In fifth and sixth grade, my whole class would spend a few days in Williams Bay. Our focus was outdoor education. I loved tromping around the woods and splashing in the lake… it was a pretty great alternative to sitting in a classroom! One thing we learned was orienteering.
(image: OeilDeNuit http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1253374)
Mr Swanson would hand us all a compass and instructions: 20 paces north, 5 paces west, 1 south, 2 west, 1 north… sometimes we’d have to scoot around a tree, and you’d better hope you were measuring your paces correctly or you’d get stuck on the wrong side of an obstacle.
I was never terribly good at those exact measurements, so I’d be the one who did a funny little circle out in the middle of an open field and then got trapped by the hundred year old oak in the middle of a straight west stretch.
Our outdoor ed adventures progressed so that by the time I was a sophomore, our class was split into small groups and sent off to backpack in the Porcupine Mountains. This time we had a map. I do better matching my surroundings with the squiggles on the paper than I do counting my paces. Still… in the middle of the woods, removed from the oriented sound of the great lake, it’s easy to get twisted around and begin following what once looked to be a well-groomed path and soon fades into the underbrush.
There was one day that our guide sent us off with a staggered start, so that we would be finding our way to the next campsite alone. I was pretty freaked out. It was supposed to be a fairly safe exercise in self-sufficiency. It was controlled independence. If something were to happen, twisted ankle or whatnot, another student or the guide would be coming down the path in fifteen minutes or so. Just a short time to wait for help to arrive. That is, if you managed to have stayed on the path.
We were also given instructions on what to do if we ever did get far off the path. Our guide told us, “If you get really lost, stop right away, and sit down. Don’t keep walking. You might pass right by someone looking for you, or simply end up getting more and more lost.”
It’s pretty common to hear people using the metaphor of a path when speaking of their spiritual journey, and also for people to talk about being lost when they’ve stepped away from religious community or morality. Whether it’s being lost in the woods, or lost in a more poetic sense, I associate being lost with feeling alone, disconnected, afraid, unable to trust myself, and uncertain of what to do next.
We pick up the Gospel of John to hear that Jesus is sitting at the table with his disciples. He’s trying to prepare them for what is about to come: his arrest and crucifixion. Although he’s warned them earlier that he will die, they’ve never really understood. Jesus knows they’re about to enter a time in which it will be easy to become lost. Nothing will look familiar, and they won’t know the way in which to go. Today we hear a piece of Jesus’ final teaching as he tries to build up the disciples’ faith and confidence so they will have some foundation of strength during the difficult time they are about to enter.
As I hiked through the woods, I didn’t get lost. But I can easily imagine myself getting lost, and, just like in a movie scene, huddling up next to a tree, missing home, imaging wolves and bears coming to attack me, and then suddenly, hearing a voice of someone calling my name, looking for me, then when they finally break through the woods jumping up and running into their arms, overjoyed that I am no longer alone.
Jesus speaks of his death and ascension as leaving the disciples for a short time, but not abandoning them. He leaves so that he can blaze the trail ahead of them. Jesus declares, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (14:3).
Doing more than blazing the trail and expecting the disciples to follow it on their own, Jesus promises to come to them, and take them along with him. This isn’t just my forest rescuer shining a strong light towards me and asking me to push through the brush to find my way to safety. This is the one who comes all the way to me, and smiles at the strength of my grip on his hand as we walk home together.
Jesus’ promise to his disciples is true for us today. Jesus has died, was raised, and is ascended, to be in the Father’s presence forever. Having come so fully towards us in becoming fully human, Jesus doesn’t step back from us as he takes his place in glory with the Father. Jesus sends the Spirit to us, so that we would walk each day of our lives, not alone, not lost, but holding God’s hand and traveling in God’s path. Jesus was faithful to his promise to be with the disciples, and he is faithful in being with us through our entire life journey.
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6). The disciples sitting around the table with Jesus aren’t being asked to go anywhere they haven’t already been. There is no secret path they need to find, no divine knowledge they have to obtain, nothing more they have to do. They have already been living in community and working alongside Jesus. Jesus will die, and they will experience him leaving. But the Spirit will still give them an experience of Jesus and help them to continue living and working as they have been.
When Jesus calls himself the way, he is not narrowing down the path so that only few can travel on it. Rather, Jesus is the way in that he is the one who created the path. Jesus’ faithfulness led him to die so that an unbroken path might be formed between us and God. Jesus’ faithfulness leads him to guide, accompany, and encourage us as he steadfastly travels with us. Early Christians called their religion the Way. Christianity is meant to be lived out today, during life’s journey; it is not only about the destination. We join Jesus and show the world this Jesus who is the way- paving a path, walking alongside, holding hands with people as they come to know the one who comes to them.
