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What We Emphasize - By Pastor Thomas Engel

In the college composition course that I teach, the first assignment is to write a personal narrative essay.

I explain to the students that the essay’s theme is about a time that has left a dominant impression on you with a life lesson.

If I can ask you to brainstorm ideas right now, what is a story from your life that you would choose for your personal narrative essay?

For instance, a time when you were afraid but kept moving to discover courage. Or a time when you were disappointed but found hope. Or a time when you felt down and out, but you were to determined still to persevere.

What is that something that has happened in your life that has left a dominant impression on you-something that happened that makes up for a large part of who you are today?

Writing thoughts and feelings down on paper helps us to release them, so we can keep moving forward.

I call it the “magic of words.” Words can lead to other words that can help change things like moving from fear to courage or disappointment to hope.

Often, its the hard times that stand out in our minds, so I make a point to tell the students that they can choose a time that was very positive.

It could be time like baking bread with grandma. Now, when every time the student smells fresh baked bread, the student thinks of that special intimate time of baking bread with grandma, and they want to continue that tradition of baking bread with their children.

Throughout our lives, we’ve had many times that have left a dominant impression on us. Times, from the tragic and sad to the favorable and happy times, make-up who we are, for we are always growing to be complete people in heart, mind, and spirit.

For now, can I ask you to think of a love story in your life? Before you start outlining a story like a Harlequin Romance Paperback Novel, I’m not talking about a gushy melodramatic time.

This love story is one that has the deepest love and care.

Out of all the stories in our lives, this story of love has left and is leaving the most dominant impression on you.

I hope you don’t mind if I prompt your writing here a little.

Every Fourth Sunday after Easter, we hear an analogy that tells us of the epitome of love.

Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who has deep care for his flock.

I grew up in Des Plaines, and I don’t recall seeing any shepherds and flocks as I rode by bike around the neighborhoods.

And driving around here on the North side, I don’t see any pastures with sheep grazing on the grass.

But, somehow, I get the idea about why it is that Jesus compares himself to a shepherd.

Maybe coming from reading stories about animals like sheep when I was in first grade and second grade, or from watching the Nature Channel that showed how sheep need a lot of care because they are so defenseless against predators, I get a picture of how shepherds need to give a lot of care to their flocks.

In one way, comparing humans to sheep does not flatter us. Sheep are not the brightest of animals, and as we have said, they have no way to defend themselves.

In another way, sheep are gentle creatures, and they easily form relationships with other sheep and their shepherd.

Because shepherds know that their flock needs them for care, they devote their lives to the care of the sheep.

And the sheep are glad to follow the shepherd, for they know that the shepherd has their best interests in mind.

This analogy of shepherds and their sheep shows the depth of love and care that the Good Shepherd, Jesus, has for his sheep, who are us.

To give a lesson about shepherds and sheep, and then to show how this analogy is about us as we follow Jesus might not be the metaphor that we are looking for.

How about comparing humans to lions or tigers? Or let’s go prehistoric, I want to be compared to the most fierce of all creatures-a Tyrannosaurus Rex. A T-Rex was made to rule with its massive size and big sharp teeth. It could crush its prey with one bite.

It’s easy to see that something like a sheep has no chance against a wolf. And so much easier to see that it has no chance against a monster like a T-Rex. With a T-Rex around, a whole flock can be wiped out with one chop.

Sorry to bring up a horrific site of a flock of sheep getting ate by a T-Rex-although I know the third graders would think it’s pretty cool-kids love dinosaurs, and I’m sure you have at least seen one of the Jurassic Park movies.

My point is that as much as we think that we are at the top of the world as humans, we are not.

What are humans meant to do?

I know that humans are awesome builders, but we need to think about what we are making for ourselves.

We might be able to build up robust personalities, but are we using them to beat down others? We might be able to build up political and corporate power, but are we trying to connive to get our agendas done that benefit only one side? We might be able to build up money and influence, but are we using our resources to control?

