Sermon: An Ownership Mentality | April 26, 2015 | Easter 4B

Oasis

“An Ownership Mentality” (Easter 4B) – by Daniel Schlorff

For MCC New Haven, April 26, 2015

 

Jesus said it. He actually said it. And it has caused centuries of wars of “Good vs. Evil.” The Crusades, the Inquisition, missionaries on the foreign field… conversion therapies, opposition to marriage equality… and all sorts of spiritual trauma.

He actually said it. Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep.” And, “Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

These verses have been twisted and contorted to fit political agendas and personal motivations.

  • By focusing on an “us vs. them” mentality, centuries of Christians have been ruining the lives and cultures of others—in the name of Jesus—because of their literalist, exclusivist understanding of Scripture.

That is the backdrop for today’s Gospel reading.

In my mind, anyway, I can understand why people are turning away from Christianity.

  • It seems so clear what those passages mean.
  • // But there’s more to the story.
  • And that is our task these next few minutes.

Won’t you pray with me?

 

 

Our gracious God, who lives through us and in us… may we know your presence in this hour.

Not that anything we do or say here would be sufficient to earn your favor, God, but rather that you have already favored us. It doesn’t matter what we do or say—or don’t do or don’t say—God, you have already favored us.

Let this be a community gathered in humility and love. And send your Holy Spirit to penetrate our hardened hearts, as we turn to your Word today. Grant us new wisdom and understanding, and help us to embody what it means to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

Before retirement age came around, my parents were business owners.

  • They ran a home health agency.
    • My mother, a nurse, was the Administrator,
    • and my father, a financial professional, was the business manager.
    • Nothing better for a marriage than going into business with each other…

Anyway, after seminary, I worked with them as Office Manager, to help pay down my student loans.

  • Yes, I joined the unpleasant and complicated family dynamics by joining in business with my parents.
  • I was in charge of payroll, accounts payable/ receivable, and the fun part: shopping!
  • Actually, it wasn’t too fun since it was just office supplies and medical products, but I did enjoy the power of using a business line of credit.
  • As it turned out, I became quite good at predicting which wound care products needed to be ordered, and I loved looking at the products online.
    • The websites would show all sorts of wounds at various stages of infection and size.
    • I loved seeing how these special wound care products laced with silver or pig skin would help wounds shrink and ideally heal.
  • One time, I got a little crazy and ordered a new line of wound care products—meaning I was making a decision to change to a different company. That didn’t sit well with the higher ups. My boss—or, my father—came into my office and said, “Daniel, you have to have an ownership mentality.”

Well, I put my tail between my legs and moved on from that reprimand with a newer vision of what it means to run a business.

But that’s not the only time my father told me to have an ownership mentality.

My parents bought a different house when I was in middle school, but they kept our old house as a rental property.

  • They stipulated no smoking and no pets. Well, when the previous renters moved out, it turned out we needed to replace all the carpet and repaint all surfaces… because, of course, the tenants smoked and had pets. My father took this as an opportunity to teach me a lesson, “Daniel, you have to have an ownership mentality.”

Jesus tells us in John 10 that He himself has an ownership mentality when it comes to the people of God.

He says this:

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

What is remarkable about this text (and the text I referenced at the beginning of this talk) is that Jesus is addressing the religious leaders.

To their faces, Rabbi Jesus is telling the other religious leaders that they are all wrong.

