Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Our Connectional Church

Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Our Connectional Church
Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 28, 2006

Each of the dozen new members who are joining today, the dandy dozen, are joining the church today because one of you invited them to attend worship at Bateville Presbyterian Church. Of course there were reasons they came back again. Someone spoke to them after the service and made them feel welcome here. They had already become active in the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship. They have connections in this congregation with family and friends. What we can almost certainly say is that none of them joined the church because of our publicity. They did not read about us in the newspaper. They did not see our church on a billboard. They did not see us on TV or hear about us on the radio. They are joining our church because they have experienced the connectional nature of our church.

We are a connectional church in the way we are connected to the Bible. As Presbyterians, we trace our heritage all the way back to Adam and Eve by virtue of our connection to the Bible which is God's word to us. In the stories of the Bible we find our own story. We recognize ourselves in the faith that Abraham and Sarah demonstrated when they left everything they knew to go to a new land God had promised them. Centuries later our spiritual ancestors would leave all they knew in Scotland to travel to a New World called America and establish there the Presbyterian Church.

Some of our new members have made a similar pilgrimage except their pilgrimage took them from their home in Batesville to another place and now they are returning home again. They grew up in this church and moved away for many years and now are returning to membership here. Others came to the youth group because a friend invited them and they had a good experience there and have been coming here ever since. Some of the new members have a member of the family or close friend who is already an active member here. Each of the new members, like each of us all, come here bearing their past history and looking forward to the future in service together with this congregation. Several of them join by transfer of letter from another congregation. Some of them, like some of us, come from different Christian denominations. They are already members of the Body of Christ and now they are joining this particular congregation. Others are joining by profession of faith and baptism so they are just now officially coming into the body of Christ.

Regardless of our past affiliations, baptism marks our entrance in the church universal. Throughout Christian history baptism has enjoyed a variety of meanings. One of the meanings of baptism that traces back to the second century is the understanding of baptism as enlightenment. Notice the symbolism during baptism. The pastsor and the baptismal candidate gather around the font. The pastor's hand moves down into the water in the font and then up to pour the water on the head of the person being baptized. Notice the down and up vertical motion of the baptismal ritual. It reminds us of the vertical nature of baptism which connects us humans with the same Christ who created the universe, achieved our salvation and is seated at the right hand of God up in the heavenly places.

After the vertical movement of the water coming up from the font and down on the head we see the horizontal movement of the newly baptized moving out in the congregation. If a child is being baptized the pastor carries the child out into the congregation saying, "See here the love of God that we should be called children which indeed we are." If the baptized person is an older child or adult then we may invite the congregation to come forward and welcome him or her into the church after the worship service. Whether it is a baby walked down the aisle into the congregation or the congregation coming forward after the service the movement is a horizontal movement.

Notice the cruciform movement in the baptismal liturgy from vertical to horizontal. The movement of baptism is shaped like a cross. The cruciform movement of baptism brings to mind Paul's commendation of the church in Ephesus. Paul praised the church in Ephesus for their vertical movement of faith in Jesus Christ and for their horizontal movement of love toward all the saints. We Christians live at the intersection of the vertical plane of faith in Christ and the horizontal plane of love toward the church.

The enlightenment that comes with baptism washes our spiritual eyes so we perceive the world in a different way. After our baptism we the church is no longer peripheral to the world but the world is peripheral to the church. After the water of baptism washes us clean we see the world with new eyes and we see our selves with new eyes as well. We see our place in the world within the fellowship of the church. This is not something you will find advertised on a television commercial or as a pop-up advertisement on a web page. Big business does not make any money off this deal. Baptism is a counter cultural event. It is claiming an alternative identity within the community of faith.

And our baptism is not merely into a particular congregation but into the body of Christ in the church universal. As Christians we are part of the church universal—the church of all times and places. We are part of the church in Palestine in the year 25 A.D. We are part of the church in India in the year 1200 A.D. We are part of the church in Iraq in 2006. This abstract concept of the body of Christ was brought home to me through a story someone told me in my study here at the church several years ago.

You may recall when Moderator Ken Hall preached here on January 27, 2002. In his role as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Ken Hall had traveled the world. He came Batesville to preach after having served as the keynote speaker at our presbytery's Tapestry event. Before the service when we were putting on our robes in my study, Ken shared with me a fascinating story about being in a Christian church in Baghdad, Iraq one Sunday. As he looked around the sanctuary there he was startled to see hanging on the wall a Presbyterian Cross. Presbyterian missionaries had played a role in the establishment of that congregation many years ago and today a Presbyterian Cross hangs on the wall in that Christian church in Baghdad. That is a powerful image of the connectional nature of our church. Presbyterians have a rich history of missionary work and our mission work has born fruit even in Baghdad, Iraq.

