During the children’s sermon this past Sunday, I asked those gathered whether they thought of themselves as sheep.
It was the Sunday traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and the children live in a rural community — and some, not surprisingly, live on farms where sheep are raised.
I asked this question at all three congregations where I serve as an interim pastor. At all three services, when asked, the children snickered.
To the question, they exclaimed “No!”
Among them was a little boy who lives across the street from one of the congregations. His response was perhaps the most clear: “I’m not a sheep!”
Again, after the service, I asked him, “Are you a sheep?” And again, he said with great force, “I’m not a sheep!”
A few days later, I was walking to my car, and I saw Nathan playing with a friend. So I called out to him again, “Are you a sheep?”
He again replied, again with great emphasis, “I’m not a sheep!”
Yes, we are sheep
My reason for asking this question of him and the other kids was this: I wanted to illustrate to them that Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd, and so we are, indeed, sheep.
The point the kids were making — that Nathan was making — was that being a sheep isn’t all that cool. After all, we don’t walk on four legs. We don’t have wool. We don’t live in a barn. They simply couldn’t see how in the world we could be said to be sheep. It made no sense whatsoever to them.
Yet, at another level, the question about being sheep sheds light clearly on who we are.
When the people of God gather, we confess, using the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in “the communion of saints.”
In explaining the communion of saints, Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism, “ there is on earth a holy little flock and community of pure saints under one head, Christ.”
Luther is not being redundant by putting “holy little flock” and “community of pure saints” alongside one another.
When Christ, who died and is raised from death for us, comes on the scene, we are found to be both: sheep and saints.
We are died in the wool sinners who are forgiven, washed as clean as the newly driven snow. Hopeless to the core, we are those into whose hearts the Holy Spirit pours hope. (See Romans 5) Dying, we are raised to new life.
All of this is comes into view on account of Jesus Christ.
Yet, with those kids, we may not take very kindly to being called sheep. Sinners. Hopeless. Dead. In a society that has swallowed optimism whole, our vision has been blurred and our voices silenced in naming and claiming who we are.
We need to confess
Sometimes it’s not just society where such things are found. Sometimes this is also present within the catholic church as well. When we as Christians do not take the opportunity to regularly confess our sin and hear God’s forgiveness, we effectively mute our voices from crying out to God in our hopelessness. We are blinded and deafened to seeing and hearing how we have missed the mark, strayed from the path, and cut ourselves off from both God and one another.
I suppose, on one level, it’s understandable why we would want to silence talk of our own sinfulness. I mean: Who wants to actually admit that, “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3)? It doesn’t seem very welcoming and hospitable to do so, nor does it sound like a community where God’s work is done. It sounds very much like the very opposite of these things.
Yet, our hope is not found in who we are, what we do, how we engage the world. Projecting to the world that we are people of mission, of hospitality, of welcome to those who are elsewhere unwelcomed is good. But it is not our source of hope, and neither is it the source for healing nor hope for the world.
Our hope is found, instead, in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. For in this One, and this One only, are we forgiven, hopeful and raised to new life. For this One, John’s Gospel tells us, “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10).
Because we are not the source of our own hope, we freely and fully confess, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who we are: We are the lost coin. We are the lost sheep. We are sinners.
We confess this because the Holy Spirit does what Jesus promises us: the Holy Spirit walks alongside of us, pouring Christ himself through our ears, into our lives and out to the world where and when we need Christ the most: when we are lost, forsaken, abused, alone and full of sin.
Sinful and forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ by the power of whose Spirit Christ comes to and for us day in and day out, we are, indeed, sheep who have been washed clean, made new inside and out.
The communion of saints, sheep who are fully sheared of their sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, bears witness to two realities: our sinfulness and our hope.
Yesterday, I saw the boy who told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t a sheep. I asked him one more time, “Are you a sheep?” He replied, again emphatically, “No!” He still couldn’t see it.
After being prompted by his mom, this little boy asked me, “Pastor, are you a sheep?”
“Yes I am,” I replied.
And so are we all!