Belmont Heights United Methodist Church
Worship May 3, 2020 Layin' It Down
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  • He Lives
      • Psalm 130MESSAGE

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  • Trading My Sorrows
      • Acts 2:42–47MESSAGE

      • 1 Peter 2:19–25MESSAGE

      • John 10:1–21CEB

  • Jesus Loves Me
  • Blessed Assurance
      • Psalm 23CEB

  • Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
  • I am The Gate

    Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations 1956 I Am the Door

    A tourist in Syria observed with interest how a shepherd drove all his sheep into a sheepfold one evening. The fold was an enclosing wall with only one opening. On that opening he noticed that there was neither door nor gate. He remarked to the shepherd: “Can’t wild beasts get in there?” “No,” answered the shepherd, “because I am the door. When the sheep are in for the night, I lie down across that doorway. No sheep can get out except over my body, and no wolf or thief can get in except over me.”

    I took a trip to the Holy Lands with Bishop Cynthia Fiero-Harvey 2 years ago. It was a profound experience! This Gospel passage and the 23rd Psalm took on a whole new meaning for me, as I observed these shepherds with their flocks over the many hillsides of Israel and Palestine. The ways, even the dress, is not much different than it was 2000 years ago. Often the sheepfolds look as ancient as the hillsides, perhaps built and rebuilt over generations. Some were obviously created with and right over original ruins. One could concentrate on this peaceful, pastoral setting and believe that this is the most relaxing and stress-free job there could be.
    Yet, especially in occupied areas of Palestine, you just had to widen your vision - to see checkpoints, towers with armed snipers, walled communities of relative wealth, while just outside, abject poverty of shepherds living in the same ruins as their sheep. Yet - as these shepherds seem oblivious to the scenes of war and conflict around them, we see this is a very myopic view. They understand deeply the dangers that await - thieves, bandits, wolves - human and wild animal enemies. Yet it is their deep understanding of this that drives this illusion we see of pastoral, peaceful existence - THEIR MINDS AND THEIR HEARTS ARE SINGULARLY FOCUSED ON THE SHEEP!
    I thought of these passages observing this scene. Jesus is keenly aware of the dangers each of his flock faces. And as the Good Shepherd, he does not let that distract him from his singular focus - his precious flock. This is why the sheep can blissfully go in and out of the fold, peacefully enjoying the protection of the Good Shepherd, often not even mindful of the dangers that lurk at every turn. They do so knowing that they are under the protection of their Good Shepherd.
    This is in very sharp contrast to the Western and American way of herding and shepherding. If you have ever seen cattle herding or sheep herding here - well even our names for things are different - We have cattle “drivers and rustlers”. Livestock are penned, often tightly together, and driven , not led, from place to place often with fear and violence. This is commerce only and the animals are commodities. The animals are looking for any way to escape and the hired hands are just there for the paycheck. This is not relational, it is purely transactional. I had people I knew in Oklahoma who did this. There was no loyalty to the animal. There wasn’t even loyalty to the owner or employer - for the next person who offered higher pay, they would abandon their flock for a few dollars a week more. Some wouldn’t even last the season with the same flock, let alone generations.
    As Jesus was telling this story to his Disciples and those gathered on the steps of the Temple, Jesus could tell that the hearers didn’t quite understand. Jesus, the one they believed could be the Messiah, a Shepherd? This was the antithesis to the Warrior Messiah that they had envisioned. And not only was Jesus not going to mount up an army to defeat the Romans, Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd. Yes they were very familiar with the ways of shepherding in 1st Century Palestine, but seriously - a shepherd? You see being a Shepherd put you at the bottom of the social structure as a man. The only things lower than sheep herding were being a woman, child, or swine keeper for the Romans- for swine keepers were considered unclean and banished from the Jewish community and Temple.
    And my how the world is still the same. Sheep and goats were an essential part of life 2000 years ago. The very economy was dependent on them for food, milk, clothing, and commerce. Yet those who made sure that all of this worked - the shepherds - the essential workers, were considered the lowest rung of society. Those at the front line of the food and goods supply chain were also the lowest paid and “polite society” often considered them unworthy of even an equal place in the Temple or in their homes. Now here is Jesus saying he is not only standing in solidarity with them, He IS ONE!
    Funny, though - from the Psalms, to Ezekiel - God had been giving Israel the message that God is their Shepherd for thousands of years. Yet they refused to understand what that meant.
    About 8 years ago I got a knock at my door. A very upset 16 year old, one who had been coming to our house-church regularly, was confused. You see, his little brother’s new bike was stolen, and not just by anybody or by someone in the same poverty as they were, but by a privileged middle-class 30 year old who thought he could bully it out of him. This grown man was so sure of his superiority and of his knowledge of the neighborhood that he thought he could get away with it. You see, most people in my old neighborhood didn’t call the police for almost any reason. And he assumed his privilege kept him from being the victim of retaliation. “I know I’m not supposed to hurt him, Ms. Lisa. I know that is not what Jesus wants me to do. I just don’t know how I’m supposed to handle it. I need you to break it down for me.”
    I imagined a similar conversation with Jesus and the hearers of this story. “I know God has been revealing God’s self as a shepherd for thousands of years, but this doesn’t fit what I want God to be for me right now. I don’t understand. Jesus, just please break it down for us.”
    So in verse 7, Jesus does just that. Both verse 1 and verse 7 begin the same way. In the CEB version I read to you it says, “I assure you”, in the NRSV they start with, “very truly I say to you”. In the old KJV it has the proverbial “Verily”, only it says it twice in both verses, “Verily, verily I say to you”. Verily - a word I often just thought of as old-fashioned filler language is actually very important to the context here. “ Verily” is translated from the Greek word, amen, a Greek transliteration from Aramaic, conveys a very specific truth, one that indicates an acceptance of something as the will of God. Jesus says it twice, each time in those verses.
    Jesus is about to break it down for them.

