Rest For the Heavy Laden
by HW in HI
Good morning! Before I get started this morning, I just want to ask: Does anybody
remember how many days there are to the Easter season? (50)
I have spent the last three days at a conference in Waikiki called Honolulu 99. This is
a conference for Christians, clergy and lay, any denomination. As the name implies, its
held in Honolulu every year. Well, actually, they change the name every year last
year it was Honolulu 98, and next year it will be Honolulu 2000. People come from all over
Hawaii, and from all over the mainland. There were about 2,300 people there from every
denomination in Hawaii. I am sorry to say that there were only about 35 Episcopalians.
Anyway, it was great. There were general sessions with worship and sermons and hymns and
something sort of like hymns they called songs and some hand clapping that wasnt
very Episcopalian at all. And there were lots of seminars. I went to seminars on church
vision, and music and GenerationX. Not because I want to talk about changing anything we
do. Were keeping the organ and everything that goes with it. But at some point we
might add a service that meets the needs of younger people. One of the tough things about
this conference was that it ran from 8 in the morning until 9:30 at night. A year ago I
wouldnt have thought that was any big deal. Really. But now Ive been up here
in the country. When I first moved to Waimea I thought everything closed up pretty early.
But now I think closing video stores at 8 PM is about right. Who stays up later than that
On Thursday night the conference ended and I took a bus back downtown. It was late, I
was tired, and the bus took a long time coming. I walked through the door at 10:30,
convinced that everything should close at 8 PM, and the phone was ringing. My husband,
Chris, was on the phone. (He was in Waimea, I was in Honolulu we get things
confused sometimes.) Chris told me that there had just been an intruder in our house. He
was getting ready for bed, Erin was on the computer doing homework and Zack was asleep. A
man had come through the front door. Erin was startled, and got up to find a strange man
in the house, obviously high on something. She kept yelling Get out!, and got
Chris, who came charging out of the bed room, yelling, Get out of my house,
and shoving the guy in the chest. The police came in a matter of seconds; it seems that
they had pulled over this guys car on the highway right out front, and he had run,
straight into our house. My gut reaction was one of panic. I was so glad Chris was there,
and hed told me he was filled with adrenaline. But now I was filled with adrenaline,
too. My children had been in danger, and here I was at some conference. I was so glad
Chris was with them. I was so glad this guy didnt have a weapon. But, everyone is
okay. No one was hurt. Hes not the first person to just walk right in, hes the
last. If he comes back, hell find the doors bolted.
Almost every parent would act the same way. Leaping to our feet, charging at whoever
threatened our children, oblivious to the danger. We protect our children.
In the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells us that he is our protector. He is the
shepherd, we are the sheep, and he is there to protect us, Gods children. Jesus
compares us with sheep. Hes the good shepherd, were the sheep. Which sounds
good, until you get to know a little about sheep. To begin with, sheep are considered one
of Gods dumber animals. Not very bright. And they smell. A lot. A friend of mine
moved to New Zealand and her son was helping a neighbor with his sheep. He was chasing one
of them, and the neighbor had to stop him. The reason: apparently if you chase a sheep he
will start running and not stop. The sheep doesnt look back and doesnt know it
is not being chased and will run until it dies. Very dumb. Sheep need protecting.
In the reading from John Jesus tells us, I am the gate for the sheep."
Sounds pretty strange. We have to go back to the culture of the Ancient Near East to
figure out what Jesus is talking about. In those days they built paddocks for sheep. They
slept there at night. But the paddock had no gate, so the shepherd would sleep across the
entrance. Any person or animal entering or leaving would have to go past the shepherd, so
the sheep would be protected. And thats Jesus, the protector.
And we need protecting. 2,000 years after Jesus came, were not doing so well. Our
world seems to be filled with hatred and violence. You might have noticed the front of
your bulletin. As I was leaving St. James for Honolulu 99, we had just learned about
the high school tragedy in Colorado. Dana was asking me what to put on the cover, since
she didnt have a very good graphic. I told her to just find a picture of the devil,
and stick it on there. Its not very Episcopalian, I guess, but it seems that it is
time to talk about evil.
If we look around our world lets see. A mother was found guilty of killing
her own infant through abuse. That was Hawaii. Two teenage boys set off bombs, grenades
and guns killing themselves and 13 others in Colorado. Unspeakable atrocities are being
committed in Kosovo, even as the Serbs manage to reach the Albanian border. The cover of
Newsweek carries a picture of Malosovich with the caption The Face of Evil. Is
the devil leaping into peoples souls like a scene from the Exorcist? Perhaps, but I
want to offer another scenario.
Jesus tells us the sheep will follow the shepherd, because they know his voice. But
then, there is also the voice of the thief. I am thinking that perhaps sheep have better
ears than we do, because we seem to be pretty good about following the wrong voice.
Malosovich is listening to the voice of evil as it says, Get back your land. Take
it back. These others do not deserve to live here. They arent as good as you. Look
how your people have suffered because of them. Take it back now, anyway you can. Make sure
they can't come back.
Those two boys in Colorado that were responsible for the killing of themselves and so
many others. They were not made by the devil. These boys were made in Gods image.
Children of God. Their parents loved them. But it seems that at school kids did what kids
so often do in high school, they separated out these kids, and made them feel bad. No!
That is no excuse. There is no excuse. None at all. But the first impulse, to exclude
these kidsI want to suggest that that impulse came from the whispering of the thief.
And these boys were sad and isolated and separate, and then that voice of the thief got
pretty loud. A roar in their ears. A voice saying, Dont get mad, get even.
This life is not worth living anyway. Get out, and take them with you. And the thief
did not stop. No, the thief did not stop whispering and whining and shouting and roaring.
They heard the voice of the thief, and that is who or what they followed.
There is a truth here for every one of us. We are not immune to the voice of the thief.
Every time we pass up a person in need, weve heard that voice. Every time we put our
own needs first, tease another person, exclude someone, every time we dont welcome a
newcomer to church, every Sunday we sleep in just this once, every time we
walk away from an opportunity to serve God, we may very well be listening to the voice of
the thief. No, were not out there killing and maiming. But were not out there
healing and caring.
This morning we have a special opportunity to take responsibility for a little healing.
The people of Littleton Colorado are reeling with pain. Funerals for their loved ones are
just beginning. Wounds are deep, losses are real. Thousands (perhaps by extension even
millions) of high schoolers are scarred for life. We have been offered an opportunity to
join churches throughout the country, sending letters of prayer to Columbine high school.
Just simple letters saying we care, we are praying for you. There is paper and we have
some pens and pencils, and I want to ask you to take a few minutes to write some words of
encouragement. I want to encourage us all to listen to that voice, the voice of the
shepherd, saying, Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
Come unto me. Amen.