Today we have a special guest to share with us about Family Promise, a ministry that is expanding into our area. Our noisy offering will provide a gift towards their work. They provide housing and support to families experiencing homelessness. Those who work in this ministry mirror and join Jesus in his life-giving Way. They walk alongside those who are navigating through bumpy stretches in their lives. They reach out with Jesus’ reassuring hands of love that strengthen against the fears of being lost and alone.
Living in the Way, as followers of the Way, sojourners on the Way, we travel through life with Jesus guiding us. Jesus’ path leads towards a greater connection with God, because it ends in our finding a place in God’s home. We live and travel this day always accompanied by Jesus and encouraged to join in Jesus’ work. We follow the examples of saints and disciples before us, who, even though they often had their own times of being lost, overwhelmed, and overcome by fear, were inspired by the Spirit to continue on. They continued to join Jesus in declaring God’s love for all people and all creation, healing the sick, caring for others, and praying.
To travel with Jesus, on Jesus’ path, is a life-giving gift rather than a demand. Jesus draws us in to life lived in and through God. This is not a path to be travelled by legalistic paces, but to be travelled joyfully and confidently, assured that the one who created the path will lead you with sure steps into love, service, and meaning-making, and ultimately, to rest and reside in God’s presence forever.
Thanks be to God, our guide and path.
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Every year, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we read Psalm 23 and a part of John 10. Some churches know this day as Good Shepherd Sunday because of the shepherd images in these texts. In what we read of John today, we don’t actually hear Jesus calling himself the shepherd, but we hear Jesus beginning the imagery. Jesus says, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out”(10:2-3).
The piece of this image that grabs my attention is the shepherd’s voice and the sheep’s hearing; the shepherd’s calling each by name and the sheep’s following.
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice”(10:2-3a).
Just about every Wednesday morning, I pack up Laila, and now Lydia, too, and we head over to the Oconomowoc Public Library for storytime. Miss Betsy has the energy and enthusiasm, and often a microphone, necessary to corral a roomful of toddlers and focus them on a book. Once the entertainment is over, the kids rush into the library to play, find books, and hide in the stacks.
There’s one word that is called out over and over again, in many little kid voices, “Mommy!”
For each little voice, there’s one big person who responds.
I’m always amazed by this. Through the din of children playing, (this is not a quiet hour in the library), each mother can pick out her own child’s voice. That one, known and beloved voice will cut through all other noise, and elicit a response. The mother’s ear is tuned to her own little one. She is always listening for it, ready to respond.
Later in John 10, Jesus will declare, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14). We are the sheep Jesus shepherds. Jesus says the sheep hear his voice.
I wonder sometimes if our ears have gotten plugged. There’s a lot of noise in our lives. There’s a lot that can drown out Jesus’ voice. Or maybe we’ve never quite been able to tell what Jesus’ voice sounds like. It could be like listening to all those little toddler voices crying out, but not being able to tell which one is the one to whom you belong.
If so, it’s time for you to clean out your ears, quiet the distracting noise, and train your ear to identify the tone and timbre of Jesus’ voice.
Put yourself in the places where Jesus speaks. Jesus speaks through Word and Sacrament. Jesus speaks from the cross. Jesus speaks through and in the community gathered in his name and the one who suffers or is excluded.
In these places, you can learn to recognize Jesus’ voice and how it differs from the many other voices we hear, voices that speak all around us, as well as voices from within.
Jesus speaks through the Bible. Read it alone, as well as in community. Most importantly, hear it proclaimed as we worship.
Jesus speaks in word and element, tuning your ear through physical things as well as spoken promise when you participate in Holy Communion and Baptism.
Jesus speaks most clearly and most surprisingly from the cross. His voice is one of compassion, forgiveness, welcome, and love. That God-for-us would speak from a place of suffering breaks our expectations of how God works, and reminds us that Jesus’ voice does not sound like our own voice.
Jesus speaks to the whole community. He does not have special messages only for one person, but gives us each other so that together we might hear Jesus’ voice most clearly. The one outside our chosen groups also has access to Jesus’ voice, and cannot be neglected.
Spend time in prayer, training yourself to listen for Jesus’ voice through all the noise. Set aside time each day. Find a way to pray that works for you: Fold your hands and close your eyes. Doodle as you pray. Walk or be outside in the wonder of all God has made. Sing. Sit down with a cup of coffee and speak to Jesus who joins you. Pray with scripture. Come and begin a new prayer practice as we gather this summer for Lectio Divina, a sacred, prayerful reading of the Bible.
