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Practicing Real Love in the Footsteps of the Good Shepherd

Sermon - 5/03/09
Rev. Robert Shebeck
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 10:10-18

It's a pleasure to be with you here this morning.  As Dan mentioned, we had a great weekend, it was so exciting to be together with lots of folks from the Oregon region celebrating that commitment to be a global-mission region.  It was neat to see former missionaries who have served in different places like Congo, Mexico, all over the world, and that mission legacy here in your region.

And then folks who have been on mission trips, and partnerships with partners we have around the globe.  It was nice to be together for this past week and weekend and have this celebration.  So glad to be with you this morning, and to continue that celebration and share a little bit with you about global ministries.  I'll share some stories about our work around the globe, and I'd like to launch into that by taking a look at the scripture passage that we have before us this morning:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

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. 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’

This is God's word for God's people today, thanks be to God.

I'm so glad to be here with you to share a little bit about Global Ministries.  To put a face on those mission dollars that you so generously give as First Christian Church here in Eugene Oregon. 

The work that we do is in partnership with the United Church of Christ, we do global ministries together.  We're involved in an important part of God's mission around the globe.  As Disciples and as UCC, we have over 270 partners.  These partners are churches, denominations, they are councils of churches, they are educational institutions, they're health institutions and various ecumenical organizations in about 70 countries.  That's a lot of partnerships that we are involved in as Disciples and UCC around the globe.

At any given time, we have about 150 people serving in missions in some capacity with those partners in some critical way.  We have fully support missionaries that are out there, we have young people that are serving as global mission interns -- those are young people just out of college thinking about what they want to do with their lives, and want to do an internship before maybe going back to graduate school or jumping into a profession. 

We have long-term and short-term volunteers.  So, if you're interested in serving for 2 weeks, or a month, or for a year, we have opportunities.  Our partners make requests for skills and people for missions, and we try to match those requests with folks like you here in the pews that might have a skill to offer, and you can serve as part of our Global Ministries mission family around the world.

We also do group trips.  We have a people-to-people pilgrimage program that keeps track of about 80 group trips per year.  Those are also opportunities to reach out and be part of that global community, the global church.

All of this is made possible because of your congregations' involvement in giving to Disciples Mission Fund, to the special offerings that we have over the course of the year, to Week of Compassion.  All of this comes together to make this mission/ministry possible around the world.

One of the first things I want to do this morning is to thank you for your commitment to giving, and being part of those Disciples offerings.  That is so important.  I encourage you to continue to maintain that commitment in your budget regularly as you take offerings throughout the year.

As I said this morning, I want to try and put a face on that giving.  And I want to do it by starting with this text that we have in the gospel of John, as kind of a springboard to be able to talk a little bit about our global commitments and relationships as we walk with global partners.  I think this text that talks about the good shepherd that we just read describes in a very eloquent way the types of ministries and relationships that we have with global partners as we seek to walk together in bringing life and abundant life to folks in communities around the globe.

I'd like to take a look at this passage and bring up a couple examples of that work that we do together.  In this passage, we learn at the very beginning that the good shepherd -- Jesus -- is there to be present with his sheep in times of critical situations, dangerous situations.  It talks about these thieves coming in to steal and to kill and destroy, and this wolf that comes to snatch up the sheep and scatter them.  So the good shepherd is present, has a ministry of presence with his sheep.  The sheep, obviously, are us, and our world today.

As I think about Global Ministries, one of the important concepts or ideas that we talk about is this idea of critical presence.  What is that all about?  Well, it's just about being present in a timely way and in an appropriate way and trying to meet God's people and creation at that point of deepest need.  That could be spiritually, that could be physically, could be emotionally, or it could be economically.  As we walk with partners around the globe, we try to discern what those deep needs are -- those deep needs that are partners have, but also those deep needs that we have in our country here in the United States.  Because we have to have our hands open to be able to receive gifts from our partners as well.  It's a two-way street.  So this presence, this critical presence, is very similar to this presence that the good shepherd offers us as His sheep.

As I think about an example of this type of ministry of critical presence, I am quickly reminded of the ministry of Anil and Teresa Henry.  Anil and Teresa are serving in India.  They are both medical doctors.  And they are serving with the church in north India, in a place called Nugehli.  It is a place off the beaten path in India, way out in the middle of nowhere in a very rural area.  There's a hospital that has been there for 112 years.  That's a part of our mission legacy.  But about 10 years ago when Anil and Teresa went to that hospital, it was basically abandoned.  No personnel there, and the buildings were run down.  This is an area that's way off the beaten path, so no Indian doctor wanted to come and serve there because the conveniences of the big city aren't available, it's a very tough life out there in the rural area.  Anil and Teresa are committed to be there, and what they've done is they've rebuilt this hospital 1 building at a time with new equipment, with the help of Global Ministries (with your mission dollars).  They've built the capacity of personnel that are working there, both nursing and doctors, and they have a dental clinic as well, and other opportunities to provide healthcare.  And so the people in this community now have a hospital to go to in their region that was abandoned prior to that.  They no longer have to experience hardship because of diseases that are easy to cure, they now have the opportunity to receive medical care in their communities.

Now, they not only rebuilt this hospital, revived it, resurrected it if you will, but they also were able to call a pastor to the church there that had been vacant as well.  Now there's a vibrant Christian community there.  And they started a school -- I just heard they purchased a 40-passenger bus where they can actually go to the rural communities to pick up the kids.  Education is so important for the lives and the futures of those children.

