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Feed My Sheep

Sunday, May 5, 2019. Rev. Scott Ramsey, preaching.
Scripture Readings: Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

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Listen to our two texts from this morning. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.”

The church of Jesus Christ is inextricably linked to lambs and sheep. Those are our animals.  Individually, we may like dogs and cats and hamsters and parakeets, but as disciples of Jesus, we are bound to lambs and to sheep.  As the remarkable text from Revelation has it, our lives revolve around the Lamb who is upon the throne, Jesus himself.  And what we are to understand about this particular Lamb is that he has been slain.  “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered.”  This is no dread warrior, who has crushed all of his enemies in order to become number one and ascend to the throne.  This Lamb was crucified, this Lamb’s power is made perfect in weakness, this Lamb’s strength is revealed in vulnerability.  This Lamb has forever scrambled all the world’s narratives and assumptions about what power looks like and how power is to be utilized and deployed. Those of us who follow the Lamb should have a certain uneasiness with the kinds of power and force and violence that are used so easily in our world. In his own body, Jesus the Lamb was intimately familiar with the violence of the world; it was done unto him.  But he consciously chose to interact with that violence very differently.

And according to our text from John 21, Jesus sends his students and followers out into the world – not to fight and kill and destroy and his sheep.  “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.”  Disciples of Jesus have a fundamental “other-orientation.”  We are, to use the language of Philippians 2, to look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others.

I do not have to tell you that this is a radically countercultural vocation in these United States of America, where Burger King tells us that we can have it our way right away. Jesus places the needs of “the other,” especially “the other” who is vulnerable and at risk, at the top of the church’s agenda.

And of course, we are to understand that we ourselves are vulnerable sheep, in our own right. It is not as though we happen to be mighty lions who condescend to take care of other poor, defenseless little sheep. As much as we may try to cover it up, each one of us is a broken, sinful, vulnerable sheep who has been summoned into the fold of the Good Shepherd. And paradoxically, our Good Shepherd turns out to be the Lamb that was slain.

In our world where there is so much violence, so much animosity, so much hatred and division, these texts are really striking. Because it would be so easy, in our world, where there is so much hostility and division, to spend all of our energy focusing on how to stay safe, how to protect ourselves, how to build walls to keep out the threats.  And remember, Jesus’ own world was itself a world of division and hostility and imperial violence.

These texts don’t do that. They both reflect the vulnerability and the gentle attentiveness to the little ones that go with being disciples of the Lamb.  Feed my sheep, tend my sheep. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.

At the same time, neither of these texts is gloomy or despondent.  They radiate a kind of strength and hope and confidence, believing that blessing and honor and glory and might come, not from grabbing as many of the world’s possessions as we can, but from the gentle mercies of God.

My goodness, does our world need congregations that know about this. In our world, where a shooter attacked a San Diego synagogue a week ago, where an arsonist burned 3 predominantly black churches in Louisiana in early April, and where 3 churches in Sri Lanka were bombed on Easter Sunday, it is understandable when people succumb to fear.  But Jesus does not tell his disciples to be afraid.  He sends them out to feed his sheep and to tend his lambs.  This is why our Session voted to be a supporter and sponsor of the Holocaust Day of Remembrance service this evening at the Jewish Community Center of Fairfax.  To take our place with those who are vulnerable, and to serve those in need. Feeding sheep and tending lambs is what the church does, when we are at our best. That’s why Lewinsville is engaging in a Capital Campaign right now, so that this congregation’s ministry of tending lambs, caring for vulnerable people, and helping people to be made whole – a ministry that radiates out from this facility – can be extended into the future. In the midst of our competitive world of violence and division, Jesus calls us to the vulnerable vocation of feeding his sheep. To God be all the glory. Amen.