    Thieves and Bandits take the sneaky way in.

    You know the type. They come in with their shiny talk and their wanting to fit in. Yet they are always angling for just the right time and just the right way to “steal, kill, and destroy”. They pick out the sheep who are easy targets, those whose faith in the shepherd is fleeting. They promise wealth, prosperity, “positive thinking” as a means of grace. They come, not to care for the sheep, but to bring them to the slaughter house. They dare not come in the front door, but find a way over the wall, bypassing the Gospel message of sacrificial Love, for a feel good, false hope message that will serve only their purpose to enrich themselves. They prey on the sheep who think life is too hard and want an easy way to living some imagined good life. They convince the weak sheep that life in the fold under the loving care of the shepherd is somehow not enough. They prey on their weakness of self-indulgence and self importance, only to abandon the sheep once they have what they want. How do we know if we are vulnerable to them? We slowly do not recognize our own Shepherd’s voice, because we, too, are busy climbing over walls, trying to get around what it means to be a follower of Christ. One time my brother thought he would be clever by coming and going through his bedroom window instead of the front door. When my father caught him, he made him climb back out, walk all the way around the house, then walk properly through the front door, like a member of the family, not some burglar. I thought that was weird. He was already in. Why go through all of that. Because it is through the door that we enter in as family. It is through the Jesus Gate that we enter, lest anyone mistake us for a thief. It sometimes means we need to go back around to the front, understand the sacrificial Love of Jesus, meet him face to face, so that we truly know him and can resist the voice of temptation next time it calls.

    Jesus is the Gate And the Shepherd

    There is freedom in boundaries. Some of the most frightened children I have ever worked with were those who grew up with no boundaries. It is disorienting. Each step is a step into the unknown. Jesus is both our Gate and our Shepherd. Jesus leads us in and out, providing green pastures and protection into the unknown. Jesus leads us back to the fold, where we can frolic, play, be ourselves, safe within the boundaries of the fold, knowing that the wolves outside are kept at bay. Jesus does this willingly, lovingly, laying down his very life, humbling himself to be our Gate and Good Shepherd wherever we are and wherever we go.

