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Rest For the Heavy Laden

by HW in HI

John 10:1-10

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, it’s 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 wasn’t 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. We’re 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 wouldn’t have thought that was any big deal. Really. But now I’ve 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 anyway?

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 guy’s 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 he’d 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 didn’t have a weapon. But, everyone is okay. No one was hurt. He’s not the first person to just walk right in, he’s the last. If he comes back, he’ll 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, God’s children. Jesus compares us with sheep. He’s the good shepherd, we’re the sheep. Which sounds good, until you get to know a little about sheep. To begin with, sheep are considered one of God’s 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 doesn’t look back and doesn’t 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 that’s Jesus, the protector.

And we need protecting. 2,000 years after Jesus came, we’re 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 didn’t have a very good graphic. I told her to just find a picture of the devil, and stick it on there. It’s not very Episcopalian, I guess, but it seems that it is time to talk about evil.

If we look around our world – let’s 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 people’s 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 aren’t 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 God’s 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 kids—I 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, “Don’t 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, we’ve heard that voice. Every time we put our own needs first, tease another person, exclude someone, every time we don’t 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, we’re not out there killing and maiming. But we’re 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.