By virtue of our baptism we belong to a connectional church. We are connected to Batesville Prebyterian Church by friends and family. We are connected to the Presbyterian Church (USA) through the Presbytery of Saint Andrew. We are connected through the Prsbyterian Church (USA) to the church universal. These connections lead to one source, Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church universal and the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Batesville Presbyterian Church. Thanks be to God for our connectional church. May it nurture our faith in Christ, enhance our love for one another, and energize our service of Christ in the world.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Bigger Table and a Deeper Font

Acts 10:44-48

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

A Bigger Table and a Deeper Font
Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon on May 21, 2006 at Batesville Presbyterian Church.

Batesville Presbyterian Church is a combination of congregations from three different denominations: The Southern Presbyterian Church, the Northern Presbyterian and the Cumberland Presbyterian Churches of Batesville. These three congregations combined over a course of 75 years or so and together formed what we know today as the Batesville Presbyterian Church. That is why I say this is an inclusive congregation. We have always been about opening our doors and allowing others to join us in Christ's mission. We opened our doors to some friends from the Long Creek Presbyterian Church and from the Courtland Presbyterian Church. They were welcome here. We've opened our hearts to former Baptists and Methodists and Catholics and persons who joined here by profession of faith who had never before belonged to a church. So I put us on the side of the Apostle Paul and Peter and the Holy Spirit. Batesvile Presbyterian Church has a history of being an inclusive congregation.

And we will continue to be an inclusive church. Next Sunday we will welcome a dozen new members into our congregation. They will join us in worship and in mission. They will eat with us at the church picnics and they will feed the hungry with us through the Food Pantry. Jesus was very much into feasts. The feasts that Jesus celebrated served as living parables of the diverse community of faith that formed around him. The feasts Jesus celebrated included sinners and tax collectors, fishermen and women, a diverse group of people. They showed that Jesus was calling out a new Israel, a new church, a new group of people. These feasts culminated in Jesus last Supper with his disciples when he said, "This is my body, broken for you ... This is my blood, shed for you ... Do this in remembrance of me." As Presbyterians, we put no fence around the Lord's Table except one. You must be a baptized believer to partake in the Lord's Supper. We get this emphasis on baptism from the Bible. We see it even in our text this morning, a scripture that tells how the Holy Spirit resolved an ongoing argument in the early church.

There was an argument in the early church about the requirements for membership and the argument continues to this day both in church and in society. The question of citizenship is in the national news these days as politicians in Washington ponder the fate of millions of illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. Last Wednesday, the Senate followed the House's lead and voted 83-16 to build 370 miles of fence in areas "most often used by smugglers and illegal aliens" as determined by federal officials. America is struggling with the issue of the requirements of citizenship.

The early church also had a conflict over the requirements for membership in the church. Some leaders of the church such as Peter thought the church should fence off the Lord's table. Only those Christians who had been circumcised should be allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper. On the other side stood the Apostle Paul who argued against fencing off the table from the uncircumcised. Finally, the Holy Spirit was the deciding factor in the question of the requirements for membership in Christ's church as described in Acts chapter 10.

Peter and six Jewish Christians, "the circumcised believers" as Luke calls them (Acts 10:45), had come with Peter to Caesarea. Peter was preaching to the uncircumcised Gentiles. During his sermon the Holy Spirit moved upon the Gentile audience. Peter heard the Gentiles begin praising God. He became convinced these Gentiles had been touched by the Holy Spirit in a real and meaningful way. Now this was not supposed to happen. In Peter's way of thinking, the Holy Spirit was not supposed to move in the lives of uncircumcised Gentiles. Of course, Peter had been wrong before and perhaps he recalled the time when Jesus spoke to the disciples about his impending suffering and death in Jerusalem and Peter had said to Jesus: "This must not happen." And Jesus responded: "Peter, get out of my way. You have no idea how God works." (Matt 16:21-23)

Peter was not going to cross the Holy Spirit like he had crossed Jesus. Since they had already been baptized by the Holy Spirit Philip laid aside the requirement of circumcision for membership and baptized the uncircumcised Gentiles with water. The Holy Spirit got Peter's attention that day and the Holy Spirit wants to get our attention as well. The Holy Spirit gave Peter a new revelation that day and the Holy Spirit wants to give us a revelation as well. The Holy Spirit broadened Peter's vision of the church that day and the Holy Spirit wants to expand our vision of the church today.

