Today we have another sermon in our Realistic Christianity series. If you remember so far I have begun to map out what it is to be a Realistic Christian and my suggestion that this could be a helpful way forward for many. Sermons so far:
1. We are now in the post-modern age, so we need new approaches while still holding on to the tradition. Only thing we believe as objective is Jesus Christ.
2. What do we mean by the ‘Word of God’? It is a living dynamic person.
3. In this age one major contribution the church can make is to teach society how to enjoy being ‘bored’. To learn how to be truly present for ourselves and each other.
Firstly I want to remind people that even though I am arguing for a form of Christianity which I call Realistic doesn’t mean it is for you. If it helps or challenges fine, if it doesn’t well wait to another weeks sermon. There isn’t one form or brand of Christianity which all must follow. Many of us in our lives have spent time at other churches and they might have believed and practised their faith differently. In east reading we have a handful of churches all promoting Christian faith in different ways. The beauty of this church is that we don’t require everyone who worships here to follow the same path. We are all at different stages of life and spiritual journey.
So, the next step in how to be a realistic Christian. The working title is : Always remember we are not pigs, kosher or otherwise! As its springtime I thought a farm visit would be nice. For those who would like a bit of philosophy, today we are examing autonomy vs non-anontomy. In other words God is holy and very much the creator of everything but he also chooses to allow us to get on with it. But is there a conflict with us being his creation and having our own freedom. Freedom in this age seems to be what everyone believes is their right but seems still to remain illusive.
For those of you who don’t know in a previous century I had some experience of farming and although i like George Orwell’s Animal farm I have a different view of the animals. Jesus living in a time which was dominated by agricultural work constantly makes reference to farming and sheep in particular like our text this morning and because most of us don’t have a working knowledge of farm animals we miss a lot of what is trying to be explained. Even today’s farmers who farm sheep in particular in a very different way to 1st century middle eastern farmers.
Jesus in todays text says ‘My sheep know me’, in another Jesus says ‘I am the gate through which the sheep enter.
Our picture of sheep: they are dumb and are easily led. I have a different experience, if you can imagine the Great escape? Cows they are like the British army officers still pretending being a prisoner hasn’t changed anything they are still in charge: ‘Carry on boys’. The pig to me is the Steve Mcqueen always looking for an angle but constantly being returned to the cooler. Whereas the sheep are the Richard Attenbourghs, the resistance movement, working as a team. Moving around at a distance, as a group quietly plotting and putting in the reconnaissance work. Then they go, there’s the gap boys, under the fence, quickly now off you go and vanish into those trees.
Our picture of sheep now is very different from Jesus day. We see them scattered across all hilltop needing a dog to round them, walking in front of the shepherd. Whereas in the new testament time they would stay in a fold, pen next to the owners house or under it in a village. Each morning he would lead him out and find them new pasture, feed and at the end of the night lead them back to hsi house and safety, and open the gate for them to enter. It si also true today that at certain times of year sheep will follow and there is no need for a dog. When food is scarce and they know that you will feed them and shelter them. Try it stand in a field half way up a mountain in winter a rattle an empty feed sack. Then run!!
There is a book by Joel Salatin ‘the piginess of pigs’, that we have to remember that pigs have to be pigs to be healthy. (illustrate) A point Wendell Berry made 50 years earlier. The point I would like to make for realistic Christianity is that yes Jesus used sheep within metaphors and analogies but we are not sheep let alone pigs. We are humans and have the responsibility to act as such. Very often Christian can make the mistake of believing that being Christian allows them not to be totally responsible for their actions. How often does one hear ‘God has told me to do this or that’ not sure he did, you may believe that God would like to live in a certain way but don’t blame him for your actions. A realistic Christian recognises that God has allowed us freedom to be human and make decisions and take responsibilities.
Actually very often that phrase is more about our ego that we are not confident to say what we would like to say in our own right; eg. ‘I believe God is telling me to tell you’. No he isn’t, take responsibility, say what you want to say. Illustrate (I believe God wants me to report you’. Karl Barth and Hitler)
Remember in the past I have mentioned that I belief that the church with communion at its centre acts like an anvil for our ego. Church is where we work to improve our ego. Hopefully if you have been having a tough time, this is the place to be encouraged and supported, to have your ‘ego’ lifted up. And conversely if you have life which is running well and are very successful professionally, then come along too. This is the place for you to definitely not be successful and allow you ‘ego’ to be
In conclusion I am not saying we are sheep or pigs, I am saying that we literally have a God given right to be human, a demand in fact as human, individually and corporately. Now you might say but what is it to act and be human. Well that will have to wait to another time.