    Jesus Lays down his life for us

    Always. Continually. Jesus used his power over sin and death to save us - to lay down everything, his place on the Throne of heaven, his very life, to save us. Jesus never retaliated, he turned the other cheek. Jesus never called on his people to defend him with violence, he said to lay down the sword. Jesus conquered death not through death, but through life.
    And yes, Jesus laid down his life, but not in act of aggression and hate, but in the ultimate act of peace and love.
    As the Body of Christs on earth...

    We are to now lay OUR lives down for others.

    What does this mean. What are we to lay down?
    All of our scripture passages today talk about ways we lay down our lives for others. As the Body of Christ, we are to follow the example of the Good Shepherd and be willing to lay down our lives in order that others might experience the abundant life in Christ.
    Our 1 Peter passage:
    21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
    22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
    23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
    The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989. Print.
    When he asks us to lay down our lives for others, he doesn't mean to go get yourself killed for foolish nonsense. He means to stand. To stand for peace, to stand for justice, to stand for love. Stand. Don't move. This isn't an act of cowardice or weakness. It is the ultimate act of bravery, of strength. Jesus didn't say roll over and take it. Something passive, a do nothing stance. No, he said actively, lay down your life. This is the essence of our Gospel message - this was an active choice of Jesus out of Love. It needs to be our active choice of Love as well.

    So what can we Lay down in our lives?


    What about pride? Could you lay that part of your life down. I have had person after person tell me that is the main reason they could never stand down is because of pride. What would people say? They would call me weak, they would call me disloyal. Again, we point to the example of Christ. Never weak, always loyal, yet, as we said earlier, gave up every glory in heaven and came down as a poor helpless infant, to save us. To save us!

    Harmful ways of living

    What about your living? If your living is harmful to others, harmful to your life in Christ, harmful to your children and future generations, could you lay it down?
    The corporate executive that exploits the earth and our children for gain, could he lay it down, give up the 7 figure salary to make his living at something that honors God and all his children? We are even seeing that now - executives giving up their salaries during this time so that employees might be able to keep their paychecks. If the secular world can do this, what about the Followers of Jesus?
    The powerful politician, who is voted in to office because he spouts hatred and partisanship - could he lay it down? Could he lay down that earthly power, take on the appearance of weakness in order to work for peace, justice, and mercy?
    The local musician, merchant, hustler, salesman, … preacher… if their words or products bring them money, fame, power, could they lay it down if it also destroyed lives? Could they lay down their destructive, violent ways to work for justice, to work for peace?

    So this “Layin’ it down” is an act of bravery and strength.

    But this is also an act of sacrifice. Sacrificing your life as you know it, so others might live. Sacrifice your possessions, your pride, your life as you live it, so others might live in peace, in love, in Christ. It might mean staying home, suffering hardship, so that others more vulnerable might live.
    But is this sacrifice worth it? Isn't this "Layin' it down" just another way to say "I give up!"?
    No, this Layin It Down is not rolling over and playing dead. It is not weak, it is not cowardly. It is active, it is real, it requires strength, sacrifice and selflessness.

    Laying it down is the ultimate act of Love

    Jesus will go on to say later in Chapter 15 that
    13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
    The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989. Print.

    Laying it down is ultimately an act of power,

    for the greatest power, the Love of Christ Jesus, can only be had when we empty ourselves and let him in. Jesus used his power over sin and death to save us. We call on the power of Jesus now to give us strength to lay down our lives for others. It requires us to sacrifice our comfort for another’s very life. It requires us to humble ourselves and be willing to say we're sorry or to accept another's apology. It requires us to go, to feed the hungry, stand beside the most broken members of our community and invite them to the love of Christ. It requires bravery, fearlessness, strength, power, and above all LOVE.
    Are we ready? Can we start right now? Can we today, be Laying it Down?

    Laying it all down for, and WITH Jesus?

    Let us pray.
  • Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow!
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