I remember one time when the Holy Spirit expanded my vision of the church. I was standing in line with some other American seminary students. We were waiting to gain entrance into the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As we waited our turn to enter I noticed a contingency of African men dressed in what appeared to be traditional African garb with brightly colored scarves and hats. I wondered what they were doing here outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As it turns out, I learned they own the place. That's right. The Ethiopian Church is part owner and operator of the Church of Holy Sepulchre. We are talking about perhaps the most sacred church building in all of Christendom. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, said to be built upon the very rocky hill called Golgotha, the place of the skull, the place where Jesus was crucified. It also is said to contain the place where Jesus was reportedly buried (the sepulchre). The church has been an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century. And this church is co-owned and operated by several Christian denominations some of which I had never even heard of. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is jointly owned and operated by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman Catholic Church, Coptic Orthodox Church , Syriac Orthodox Church, and yes, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. So the Africans were there because this is their church. They were not mere tourists like the other American seminarians and me. I found this to be a humbling revelation. They work there. They live there. They own the place. The other American seminarians and I — we were the outsiders at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We were the chief Gentiles among all the Gentile Christians gathered there.

My revelation when I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is that there are Christians of whom I knew not who have big responsibilities in important places in the Kingdom of God. This religion called "Christianity" is more inclusive than I had ever imagined. I belong to it but I don't own it and I don't even know the half of it. I serve here at the bidding of the Holy Spirit. And if the Holy Spirit says someone belongs here too, even if it be someone of whom I may not approve, I'm going to do like Peter. I'm going to call for the water. I'm going to baptize them in the name of Jesus Christ. And then we're all going to sit down and eat. And I hope you will join us at the table. Let's think of a name to call this party we'll have. Let's make it a theme party. We don't have be original, let's call it what the Bible calls it: The Messianic Banquet. And we'll invite everyone we know. And lots of people we've never met will be there. People from different cultures. Even Koreans, Iranians Mexicans and illegal immigrants. People of different colors who speak languages other than English. Jesus himself will host the party and he will sit at the head of the table and serve the bread and the wine. Everyone is welcome at this party — even people like you and even people like me. We will need a bigger table for the Messianic Feast. A bigger table to seat the great multitude of people from every tribe and nation. A bigger table to feed them with the bread and the wine of the Lord's Supper.

This vision of a big feast in the kingdom of heaven is as old as the Bible so it is not a new concept to us. Some of us sang the song in Vacation Bible School when we were children. "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." Jesus loves the little children. Even the Gentile children such as us. Even the uncircumcised children. Jesus was a carpenter but we never hear about him building one single fence. Jesus was a carpenter and he seemed more interested in building bigger tables and deeper fonts. Bigger tables to feed more people and bigger fonts to baptize more people.

Batesville Presbyterian Church will continue to be an inclusive congregation. We will continue to grow and baptize believers. We will continue to eat the bread and drink the wine. We will continue to worship God and proclaim the gospel. We will continue to reach out in mission to this community and to the world. And if we grow so much that we need a bigger table and a deeper font, well, we may just have to remodel the place. Some folks already think we could use a good carpenter around here. A carpenter who knows how to tear down walls to make room for more people. A carpenter who knows how to build a bigger table and a deeper font. A carpenter like the one from Nazareth.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Seeker, Spirit, Speaker

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Acts 8:26-40
on May 14, 2006 at Batesville Presbyterian Church.

We don't often hear from angels who speak to us. In fact, if a Presbyterian ministerial candidate told her Committee on Preparation for Ministry that an angel had spoken to her and directed her to speak to someone else it is possible that she would be referred to a psychiatrist for testing and counseling. Yet our Bible story today begins with the Spirit sending an angel of the Lord to speak to Philip.

Angels are messengers in the Bible and Philip is a messenger in our Bible story today. So the word goes from our angel messenger to a human messenger. And the message from the angel to the human messenger is that Philip is to speak to a spiritual seeker who is unnamed but clearly identified as an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Queen of Ethiopians. This eunuch is in charge of the Queen's entire treasury. An important man. So we have so far the seeker who is the eunuch and the speaker who is Philip. Let's start with the eunuch.

The eunuch is described as an Ethiopian, whom we may assume to be an African. Since he was a eunuch he could not be a Jew or a proselyte to Judaism. The eunuch is a court official of Candace which is the title given to the queen of Meroe, a Nubian realm along the upper Nile. So the eunuch position is one of considerable power.

The eunuch has been to Jerusalem to worship God in the Jewish temple and he is now traveling home by chariot and he is reading as he rides in the chariot. Reading was what people then did during travel since neither the miniature DVD player nor the Game Boy Advance system had yet been invented. The eunuch was open to the Holy Spirit and was ready to receive guidance. He had a questioning spirit.