You were created to be attuned to Jesus’ voice. Jesus is calling you into places and practices were you might be re-formed into one who is always attentive to the shepherd’s voice.
Jesus continues the image in John, saying “(The Shepherd) calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3b). The sheep hear their names being called, and follow.
Jack and Amanda live in a newer subdivision, where the sounds of construction are regularly heard every morning. Neighbors are moving in, unloading trucks, planting flowers, and bringing home new pets. Jack and Amanda have a friendly chocolate lab named Bert. He’s just about three, and while he’s mostly trained, sitting, staying, and walking on command when he’ll be properly rewarded… he’s also rather good at ignoring Jack and Amanda when it’s obvious they don’t have a treat in hand.
One morning, birdsong punctuated by hammering and nail guns as a new house is being framed, Jack is outside working on the landscaping. Bert is outside with him, and having gotten bored nosing through the woodchips, is taking a nap in the sun. Jack goes into the garage to get something and when he comes out, he happens to look up at the house across the street and down the block, and there’s his well-trained chocolate lab poking around someone else’s flower beds. So, Jack exasperatedly puts down his tools, and starts tromping over to the neighbors, shouting as he gets closer, “Bert! Bert, come! Bert! Let’s go!”
The stubborn dog doesn’t even flinch. The morning sounds are now being overwhelmed by the frustrated dog owner’s shouts.
Jack holds out the treat that was stashed in his pocket for just such an occasion… “Bert! Come! Treat!”
Jack’s made it all the way into to the neighbor’s yard by now. The dog cocks his head at the mention of the treat, but still isn’t obeying the command.
“Bert! Bad dog!”
Finally, the neighbors look up from their own gardening and shout back, “That’s not your dog!”
Jack stops, embarrassed, and turns around to look at his own house. Not five feet behind him is Bert, tail between his legs, wondering what he has done wrong.
The neighbors’ dog might have been interested in the treat, but he knew his own name, and knew Jack wasn’t calling it. Bert knew his name, and heard it from all the way down the street. Bert followed and reacted to the one using his name, even when that one wasn’t looking in the right direction.
Someone who knows our name has access to us. The one who doesn’t know us won’t be trusted or followed.
When you pick up the phone and they mispronounce your name, you know it’s time to hang up because it’s a telemarketer.
For someone to know our name, there has to be a relationship. Sometimes, that’s as distant as someone knowing our name because a mutual friend has pointed us out or introduced us. At other times, the one who knows our name knows us so deeply that hearing that person say our name immediately grabs our attention and prepares us to respond to their words. Jesus is working to speak the name of every person, to call them into deeper relationship with him, and to lead them into full life now and forever.
Jesus knows each one of you. Jesus knows your name, knows your joys and struggles, knows your secrets. Jesus calls your name so that you pay attention and will follow him into abundant life right now.
In the waters of baptism, Jesus has named you and claimed you, creating a connection that binds you to him even through death and into new life.
As we gather today, Jesus is speaking to you. His is a voice filled with love for you. Jesus will continue to call to us, to encourage you, as he leads you into the life he intends for you: a life attuned to his voice, responding to its call, and thereby finding joy, meaning, and healing.
*Many thanks to Pastor K. for sharing her dog story. Names and details have been changed to protect.
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
When I was young, we lived just about four blocks from my grandmother. Even now, I can close my eyes and describe uneven places in the cement sidewalk and the smell of the flowers along the path between my house and hers, I travelled it so often.
In addition to all the gifts of grandmotherly love and spoiling, she gave me the gift of faith. She discipled me. She brought me along into her ordinary retired life, and let me be a part of the way she lived out her faith.
She’d take me with her to church. Even though I remember more clearly the pattern of the pressed metal ceiling tiles she’d tell me to count than I remember any sermon, and can describe the feeling of the metal posts in the church basement as I’d join other kids in wildly spinning around them, my being there is what has matters. I experienced the church as a place where people love each other, work together for service, and worship.
She sent cards to those in her church with birthdays or anniversaries. I can smell the food as we packed up her car to deliver meals on wheels, and feel my shy nervousness as we entered strange homes and provided companionship to add to the nourishment. I can see her in her young 80s, pushing nursing home residents in their wheelchairs around the domes. I hear her singing Amazing Grace as she put me to sleep and can see the Children’s Bible from which she’d read to me.
Grams was one of the first people who brought me into her life, especially her faith life, taught me the story about Jesus, and let me toddle along after her as she went about living the way God called her to do.
