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Trusting The Shepherd

Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Bigfork Community United Methodist Church

May 3, 2020 –Fourth Sunday of Easter

Sometimes it’s hard to know who to trust and what to do. Sooner or later we all face a moment when we have to decide whether to veer off or walk through a dilemma.

Sometimes the moment comes suddenly and sometimes it build up gradually, but sooner or later it comes and when it does we get a brand new insight into the world we live in…and into ourselves.

The Apostles had just been through it…from mountaintop experiences to a cross on Golgotha to an empty tomb to the risen Christ. They were ordinary people: fishermen, a tax collector, net menders.

The world saw them in black and white, but Jesus saw them in many shades of gray…and in technicolor. They thought they could only choose the left hand or the right, but Jesus called them forward.

And they leave an example for us as we try to find our way through another tumultuous moment in our own day. The picture we get of them in a post-Resurrection Jerusalem is not altogether different from what I see happening around me these days in Bigfork.

Once again, the old, old story comes alive in our time, at our place, in our lives.

Here they are, filling everyone with awe with the work they are doing. They had all things in common. They were giving to those who were in need. They ate together… probably potluck…and praised God with what they did and who they were.

There is only one aspect of that story that we do not see around us and in us and through us at Community United Methodist Church today.

Our trademark cross and flame is the most widely recognized logo of any denomination in the world. But potlucks are as much a sign of a vital Methodist community as that.

I got to meet A. B. Guthrie, Jr., author of The Big Sky and The Way West and more Montana stories. Within a few minutes he could see that I had read everything he had written…and that we were both storytellers.

He grew up in the Choteau area and he told me one day that his abiding image of religion was women serving fried chicken and homemade pies at the Methodist church there.

Methodism has strong, deep roots. It’s like the day the teacher told the class that they were to bring something representing their faith tradition to class.

The next day one boy got up and said, “My name is Abraham. I am Jewish. This is my prayer shawl.”

A girl got up and said, “My name is Mary. I am Catholic. These are my Rosary beads.”

Emad got up and said, “I am a Muslim and this is my prayer shawl.”

Then a girl got up and said, “My name is Carol. I am a Methodist. This is my casserole.”

Alas…I grieve the fact that we cannot set a date just now for our next, good old-fashioned potluck, but it will come…it will come.

We will break bread and eat together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people…just as the apostles did so long ago and do again this morning.

Ah, yes. The worse things get, the better people get. It was true of Great Britain in the darkest days of 1940.

It was true of America after Pearl Harbor…and after 9/11 …and it is true of all humanity today just as it was true of the apostles after the Resurrection.

I see you doing the same things today. I know what you are doing. I am in awe of it. I give God thanks for it. All of it. All of you. Thank you.

Six weeks ago, we closed our building to worship…but worship goes on. It was a fluke…a coincidence…that we were about to go online with worship.

We didn’t know anything about it but we had to do it to keep our flock together. You have participated in it by watching…and by offering many, many helpful suggestions and many gifts.

You inspired it with your kindness to each other and to yourselves. You sealed it with calls to friends and face masks in stores and meals left on the doorsteps. You quarantined when you returned from a winter away. You were shepherds… pastors…leaders…for each other and for me and my family…and for neighbors.

The timing worked out for live-streaming, both our worship and our lives. And there was other timing at work, too.

We started a capital campaign two and a half years ago. I didn’t do that. You did. You demanded it…and I did what I could to encourage it and help out and lead worship through it all.

We burned our mortgage a year ago and since that time we have been able to accumulate about one-third of the money we had to send to our mortgage holder…and no longer had to…into something we have called our Special Ministries Reserve Account.

At the same time…and in spite of the many distractions that have gathered around us…your Missions Committee has continued its faithful service to so many causes.

Sometimes things all come together at once…and this week was one of those times. Missions saw that its work was going to be interrupted for some time…we don’t know how long, but they knew what they had always done and that they could do much of it still.

So, even though the Cinco de Mayo celebration could not be held…even though the potato bake could not be held…even though our parking lot sale had to be postponed, they stood firm against the adversities facing us with…faith.

They gave away what they had received from you…not knowing when we might be able to do any of those things with which we have joyfully raised money. They could not do everything they had planned, but they could do what they could do…and they did it.

They sent love gifts to Threads, clothing our closed school’s students…to the seminary student from Columbia Falls they had adopted (and who has just been hired by our Conference to be their …our… new Designer for NextGen and Inclusiveness Ministries)…to UMCOR for Tennessee tornado relief…to provide vouchers for people at the laundromat…and for our food self-sufficiency mission in central Mexico. That is what they did in an ‘off’ year…a year out of time…but a year they were ready for.

This week, unaware until we met of the generosity…the open hearts, minds and doors of our Missions Committee…your Administrative Council met and authorized gifts out of that Special Ministries Reserve Account for ACES, the Food Bank, Samaritan House and Sparrows Nest.

Together, in the face of great uncertainty and anxiety, we have boldly given $12,000 away… because that is what we said we would do with it.

If not now, when? Is this not the very time we were preparing for?

No matter that we don’t know how much or how long we will be able to do this. Aware in a new way that it is the churches that knit people and communities and the world together.

Now knowing that we can make a difference in the world, one life at a time. It’s not that we have that power…but that that power has us. And we have shared it…cast our bread upon the waters.

No matter that the days are long and the years are short. Here we set our foot. We steer our ship with hope, leaving fear astern…and we become a light in the darkness…an expression of hope in a world of despair…

Knowing only that when it all looks dark around you…when all is dark around you…when you cannot see the light anywhere around you… well, you just have to be the light.

We do not seek accolades for this. As Peter reminds us today, we are only doing what we are called to do …by that still, small voice that called us all here.

We do not do this to receive respect or because anyone deserves what they are getting now. It is not to our credit when we receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it.

But if we suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God. And we are not suffering…we are just doing what we said we would do.

It just so happens that we somehow prepared for this moment not knowing it was come…so that when it came our deeds would not point to us, but to the one who gave us our faith…and redeemed our faith…and now…sustains our faith.

We did this simply because we have trusted in the Word that is our shepherd…in the one-in-three that created our faith, redeems our faith and sustains our faith.

B.C. – before corona – we thought we were powerful and that we were the source of the riches that our national circumstances showered down around us.

A.C. – after corona – we know that we have received the dividends of the hard work that generations that have gone before us have delivered to us and the only way we can thank them is to find a way to pass it on… to pay it forward.

How do we know that what we do will redound to those who come after us? I think it is the same way that our forebears knew it: they trusted…and we still trust…in the good shepherd who gathers us together and watches over us as we watch over each other.

It is a great act of witness we commit this season…with charitable forethought…not with our words or solemn ceremonies …but with simple, random acts of kindness.

Why do we do it? Because we can …and because we trust in the shepherd God sent into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

We are witnesses in this novel moment in the history of humanity on the earth…to Jesus’ way and Jesus’ truth and the life he gave us that is eternal.

O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.