A questioning spirit is often a sign of spiritual activity. We need to remember that as we anticipate the upcoming release of The DaVinci Code film this week. The film, like the book of the same name, suggests Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had children and some of Jesus' descendants are alive today, sequestered away in Southern France. The movie is a fiction but it raises serious questions about the historical Jesus. As Christians we are to be ready to hear such questions and rather than be offended by them we may interpret them as possible signs of a questioning spirit which is a signal the Holy Spirit may be active in the questioner. The spirit was certainly active in the eunuch's heart and mind and the eunuch had  a questioning spirit.

And the Spirit was active in Philips life as well. The Spirit speaks to Philip through an angel and tells Philip to head South from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a wilderness road. The Spirit often sends messengers first to the wilderness to test and purify them. For example, the Spirit sent Jesus to the wilderness immediately after his baptism. To the wilderness to be tested by the devil. The Spirit calls us to be messengers like Jesus and like Philip. And like them, the Spirit sometimes sends us out into a spiritual wilderness to be tested and purified. Sometimes the Spirit uses a person who is bullying us around at school or work or a person who acts as a thorn in our flesh. The Spirit uses such persons to grow in us the fruit of the Spirit: Patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit works in mysterious ways in our lives and in the life of the eunuch in our Bible story today. The Spirit often uses other people, even strangers, to teach us spiritual truths about Jesus. Notice how the Spirit speaks to the eunuch through a stranger named Philip. The Spirit finds a way to communicate with spiritual seekers such as the eunuch.

And thank goodness for the speakers that listen to the Spirit and speak to the seekers. Speakers such as Philip. The Spirit told Philip, "Climb into the eunuch's chariot." What a strange suggestion the Spirit gives Philip. The Spirit's suggestions often sound strange but if we obey the Spirit then miracles may happen before our very eyes. The Spirit told Philip, "Climb into the eunuch's chariot. "Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, "Do you understand what you're reading?"

He answered, "How can I without some help?" and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:

As a sheep led to slaughter,
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
since he's been taken from the earth?

It sounds like a riddle from The DaVinci Code. The eunuch questioned the Bible not because he lacked faith but because he sincerely wanted to know. The eunuch needed the Spirit's help in understanding the Bible and so do we. The Spirit speaks to us through the Bible. The Spirit spoke to the eunuch through the Bible. And the Spirit used Philip to interpret the Bible to the eunuch.

The eunuch said, "Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?" Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, "Here's water. Why can't I be baptized?" He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn't mind. He had what he'd come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be. (Translation from The Message) The Spirit connected with the eunuch, a seeker, by means of Philip, a speaker.

Seekers are all around us. The teenager who has questions about science is a seeker. The college student who has questions about God is a seeker. The mother who questions why her child has died is a seeker. Seekers are all around us. They surround us. We must learn to listen to the Spirit. Listen like Philip did. Develop our spiritual ears. For the Spirit will not speak to us with audible words or sounds. Not usually anyway. Sometimes the Spirit may speak to us through a song, a hymn, a familiar voice, or a character speaking in a film. But often the Spirit speaks silently. We feel an urge to speak to someone we haven't talked to in years and that urge may be the Spirit. By the Spirit I mean the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus Christ. The Spirit that came into the gathered disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Our spiritual guide. Our comforter. Our teacher. The third person of the Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So we end where we began, with the Spirit. The Spirit that urges us to speak in Jesus' name to certain people at certain times. The Spirit works to draw people to Christ. The Spirit asks us to cooperate in this process. We cannot save anyone and we are not responsible for the salvation of anyone. But we are called by Christ to cooperate with the Spirit as Philip did. To speak when the Spirit urges.

Friends, we live in a broken world. People are hurting out there. People have questions about Jesus. People have questions because the Spirit is working in their lives. Let us not be afraid to speak for Jesus. We may not be Biblical scholars. We may not be eloquent speakers. We may not even know what to say. But if we open our mouths in faith the Spirit will speak through us.

So let's be like Philip. Let's employ our tongues in the service of Christ. To speak to someone when the Spirit urges us. The results may be immediate and astounding as with Philip. More likely, we may never witness the results.  Doesn't matter.  We'll leave the results to the Spirit. All that really matters is that we met a seeker.  We heard an questioning spirit.  We tried to speak a healing word.  Thanks be to the Spirit who gives us words. Thanks be to God.