  • That they are hired hands. They’re in it for the money. They don’t really care about the people of God. They’re false teachers. Hirelings. Renters who break the terms of the agreement.
  • Second, Jesus was not saying He is the only way to Heaven in this particular passage.
    • In fact, Jesus said, “16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” If anything, this passage describes a scenario such that people who are not in the fold—perhaps people rejected by their own faith community—will be made full members of the Reign of God.
      • Just imagine what a different Christianity we would have today if people actually read this whole passage in context!
        • No Crusades or Inquisition.
        • More interfaith dialogue.
      • Finally, Jesus was saying that He was willing to lay down his life for the people of God—that’s how much He believed in his mission.
        • People also tend to read this passage wrong when they say, “Oh, that’s really nice of Him. Thanks, Jesus, for offering to lay down your life for us.” That, too, is missing the point.
        • The point for contemporary readers is not just that we are part of Jesus’ flock. The point is that WE are to believe in God’s work so much that we are willing to lay down our lives for it. Perhaps not literally, but this theme is repeated in this morning’s Epistle
      • 1 John 3:16 says,
        • We know love by this: that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
        • Remember, the writer of the Epistle was writing to a persecuted Church, so it would be important to make such a vow—laying down one’s life for another.
        • But what does this mean for us in 2015 in New Haven, CT? We don’t literally need to lay down our lives for one another, do we?
          • Probably not.
          • But God is still asking for our all.
        • The passage continues:
          • 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
          • It would be really easy to continue slipping back into Biblical literalism at this point, because it seems pretty clear what the Epistle is saying to us. We need to give what we have to those in need.
          • But that would be missing the point.
        • NOW IS YOUR TURN TO TALK: What are the needs of this community? (Space for answers)
        • And what is this church doing to address those needs? (Space for answers)
          • Sometimes, just being community for those in need is enough. Sometimes, God is calling us beyond the walls of our own community and into the streets to LOVE in truth and action.
        • OK, here comes the juicy part.
          • 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
          • The writer of the Epistle is saying that, when we are LOVING in truth and action, when we are laying down our lives for our comrades… that is when we know we are operating in the will of God.
        • Now, let’s talk about our hearts condemning us… what is that all about?
          • I was raised in a Pentecostal-Holiness household. I grew up hearing all the clobber passages, like Sodom and Gomorrah and Romans 1… and hearing truisms such as “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
          • Our pastor thought this was a clever thing to say, and people laughed and nodded their heads and mumbled in agreement.
          • Whenever he said anything like this, my heart pounded, and I held very still so I didn’t give myself away, and I grimaced.
          • It seems like such an innocent thing to say, but to an impressionable middle-schooler, this saying… and the people laughing… made me feel less than worthy of love.
            • The more I attended this church, the more this pastor railed against homosexuality, and AIDS, and Muslims, and anything he decided didn’t fit into the Reign of God.
            • That’s what “our hearts condemning us” is all about.
            • That feeling like you are less than worthy of love.
          • But hear the Good News of God:
            • Even 7when our hearts condemn us
              • Because some pastor once said we are less than worthy.
              • Because some politician once said we are less than worthy.
              • Because our parents disowned us.
              • Because our spouse left us.
              • Because psychologists said they can “fix us.”
              • Because of our infection, or poverty, or hunger…
            • Even when our hearts condemn us—when we have internalized all of that hatred and homophobia—we know we have the truth, says the Epistle, BECAUSE GOD IS GREATER THAN OUR HEARTS!
            • It doesn’t matter what people think of you.
            • It doesn’t matter what people said about you.
            • God is greater.
          • In fact, being the Good Shepherd, Jesus calls us to follow Him. Us!
          • We are His.
          • Remember the promise of the Gospel, which says, 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
          • No pastor or politician can take that away from us.

 

And remember that “ownership mentality” thing?

  • It’s for us, too.
  • See, we belong in the fold.
  • And we belong to each other.
  • And we are responsible for each other.
  • Those who are here… those who have been here… those who need to be in a place like here… that is what God calls us to lay down our lives for.
  • Are you willing?

 

 

Prayer requests:

  • People of Nepal, who are mourning the loss of over 1,000 people.
  • The people of Baltimore, who are grappling with yet another instance of police brutality.
  • South Africa, which is erupting in racism.
  • Palestine, Israel, Christians in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.
  • 550 people, including 115 children, slaughtered in Yemen.
  • Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

 

 

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