With our building up, just who are we looking out for?

I’ve heard this saying recently talking about how we are dealing with the issues of our time, “If you see yourself as a hammer, you will see everything as a nail.”

In the pursuit of power, people will have to hammer down others to get it.

But, in the quest for power, all that we get are pounded down nails, and not much good is accomplished.

Sheep are not the smartest of animals, and they are pretty much defenseless, so they know they have to follow the one who loves and cares for them.

I’m not sure that we can give these meek and mild creatures the quality of humility for they are only animals-what I mean is that is just how sheep are by nature.

How are humans by nature?

We, as humans, can have the highest quality of humility. But, before we get to humility, we have to admit that we can be audacious people who are bent to satisfy our own egos.

Just how much of a hammer do we make of ourselves-trying to get our own way without the thinking of others?

Out in the working world, we don’t see training sessions on how to be little lambs who follow shepherds.

Here in our reading on Good Shepherd Sunday it’s all about how we are to be meek and mild like a little lamb.

When we are humble followers of our Good Shepherd, Jesus, we get all the love and care that we need to make it in this troubled world that wants to cause us harm-we know about all the hammers that want to drive us down.

If anything, we can see how our country is divided now with much conflict. With so much judgment and grabbing of power, we are far from seeing ourselves as one flock that is moving together behind our one Good Shepherd, Jesus.

And it may seem strange to move towards humility to solving our problems, for how can meek and mild people who are like little lambs solve problems?

But, it’s in humility that we see how much we need love and care from our Lord and from each other-and it’s in this love and care that we go about this world and our lives.

As our Good Shepherd, Jesus leads us to greener pastures where we are always provided for. He gives us protection from all that wants to harm us, and he keeps us together in one flock.

Even if we were lions or tigers or T-Rexes, or we were people with a lot of clout and power, we could never defeat what really wants to harms us-sin, Satan, and eternal death.

The epitome of love is Jesus, who was willing to fight sin, Satan, and eternal death for us, his flock.

Jesus fought so hard that he died for us, taking our place as he battled all that wants to harm us.

Jesus fought the battle to death. Usually, in a battle, if one dies, it means that the person has lost.

But, by Jesus’ death on the cross by taking the punishment for our sins, he won the battle by dying and then rising to life on the third day.

Jesus’ victory over all that wants to harm us is our victory, and we can continue to live quite well in his flock with him as our Good Shepherd.

This is our love story-this love of Jesus for us. A story that is as real as can be and is ours today and for all our days.

Our Good Shepherd is close to us today with his love in the Word and in bread and wine.

It’s all about a story of love where one word of love leads to many other words of love.

When we let this story leave a dominant impression on us, we can then emphasize this love in our lives.

When we are in the flock of our Good Shepherd, we have forgiveness of sins, in the flock of our Good Shepherd, we have the gift of eternal life.

In the flock of our Good Shepherd, we can love one another as Jesus has loved us. We can give other people love and care. We can invite others to this flock, so they may have all the blessings that we have.

What we emphasize in our lives comes from what dominates us.

I’m not sure that using the word “dominate” is the best word to use because as humans with egos, we don’t like anything hanging over us that wants to control us.

But, David says that the rod and staff of our Lord gives him comfort, for we are in a flock that is well protected.

And to say that rod and staff are not only to be used against enemies, but it can be used to make sure any lamb does not go wandering off where there is danger.

If we go wandering off, the Lord may nudge us with his staff to bring us back to the safety of the flock, and we are glad for that nudge.

We are in a flock that is well-loved and cared for by our Good Shepherd, so we emphasize that love and care that we receive by giving that love to others.

So, get to writing about the greatest love in your life. Brainstorm ideas about how Jesus, the Good Shepherd, deeply loves and cares for you, his little lamb, and how then you can respond to that love.

Words of love from our Good Shepherd, who is love, will lead you to many other words of love for you and for you to emphasize with others in the flock.

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