So this is a way that Anil and Teresa and the whole staff of the hospital are providing a critical presence that saves people's lives in that particular community.  Just one example of that abundant life that we are bringing to communities because of our offerings and gifts.

Several times in this passage as we read it this morning you heard this expression that the shepherd 'lays down his life' for the sheep.  He does that not only because he knows and loves those sheep but also because he loves God his Father.  This relationship between loving the sheep and loving the father is intimate in the text.

This type of knowledge and love leads to that self-sacrifice that is at the heart of Jesus' ministry.  As we read the gospels, we see it everywhere.  We're also told in this passage that the good shepherd has received this power and authority to pick back up his life again.  And as we think about that laying down and picking up, we're taken back a few weeks here to the week of Easter.  We have Good Friday where Jesus lays down his life, and then Easter Sunday where we have an empty tomb and he is raised from the dead.  So we have a vivid picture of that sacrifice that leads to new life in the resurrection.

In Global Ministries, we often witness those types of things -- that sacrifice that leads to new life.  As we think about some of our mission personnel and our partners that serve in very difficult situations, we see self-sacrifice on a regular basis.  These missionaries and partners have the privilege of being able to see moments of resurrection in the lives of the people and the lives of the churches that they serve, as they give their lives to serve God and to serve Christ in our name.

And so as I think about ministries of self-sacrifice and resurrection, my mind is drawn to the folks in Haiti, and our partners there.  We visit regularly with Patrick Villier, who is the President of CONASPEH.  He's on our Global Ministries Board, so he comes to the United States twice a year and participates as a full board member.  He brings the stories of 6,000 grass-roots churches in Haiti that we are in partnership with.  In 1985 there were 50 churches, and they have grown to 6,000.  They're continuing to climb -- every time Patrick comes back, the number keeps going up.

We have two young people that are serving there with CONASPEH -- Kim and Patrick Bentrott.  Kim just finished medical school -- all those years of commitment to get through medical school.  Patrick just finished seminary, so he's a pastor.  So we have a medical doctor and a pastor.  Now they could have chosen to accept a call to a church here in the United States and found a hospital to earn a big salary, but they heard the call of God to leave their country, to leave their families, and to go and walk with our partner CONASPEH in Haiti.  To serve in medical and educational ministries.  Kim is working in the nurses training institute, working and training and building the capacity of nurses.  She's also got several mobile clinics in the churches (the medical work is done through the churches, so each church has a little clinic) so she rotates and provides care and building capacity for those that are receiving sick folks in those churches.

And Patrick is working with the pastors and training with the seminary.  I had the privilege of being there this past February and saw Kim working with 25 nurses that graduated.  They walked across the stage and she was able to place their little nurses bonnet on them and give them a health kit so they could go back into their communities and serve.  Patrick was there and he did his first presentation in front of an audience of about 4,000 (a big assembly), and he worked with 75 pastors that graduated from the seminary and received their diplomas that day. 

So I was there to witness that moment of resurrection where you see folks received a diploma and then receiving the call and the commitment to go out and serve in their particular communities as nurses and as pastors.

So that's vital, resurrection-type work that we're participating in.

Finally, we learn in this passage from the gospel of John that Jesus has other sheep that are outside that flock that he's talking about here.  Specifically, in this passage often times we think of those other sheep as those Gentile Christians, the non-Jews.  Jesus was concerned with the whole world, not just the Jewish-Christian population that was the focus of this gospel passage.

And so he was interested in bringing both Gentiles and Jews together in one flock, under one shepherd.  That call to unity is very clear in this passage, as the early Christians read this passage and heard this comment about one shepherd and one flock, they would understand that.

As Global Ministries, we're committed to ecumenical unity as well.  It's very important.  As we think about who we are, Disciples and UCC together in God's mission, that is a call to unity that is often a challenge to live out.  And then, as we think about partners that we walk with, we walk with denominational partners in Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, and Congo (where we have Disciples partners).  But the majority of our partners are from other denominations, councils of churches, ecumenical bodies.  And so we're committed to that ecumenical journey of seeing one flock and one shepherd.  It's important.

As I think this morning about that call to unity and how we try to live that out in Global Ministries, my mind is taken to the Holy Land, the Middle East.  And I think of Samuel and Nawendi Began, who were just appointed last year to serve in Bethlehem.  They're serving there in the heart of the Holy Land.  They're at the Christmas Lutheran Church, and they're working there, both pastors, working with the Senior Pastor in a leadership development institution and a peace and conflict transformation program there, in the heart of the Middle East.  They're walking with Palestinian Christians who are increasingly a minority in that community, as well as the Muslim and Jewish population, trying to live out commitments to dialogue with one another and to build interfaith relationships in the heart of the holy land.

Now if that's not one flock, one shepherd, I don't know what is.  That's a commitment to being there, right in the heard of God's place, God's people in Bethlehem.  And so they are living a global ministry there as well.

So as we think about those 3 examples -- and I could go on and talk all day and share other examples -- we see how missionaries and our partners are living out in a very practical way this love that was talked about in the passage.  When we talk about love not only in word, speaking, but in action and in truth. 

We see that love being lived out on a daily basis as folks follow the good shepherd in their particular context.

I'm so excited to be a part of that ministry, and we're thankful for your contribution.  You are connected to that.  It's not an ivory tower in Indianapolis that does all that stuff.  You are a vital part of that mission and ministry and I want you to feel connected to it and part of it, and to learn more about it.

I'm thankful for this opportunity this morning, thankful for your commitment to be on that journey with Disciples' congregations all across this United States.  A journey of being a global mission church together.

Thank you so much.  Amen!


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