Monday, February 7, 2011

Preaching at Princeton's Miller Chapel




I had a truly blessed experience today: I preached at Miller Chapel on the campus of Princeton Seminary.  Every senior is offered the chance to preach if he/she wants to.  I signed up for my one allotted time, invited some friends, worked hard on the service and the sermon, and thought I was ready to go.


I didn't count on being extremely nervous!  But I was.  After all, this is PRINCETON SEMINARY!  And I was preaching in front of my fellow seminarians, professors, and administrators.  It is pretty intimidating.


But in the end, I really enjoyed it.  And the listeners seemed to also.


Below is the sermon I preached; if you are going to read it, then please read Matthew 18:10-14 first.




THE POWER OF ONE SHEEP

One of the things I just love here at Princeton Seminary is what I call "the second question."  In class, many times the first question asked either by the professor or by the student is a good one.  But I have found it is the second question that is often the better one. 

As we listen to and examine today’s Scripture reading, the first question is a rather obvious one:
Why does the Good Shepherd bother to save one sheep when he already has 99 safely with him?  That is the first question.

But today’s message focuses on the second question that may follow it: 
For what PURPOSE does the Shepherd save that one little sheep?

It is this question that comes into my mind when I read and examine this Scripture.  Each of us is that one sheep, that one out of a hundred that wanders off and almost gets away. 

And each of us is important enough that the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 other sheep and comes and finds us.  And when the Shepherd finds us, do we get a holy lecture?  A stern talking-to?  A little time out?  That is not what Scripture says.  We are told that the Good Shepherd is happy!  There has to be a reason.

Perhaps you are going for the obvious answer:  the Shepherd comes to get us, rescues us, and is happy because the Shepherd loves us.  I agree this is true, and it would be foolish to believe otherwise.

But once we are rescued, what does the Shepherd have in mind for us?  What can one little sheep do?

Maybe you are to be one famous, heroic little sheep like an ordinary man who lived in Los Angeles, California on Wednesday, April 29, 1992.  On that day, the Lord’s sheep named Bobby Greene was watching the riots in the streets in the aftermath of the acquittal of the four policemen who beat Rodney King.   That one sheep saw live on television a man being dragged from his truck and beaten with bricks by a mob who would have surely killed him.  Except that Bobby Greene realized the scene was playing out right in front of his house!  Bobby rushed into the middle of the mob, completely unarmed, and rescued the badly injured truck driver.  Bobby loaded the driver back into the dump truck, then drove the truck, which carried 27 tons of sand, to the hospital and saved the driver’s life.  Maybe you are going to be that type of sheep.

Or maybe you are to be a little sheep who lives a very, very long time, over 100 years.  She was living in a nursing home that is not really one of the nice ones.  But every day, since she could still walk, read, and think, she made rounds.  She went from room to room asking if anyone needs anything.  She sat and visited those who couldn't get out of bed.  She read letters to those who can’t see to read any longer.  She read Scripture to those who will listen and she even discussed it with them…a little one-on-one ministering with many who have no one to talk to.

She made a difference in that place, and just by being herself – her plain, old, ordinary self – maybe she was just a sheep - but she was one that brightened a day and served as an inspiration for a community that many have forgotten.  Maybe you are going to be that type of sheep.

Or maybe you are going to be like the one big sheep I heard about many years ago.  This particular sheep was a very tall, very large man.  He sold insurance in the Houston area.  I don’t know his name, and I don’t know if he was any good at selling insurance.  But I suspect that selling insurance was not what the Lord had in mind when he came and got that one big sheep.  For you see…this particular sheep goes down to the county jail on Sunday afternoons after church, and he goes from cell to cell asking softly if there is anyone he can call for them, if anyone would like a word of prayer, if anyone would like a word from Scripture.  He goes from cell to cell to cell, and as he goes the whole jail gets a little quieter.  The jailers will tell you that “Rev” as he is called is a welcome sight and that he does good work.  But “Rev” is a fake…he is not a minister of Word and Sacrament.  He is not a minister.  He wears a clerical collar, but he will tell you that is just to get their attention.  The real reason is because his Shepherd told him to visit those sheep in jail.  And no one else in the Houston area is doing it.  Maybe you are going to be that type of sheep.

I keep saying the word “one” and when I say that, I am certain that there are a lot of “ones” who are uncomfortable with that.  After all, it is always easier in this world to let others be the “one” that the Good Shepherd uses to further the Kingdom.  Let me declare to you that each and every sheep is called to be the one that the Lord uses in the kingdom.  

You don’t have to be Bobby Greene rushing into a murderous mob to save a man from death.
You don’t have to be the sweet old lady in the nursing home.
You don’t have to be the insurance salesman who visits the jail on Sunday afternoons pretending to be a minister.
No one is asking you to be that kind of one.

Maybe the wonderful things, the important things, the…things that we are called to do are really very small things, and that’s all!  Maybe the things we are really called to do appear when each of us sees something and hears the whisper of the Shepherd in our soul telling you to do something.  You might be the one that might be an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

You might be the one who sees a working man crying as he asks for food – for the first time in his life – because times are hard out there.  And you reach for your wallet, despite ignoring other pleas for help because there is something about this one man that resonates with you.  And maybe it’s because you remember going hungry at some time in your life and getting a hand up from someone, instead of a hand out.

You might be the one who begins every conversation with, “How’s your family?”  What a silly question!  “How’s your family?”  But then maybe one day everything is NOT okay with your family.  Maybe your family is the biggest, heaviest thing on your heart.  And maybe, just maybe no one else has noticed or asked.  So when you hear, “How’s your family?” maybe you reach out and begin talking and get some things off your chest.  Because maybe the one sheep who asks, “How’s your family?” knows and understands this and will listen and be a good friend for a few moments.

Or maybe you are the one who will be in the classroom, on the job, walking with others, driving the roads, sitting in the small restaurant, or perhaps on-line with your friends – and the Good Shepherd needs just one person, just one, just one little sheep, to do a little something.  You might be that one sheep.

And the power that you will have in that situation, the power to make a difference, the power to spread the Good News in the world, the power to be an example to the world, the power to show the love of the Good Shepherd exists and is alive and well…that is power like no other.

As each one of us tries to follow the Shepherd’s path, look for those opportunities that will certainly come your way.
And be the one sheep with the power to make a difference.

The difference between something and nothing;
the difference between good and evil, between love and indifference, between powerful and powerless. 
The power of one sheep can do all of that.

You were rescued, you one little sheep. 

Your Good Shepherd left the flock and rescued you.

Why did the Good Shepherd bother to save one sheep when he already has 99 safely with him?  That is the first question.

But answer the second question:
For what PURPOSE does the Shepherd save you, that one little sheep?



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