Monday, May 08, 2006

The Secret of the Shepherd

Psalm 23
(King James Version)

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.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The Secret of the Shepherd
A sermon for Easter 4B
Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at Batesville Presbyterian Church on May 7, 2006

My granddaddy kept cows on his land in Harrisville, Mississippi. To get to the cow pasture you walked through the small back yard and then through a narrow gate into the expansive pastures ringed with large pin oak trees. Beyond the trees was a creek with a brown mud bed. I walked into the cow pastures with Granddaddy and followed him as he made his rounds. He knew each cow by name. "Good evening, Sandy. Hope you had a pleasant day," He'd say. "Hey now, Brownie, did you behave today? There's little Stump," he said to me as he pointed to a little calf. "Just born three days ago. Hasn't missed a meal since then." I was listening to my granddaddy and looking at his cows. And in the back of my mind I was repeating a psalm I had recently memorized. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want ..."

As a child I memorized Psalm 23 ... "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." And I came to know Jesus as the good shepherd of the sheep. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. So we sang at church school and Vacation Bible School. I understood myself and the other children as persons who were loved by Jesus. Jesus took care of us. Jesus protected us from harm. Jesus fed us with spiritual food and drink. But I didn't understand then that the other children and I, the spiritual sheep, were also an investment. We, God's children, all of us, are, in a sense, God's investment. God made the payment for our salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is indeed our good shepherd. What I did not comprehend as a child is that I was an investment. Christ had made an investment in me.

Think of Jesus initial investment in his twelve disciples. Contrary to the message of the recently uncovered Gospel of Judas, I think Judas was a washout. Judas was in a sense a bad investment. But all in all Jesus did very well in terms of return on investment in his disciples. For those first dozen disciples have multiplied into an estimated 2.1 billion adherents alive on planet earth today, making Christianity the world's largest religion. []

And the estimated 2.1 billion Christians alive today do not include a multitude of Christians who have lived in other times and other places in our world over the past 2000 years. According to my calculations, if we estimate there have been 3 billion Christians since Jesus ascended into heaven 2000 years ago, and we divide those 3 billion Christians by the original 12 disciples whom Jesus shepherded while on this earth, then Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has realized a return of over 250 million percent return on investment. These are amazing returns.

But the real power of Christianity is not in the macro-economics but in the micro-economics. The real power of Christianity is the way the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of each Christian. Changing us for the good. Making us more compassionate. Making us less self-centered. Making us more focused on the common good. We hear a great deal from some quarters about the harmful effects the Christian religion has had over the history of humanity but I must politely disagree. Christianity has a positive force for humanity for the past 2000 years. Yes, we have sinned. The Crusades were inexcusable. The Conquistadors and their missionaries brought deadly pestilence to the native peoples. But the overall effect of the Christian faith has been overwhelmingly positive throughout human history.

Speaking of God's economy, we are God's investment, dear people. God has adopted into God's own family. Someone once asked me why Psalm 23 is so often said at funerals. It is true that the 23rd Psalm is a common reading at funerals. Perhaps we turn to the 23rd Psalm because it familiar to us from our childhood. Or we may use it because of the way it own up to the reality of death. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me." But overarching image of Psalm 23 is the image of a wandering journey with the Lord through the green pasture of life on this good earth. We are Christ's sheep and Christ walks through life with us, managing us like a stock broker manages his client's investment. Keeping a close eye out to make sure we are growing and increasing in all good things.

Jesus Christ, our Great Shepherd, challenged us to follow his example and we are doing that. For in a sense, our graduating seniors, whom we are sending off today, are our sheep, our investment. Seniors, you have been fed by your parents, clothed with love by your congregation, nurtured by your teachers, prodded by your coaches. Not just because we love you ... but also because you are an investment.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, made an initial investment in his twelve disciples. He taught them about God, showed them how to live, loved them with all his heart, invested himself in them. Then he let them go. And they did remarkably well. Today there are over 2.1 billion Christians. Each of them is a return on Jesus' initial investment in his twelve disciples. Perhaps we should examine the balance sheet of our lives. Find out how we are adding to God's bottom line. Discover ways we may be having a negative impact on God's profitability.

We are God's investment. God made the payment for our salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. Let us live as sheep live. Secure in the love of our Good Shepherd. Safe. Warm. Fed. Loved. And let us not consider it a crime when the time comes for us to be sheared. For us to contribute. For us to give something back to the Good Shepherd for the excellent care he provides.

Stewardship is something we do in the Fall with our money and in the Spring with our time and talents survey. Stewardship is something we do every year, every month, every week, every day, every minute, every second. Every single choice we make has implications for our stewardship. Let us learn the secret of the shepherd which is the secret of letting go. Letting go of pride. Letting go of control. Letting go of money. Stewardship is the secret of the shepherd. We know it. We live it. We give it.

Thanks be to God.