From infancy to old age, who have been your spiritual mentors? Who has discipled you? When have you discipled others?
We open the Gospel and find two disciples on the first Easter evening. They are walking and trying to make sense of all they have seen and heard: Jesus’ arrest and trial, his crucifixion and burial, and now this strange news that his tomb is empty and some of their fellow disciples have met Jesus, alive and freed from death.
As they walk, a man joins them, and prompts them to tell their story of what has happened. Then he uses the story of God’s work in the holy scripture to help make sense of their story and to help them see how God has been at work in the events of their lives. At the disciples’ invitation, he sits at their table, to share a meal. As they begin that meal, suddenly the disciples discover that their companion is the risen Jesus, and when he leaves, they return to Jerusalem to tell others of their experience.
Jesus gives these disciples and us a model of mentoring or discipling. We might think of it as companioning. This pattern of forming people in the faith includes these steps: walk alongside, listen to the other’s story, valuing their own experience, share God’s story and help others to discover how God’s story is continuing in their present lives, continue in relationship on their terms, share life and table together, and send them out to do this discipling work themselves.
Walk alongside, matching paces
Hear the other’s story
Witness to God’s work in Jesus and in the other’s life
Continue in relationship
Empower the other to disciple new people
This is a model for us to use as we follow Jesus’ call to be disciples and share the faith. Jesus models a discipleship process as he meets these travelers, and in the space of an evening, they travel through this process and end up empowered to share the good news of Jesus’ resurrection with others. It’s helpful for us to remember that this was sort of a refresher course for disciples who had already spent long years with Jesus and just needed a little energy shot to get them going. It’s also helpful to realize that we don’t have to be Jesus to others. We get to be the body of Christ together.
We do this discipling work as a community. We each have different gifts in relationship, and might focus on one part of the discipling process more than another as we support someone in their faith journey. We trust that another person will bring into that emerging disciple’s life something they need that we are not gifted at providing. Together, as the body of Christ, we continue Jesus’ work to nurture a life of faith in others.
We’re only able to share the faith because God has given faith to us. The disciples don’t recognize Jesus until they are at the dinner table together. Jesus blessing and breaking bread mirrors their last supper together, before his death. Whenever we gather here and celebrate the Lord’s supper, Jesus is present with us. We remember that Jesus took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples. When we break and share the bread, Jesus is in this gift and promise. A taste of broken bread and shared wine is enough to carry the gift of faith into you. They are the means of grace, the real way in which Jesus becomes present in you, creating and nourishing faith in you.
We’re never too young to take part in discipling others and we’re never too old to not need anyone else to disciple us. We baptize infants and charge them with the promise to “share the good news of Christ in word and deed.” At their youngest, their presence among us witnesses to God’s gift of life, God’s creative power, and can give us a glimpse at the unconditional love of God as we feel love for a little one well before she can show her love or do something to deserve ours. At our most mature, we still need someone outside of ourselves to speak God’s love for us.
Here at Cross, we are the body of Christ carrying out Jesus’ work of creating disciples. We walk alongside each other as we join voices to sing our worship or as we enjoy preparing and hosting the Pork Chop Dinner.
We listen for the other’s story through special visits from partners in Tanzania and from ELCA Malaria Campaign, and as we study scripture side by side at Reformation, our urban partner congregation.
We witness to God’s work in Jesus and in the other’s life when we gather over a cup of coffee to reconnect after a busy week, or every time council gathers to celebrate and vision the direction of the church.
We continue in relationship as we pray for and check in as prayer partners.
Empower the other to disciple new people as we teach Sunday school students to share their faith and encourage confirmands to engage their whole family in weekly devotions.
These are examples of ways in which God is using this community to nurture faith in each other, and in those we know outside of this place.
Today, you have an opportunity to share a meal together. It’s going to be a great meal, we’re starting to smell that— and after looking at the dessert room, I can assure you, it’s going to close well! A truly great meal includes good food, but it also is made with gratitude, good people, and conversation. Make this a faith-nourishing meal by listening and sharing the story of God’s love for all creation and discovering how God has loved both you and your tablemates recently.
The disciples didn’t expect to meet Jesus on the road, or to realize he was present at their table. Today, we move from Jesus’ table, where he meets us, to the dinner table, where Jesus will also meet us. We meet Jesus in our neighbors, and see reflected in their lives Jesus’ love for them. God has put you in each other’s lives, so that you might both hear and share the good news that the Jesus who loves and claims you is the one who conquers death and brings life. God is forming you into a disciple through this good news.