Posted on Sat, May 5, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's April 29, 2012 Sermon
“The Lord is my Shepherd (and knows I’m gay)”
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
April 29, 2012
Remember the year 1972. I turned nine that year. I won’t ask what age you were. Some of you were not even born yet. It was a leap year that began on Saturday. On January 5 that year, President Richard Nixon ordered the development of the space shuttle program. On January 16, the Dallas Cowboys won the super bowl. On January 25, Shirley Chisholm, the first African American Congresswoman, announced her candidacy for President of the United States. It was a year, not unlike this one, where so much was going on around the world. Russia, the Soviet Union, Iran and other places. And then in the midst of all that a very controversial and life-changing book was published, it was written by a 34 year old man named Troy Perry. The title of the book was The Lord is my Shepherd & He knows I’m Gay. I want you to know something this morning, my brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus knows all about you and he is your shepherd, too. Would you pray with me?
God, we thank you for the message of your inclusive love that we find all through the Bible, and not only there, but also in our constant experience of you. Enlighten and inspire us this morning we pray; in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
President Lincoln reminds us of this spiritual both/and that we experienced this morning. While the shepherd is experienced as the liberator for the sheep, she or he is certainly seen as the oppressor of the wolves. You know, shepherds have not always enjoyed a stellar reputation. Many of them have been seen as scoundrels. In the Hebrew Bible book of Ezekiel we hear the prophet denouncing the shepherd saying, “You eat the fat … you clothe yourselves with the wool … you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them”. It sounds like a role reversal has occurred. They are no longer taking care of the sheep, feeding them, caring for them when they are sick. They have given up on finding the lost ones, and they have become harsh in their treatment of the animals in place of their former kind and nurturing approach. You might have seen a horrible video online this week during which teachers of autistic kids yelled at them, belittled them and perpetrated acts of emotional violence on them. In that situation it is easy for us to wonder, “How could they do that,” and as a connector, this is exactly the kind of behavior that elicited Ezekiel’s rebuke.
So, we have to be mindful to read and hear the words of Jesus carefully. He does not just say, “I am the shepherd...” but he makes his point clear by saying, “I am the GOOD shepherd.” Jesus sets his form of shepherding apart from the ugly behavior of these rogue shepherds that take advantage of their charges and implies to us that his form of shepherding will be different and primarily for the benefit of those he is called to shepherd. Just one more reminder about this; traditionally, the leaders of Israel had been called Shepherds, too, and just like the shepherds in the fields, they lost their way and began to look out for themselves more that for those they were called to serve. So, Jesus’ message had yet another meaning. He shows us that he is the GOOD shepherd when compared to those in the field with animals, and that he is the GOOD shepherd when compared to those people who abandoned their responsibility to care for the people they were called to serve. As usual, these words of Jesus are packed with meaning.
So, what does it take to earn the title, Good Shepherd? First of all, I suggest that it is important for us to acknowledge that although shepherds are most often represented with male images, women were shepherds, too. To earn the title good shepherd, one must exhibit both masculine and feminine traditional attributes. It is important for an effective shepherd to be tough, rugged and fearless. It is also important for a good shepherd to be warm, nurturing and loving. It is one thing for sheep to hear the shepherd’s voice and want to run as far and as fast as they can. It is quite another to hear a voice that makes them feel safe and one that nurtures them in ways that make them want to remain with the shepherd. Jesus embodies the ideal of the Good Shepherd when he said he was coming to bring his Good News to the poor and to bring hope and justice to the oppressed and to set the captive free.
Jesus becomes the Good Shepherd, the liberator of humankind, not just for the few, but for all of us. So I have a final question for us to consider. Who is Jesus to you? What does Jesus mean to you?
Professor James Cone writes that Jesus is who he was, Jesus is who he is and Jesus is who he will be. My sisters and brothers, Jesus is wonderful enough and powerful enough and big enough and awesome enough to be what you need him to be for you. You may need Jesus to be a bodacious woman shepherd taking care of sheep in the field. He can do that. You may need Jesus to be a hot looking young man who can be your constant companion in every moment of your life. He can be that for you, too. You may need Jesus to be an old scholarly looking sage to guide you through hard times in your life. He can be that, too. And perhaps, best of all, he can be a combination of all of those and so much more for you.
Troy Perry’s line works well for me. Today he says he would leave the “he’s” out of the title and make it more inclusive. So following his lead I say the Lord is my Shepherd and Knows I’m Gay. Troy’s vision offers a wonderful model of the shepherd. He says, “In our community we reach out and touch each other and we love each other.” He continues, “They may burn us out, they might run us out of town, they might even shoot some of us, but praise God,” we are not afraid, because the Lord Jesus Christ IS our Shepherd and we shall not want in any situation.
I remember an old gospel song that says, “I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus. Since I found in him a friend so tried and true. I would tell you how he changed my life completely, He did something that no other friend could do. No one ever cared for me like Jesus. There’s no other friend so kind as he. No one else could take the sin and darkness from me. Oh how much he cares for me…and you. The Lord is OUR Shepherd.
What do you have to say about Jesus this morning? Fill in the blank: The Lord is my Shepherd and Knows I’m _____ (straight, lesbian, poor, rich, depressed, oppressed, happy, sad). Now hear God’s word for us this morning clearly. The Lord IS our shepherd and he knows us exactly as we are. The Lord IS your shepherd. Remember that, believe it, know it, and internalize it. Say it with me, “The Lord IS my shepherd: The Lord IS my shepherd. God bless you this morning.