Text: John 10: 14-16
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I 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.
Quite a number of years ago I was finishing up my under-graduate work at Northern Michigan University and while I was in school there I also worked for Dominos Pizza to help pay the bills. Most of the time at Dominos I did deliveries, but every so often I had to jump on the line and help make pizzas as well. When we made pizza there was a cool contraption that put the cheese on the pizza for us. The main part of this contraption was this upside down colander looking thing. Once assembled, there was a cheese hopper on top that you would fill up and then push a button and the cheese would fall down through the colander thing and spread out over the pizza. At first, this doesn’t seem like much until you fully understand what is going on-there are two very important things this contraption accomplished for the Dominos where I worked. First it monitored portion control and second it made things faster.
To fill the hopper with cheese you always used the same cup, it didn’t matter if it was a small, medium, large, or extra-large pizza-always the same cup. That saved time. The way the cheese spread out because of the colander thing, only the right amount of cheese would land on a small pizza for example, even though you dropped enough for an extra – large. The cheese that missed the pizza was collected in a bin and used again so there wasn’t any waste.
The manager of the Dominos told me that this device saved him enough in cheese costs the first month to pay for itself and he knows it has increased the speed and efficiency of how fast they can make pizzas when they get really busy.
Now that is management. His name was Jeff and he was a good manager of that Dominos. He also owned it, so that made a difference as well.
When I read this text again a few days ago, it struck me that we don’t have shepherds anymore here in the United States, we have managers. There are managers that know how to save a little bit of cheese on each pizza and make their store more profitable; managers that monitor labor costs and constantly watch the bottom line. There are risk analysis managers and foreign asset managers and all kinds of managers that constantly watch and monitor to make certain spending and expenses stay within certain guidelines. They are managers, but they are not shepherds.
In this text, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd and a good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep. A good risk analysis manager wouldn’t allow that to happen. You see one or two sheep are acceptable losses, Jesus is too important to lose over just a couple of sheep. The good risk analysis manager would never suggest to Jesus that he leave the 99 sheep to go look for the one that is lost. The one lost sheep can be considered collateral damage or acceptable loss, but you don’t put the other 99 at risk for the one. You don’t if you are a good manager…but a good shepherd looks at things differently. At least that is what the text says.
I understand that a business must make a profit to stay in business and good management is the way it stays in business. But it seems to me that a good shepherd has a commitment that goes well beyond that of a manager. For the good shepherd that one lost sheep is the most important thing, for the good shepherd there isn’t any such thing as acceptable losses or collateral damage. Every single sheep is important and every single sheep is worth laying down So that raises an interesting question for the church. I believe the church is called to be a good shepherd to the lost sheep; we are called to reach out to those who have no flock; we are called to reach out to those who wander and are not connected to community. We are called to be good shepherds to those sheep.
While we are called to be good shepherds, we also have to stay in business and be able to pay the bills. We have to be good managers while we are being good shepherds and that can be a tricky business.
While you are thinking about that particular dilemma let me call your attention to the second half of this text. This is the part where Jesus says that he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold and he must bring them in also. In a historical context, most Bible scholars would interpret this scripture as a reference to the ministry of Jesus expanding from just the Jews to include the Gentiles as well. But part of good Bible scholarship is not only knowing the historical, but finding ways to bring the Gospel forward into the 21st century and find meaning in today’s society and today’s culture.
One of the ways I look at this scripture is that those sheep that do not belong to this fold are those persons we have been talking about so much over the last few months. Sometimes I call them the unaffiliated or you may have heard me describe them as those who say they are spiritual but not religious. They are the demographic that the Pew research has identified as the fastest growing group of people in the United States.
I think it is important for us to recognize that these are real people and they are in many ways lost sheep. These are good people, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, children and grandchildren. They have names and faces and families. It is not some abstract demographic or some statistic on a page of research. They are human beings and they are looking for a spiritual connection that will help them cope with everyday life. But they have not found that comfort in the traditional church; they have not found that comfort in a traditional approach to Christianity. They have been driven away from the church by messages of hostility, messages of judgment, messages of hypocrisy and narrow thinking and now they are lost. They are sheep that no longer belong to this fold, but Jesus says that he must bring them in as well.
As the church called to be a good shepherd I believe it is our responsibility to provide a space for these lost sheep. It is our responsibility to find them, to inform them and to offer them a place to connect, a place to ask questions, a place where we can challenge stereotypes and break free of creeds and dogma. These sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles are longing for a place of spiritual development, they are seeking a place that resonates with what they think and feel. They are looking for such a place, but not many exist. All across this country and even around the world, there are millions of people with names and faces and spiritual needs, who wander but would rather connect, but they don’t know how and they don’t know where.
If you think I am overstating the numbers, consider for a moment how the Pope has been received this week. I believe Pope Francis is saying things and demonstrating things that resonate with these lost sheep. He is open and inclusive, he is non-judgmental, he believes in honoring all faith traditions, he believes we are called to care for the environment, he believes the poor are people of worth-and his message resonates with many who have not been to church in decades.
We have the opportunity to be the place where these other sheep can find a home. We have the opportunity to minister to the needs of many people here in the valley that have not found comfort anywhere else. We are that church. We are the good shepherd. We can do this.
We can do it, but we also need to be good managers. That is the tricky part because almost anything we want to do costs something and right now we don’t have a lot of disposable income in the church budget. As a matter of fact, we don’t have any disposable income in the church budget.
But we have a plan. This plan is a compilation of ideas, research and brainstorming on the part of much of your leadership in this church. It is still in formation and nothing has been officially set, but it is beginning to take shape. It has taken enough shape for us to share a few ideas with you and to give you a glimpse of what we see for the future of this church.
The plan is really very simple. We will become a place of comfort and safety for those other sheep who currently wander. But we need to let them know we are here. Part of that has already started to happen if you have noticed our ads in the Tribune over the past few weeks. As people are encouraged to visit and they experience a different kind of church, some will stay and connect. As they come, we will grow and some of our financial instability will be relieved, but more importantly, we will be ministering to a greater number of people and meeting needs that are not currently being met.
How many of you remember the movie “Field of Dreams” that was popular a number of years ago? In that movie there was a line that kept getting repeated…do you remember? “If you build it, they will come” – remember that?
The same is true for us. But we need you. Each and every one of you knows someone who is currently unaffiliated. Maybe it is someone as close as a son or daughter; perhaps it is the person who mows your lawn or fixes your hair. One person told me they have been talking to a particular server who works in a restaurant they frequently go to. Maybe it is someone at the office or someone in another group that you belong to. But everybody here knows someone. This plan will not work without you; we can advertise and hold events and put up billboards and be on the radio, but nothing can take the place of a personal invitation and a personal recommendation.
The time is now and the person to do it is you. We are called to be good shepherds, every one of us; we become good shepherds by looking for and finding those lost sheep. The plan is a framework; but we need you to fill in the blanks. We need you to spread the Good News. We need you to be excited and enthusiastic about what your church is doing and why it stands apart from any other church in the Valley.
The plan needs you, the church needs you and the lost sheep need you. Will you answer the call?