the big English country houses. Often after dinner at these parties people recite poetry, sing, and use whatever talent they have to entertain the company. One year a famous actor was among the guests. When it came his turn to perform, he recited the Twenty-third Psalm, perhaps the most beloved psalm in the Psalter. His rendition was magnificent, and there was much applause.
At the end of the evening, someone noticed a little old great aunt dozing in the corner. She was deaf as a post and had missed most of what was going on, but she was urged to get up and recite something. In those days people used to memorize a lot of poetry! So she stood up, and in her quavery old voice she started, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and went on to the end of the psalm. When she had finished there were tears in many eyes.
Later one of the guests approached the famous actor. “You recited that psalm absolutely superbly. It was incomparable. So why were we so moved by that funny, little old lady?”
He replied, “I know the psalm. She knows the shepherd.”

And with that, I bid you a joyful welcome to Good Shepherd Sunday. Now, this particular Sunday can hold different sentiments for different folks. There are those who just can’t get over the sheep and shepherd metaphor, and I’ll admit that in this day and age it’s a bit of a stretch to be able to relate. Not many of us have fond memories of spending our summers as teenagers watching over a flock of sheep. And the metaphor itself makes us uncomfortable. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, as he says, then what’s that make us? You guessed it, and for any of you who have spent any time at all with these, well – not so bright – animals will find themselves cringing just a bit. So here’s an idea: rather than wish we humans could be compared to eagles or gazelles or roaring lions, today – just for today – let’s look at it from God’s point of view. Time and again, our Lord sent his prophets to the nation of Israel and Judea. When Moses instructed the nations through the law and the commandments, it was God’s plan to keep these “stiff-necked people” from doing the same stupid things over and over again, and that was somewhat effective – up to a point. Later, he sent the prophets to warn of impending doom if they didn’t heed the word of God. This plan had even less success. They kept on worshipping all sorts of idols, they kept on treating each other bad, and they kept on believing that being outright mean and ornery was just too much fun to give up. No amount of punishment or pestilence could ever bring the nation of Israel to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. They say that sheep have been known to walk up to the edge of a cliff and just keep walking. Without a shepherd to keep an eye on things, these poor critters don’t have a chance. A quick look at our history leads me to believe we aren’t much different. But all the while, the Psalms and the prophets kept telling of a Savior, a Messiah, who would change things once and for all, and it’s that same savior who is preaching to the Pharisees in John’s gospel today.

So what do we make of this passage from the 10th chapter of John? One thought comes from a John Byassee who says, “In John 10, an odd text is read in an odd way by an exceedingly odd Savior and dished up for an odd people becoming odder. That is, holier.” So what’s he saying here?

That we have to become a bunch of oddballs to be holy? Not hardly. It’s good to remember that Jesus was speaking to a group of religious leaders when he said, I am the Good Shepherd who lays down my life as a sacrifice for the sheep. The Pharisees snorted at this remark, I’m sure, then Jesus told them, But the worker who serves only for wages is not the real shepherd. Because he has no heart for the sheep he will leave them behind when trouble comes. Here, he is getting to the heart of the matter.  Next, he tells them, I alone am the Good Shepherd, and I know those whose hearts are mine, for they recognize me and know me…I am ready to give my life for the sheep. “for they recognize me and know me.” I am ready to give my life for the sheep that, as my dad used to say, don’t have sense enough to come in out of the rain. An odd text read in an odd way by an exceedingly odd savior, yet it is this testimony of sacrificial love that sustains us, that brings us here today, and that nudges us onto the path of righteousness. To be holy as Christ himself was holy – now that would be something!

Jesus Christ came into the world to save us. For those of us who believe this to be true, we also are forced sooner or later to admit that he came to save us from ourselves. That’s what a shepherd does. The Good Shepherd takes this to a whole new level because he does it for one reason only: pure, unconditional love. Somewhere along the line in our journeys of faith, we have all come to terms with that fact and it is though this understanding of the Father’s love that we recognize him, that we know him, and that we recognize his voice. And that’s what knowing the savior is all about.

You know, when I think back on the moments when the enormity of God’s love has hit me, as they say, like a ton of bricks, and I can’t help but wish I could feel this way all the time. But the world gets in the way: sin, doubt, and a million other excuses. So I find myself looking at it this way – “Go with what you know,” I’ve been told. Anyway, most of you know that I was a professional musician for years in my younger life. It’s not a career choice that I would recommend. The money is bad and the living conditions are ridiculous. Some stick with it to bolster their egos. Most tough it out for the moments. It’s hard to explain, but anyone who has played music or sang in a choir knows about those moments. They are the moments when everything falls into place: the voices blend perfectly, notes are sweeter, and harmonies send chills up your spine. For working musicians, this is called “Gettin’ in the groove” and when this happens, people feel it. No one can really explain it, but when it’s real, it’s real. Sure, these moments come from years of practice and study, but when you find yourself “in the groove” or “in the pocket” it was worth it. It’s these moments that make it all worthwhile.

Now, please don’t think me blasphemous for comparing out faith journey to a B flat musician, but there is one other thing. I found over the years that when things weren’t going well; when all the right notes were being played, but the whole thing fell flat, I could change it. Bass was always my main instrument and I found that by focusing on the groove and nothing else, it seemed most always that the others followed suit. We got our groove back and things got better; and when things get better, moments happen. I am the Good Shepherd. I am ready to give my live for the love of us all. When I find myself just plodding along, I hold that truth in my heart and it gets me every time. The unconditional and almost unbelievable love of Jesus, the Good Shepherd – that’s how I get my groove back, because it’s never enough to just know the words, our true joy comes from knowing the savior.                                    Amen & Shalom

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