We are God’s Name—Good Shepherd Sunday

Sermon was delivered at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Perkasie PA

Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

This Sunday our worship service at St. Andrew’s was created in a collaboration between all the churches in the neighboring region (the Upper Bucks Conference, of our Southeastern PA Synod of the ELCA). My very short reflection was plunked in the middle as an added bonus for folks from our congregation.

Pastor Krey and I again want to thank all the churches and leaders who had a hand in creating this wonderful offering, this beautiful service we have been worshipping along with. I especially want to thank Pastor Erica Wesch, the Dean of our Upper Bucks Conference of congregations, as well as Pastor Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath who lovingly stitched this video together. 

I just wanted to give you all, here at St. Andrew’s, a tiny personalized message this morning. Pastor Erica, and her conversation partner Royal, did a lovely job of bringing to life the images in our Scripture readings: God in Christ is indeed our shepherd, who loves and cares for us, who gives so completely of himself for us, his flock.

But there was a line in our Psalm this morning that caught my attention, “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” Or for you traditionalists, who prefer Psalm 23 in the Elizabethan language of the King James Version, “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

This verse is a wonderful summary of the love of God, shown to us in Christ. God leads us, like a shepherd leads a flock, out into good pasture. But why, ultimately, does God lead us?

This might seem like a ridiculous question, right?

God leads us, you would say, like Pastor Erica proclaimed, out into places that might be a little scary, but for our own good—to nurture us, to help us grow and thrive, to save us. But our Psalm, if you notice, in both translations, new and old,  says that God leads us on right paths, on paths of righteousness, not for our sake, but for God’s Name’s sake.

It’s not that God leads me on right paths so I feel awesome—so that I am the best sheep in the flock. But for God’s name’s sake. What is that? What is God’s name, and how do you do something for its sake?

Well, a name is what you are called by. Joshua. Pastor Sullivan. It is how you know me. More than words or sounds: my name is how I am known to the world. And the same is true of God. God’s name is how the world knows God. God showed out first that God’s “Name” is Jesus. Christ is how we believe God wanted to be known to the world. But the time of Christ being known as a bodily human being named “Jesus of Nazareth” is past.

Jesus has ascended, we say, which means: Christ has fully given himself to us. In our baptism, in the Eucharist meal, the Holy Spirit is breathed into the Church. The Church, now, is the Body of Christ, we believe. We now are God’s Name. Each and everyone one of you are syllables in God’s long, enchanted and enchanting Name. God leads us on right paths, paths of love and mercy… why? so that the world would know God.

And this is what leads us to the other reading shared with us this morning. This is what John is up to in his 1st letter when he writes: “We know love by this, that [Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

Why does God lead us on right paths? Paths which do lead to good pasture, paths that do lead to health, to transformation, to life? Why: So that others would know God, would know that this universe has an author, who is nothing if not unending love.

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

And yet, there has never been a more challenging time to be God’s Name. To whom do we show love? Do we really show love to people of color? Do we really show love to human beings who are law enforcement officers? Do we show love to the Republicans in our lives? To the Democrats? Do we show real love to the convicted, the “low-class,” all the undeserving ones?

Jesus received the command to lead from God, he tells us in John’s Gospel. And in John’s letter, our other lesson, we, too, have been commanded to lead. Not for ourselves, not for our self-help, but to help, in a sense, “pronounce” the name of God in the world. To make God’s name known, which is love in action; God’s name, which is truth revealed; God’s name, which is the Body of Christ; God’s name, to which each and every one of you belongs.

To lay down your life for others, as Jesus shows, is, in perhaps some extreme cases, to die. But more often than not, “laying down your life” is to lay down your prejudice, your ego, your own sense of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. God has not called us to be God’s little, pet judges. God has called us to make real God’s name of unconditional love.

So I invite you as the Springtime turns to Summer, because of your baptism into Christ’s body, I invite you to believe that your whole lives—all that you have done and will do for others—all of your love, is for the sake of God’s name.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.