There’s a lot going on today
- It’s Good Shepherd Sunday, as it is each year on the 4th Sunday of Easter
- And it’s World Malaria Day weekend, the actually day was yesterday, April 25, a day we in the ELCA have been marking in particular through the Malaria Campaign, which ends now, in 2015, from a fundraising perspective
- And it’s the Baptismal day for 5 new children of God from 2 families – Charlotte and Jermiah, and Matt, Greyson and Alaina
And though a general rule of preaching is that a preacher should never feel like they have to do or address everything on any given Sunday, these are all pretty significant things, and, I think, things that can be held together in meaning through the Scriptures we read together today…
First of all, then, it’s Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter. We’re almost half way through this 50 day feast. And we hear a section of John chapter 10, as we do every year on this Sunday. This year, Jesus compares himself to the hired hand who, when trouble comes, like a wolf threatening the sheep, runs away, because he doesn’t care for the sheep the way the Good Shepherd does. The Good Shepherd promises that he knows his own, and his own know him. And what a beautiful thing to remember as we celebrate 5 Baptisms today. Christ Jesus knows each one of you, because you already belong to him even before you’re baptized.
And if being known, and being held secure by our Good Shepherd wasn’t enough already, we have the promise that follows in verse 15 of John 10: I lay down my life for the sheep. The One who claims us, the One who knows us, the One who cares for and promises to protect us, is none other than Jesus, who on the cross demonstrated the depths of God’s love for us and commitment to us! And Jesus did all this willingly, out of his great love for us and his great desire to save us from sin and death! Jesus says in verse 18: I lay my life down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. This is what our Good Shepherd does, and this is what our Good Shepherd calls us to, as well…
Jesus does what he does, he lays down his life and he takes it up again, and everything changes! Sin and death are conquered forever, and the grave becomes the doorway to eternal life! Our Good Shepherd does this for us of his own accord. But he also calls his disciples, repeatedly through his 3 year ministry, and us along with, and through, them, to take up the cross and follow him.
Some have said it this way: We become “under shepherds” of the Good Shepherd. In other words, we’re called to follow his example, and as he was willing to lay down his life, even for those who turned against him, so, too, we are called to lay down our lives for the sake of the other. And, through the ELCA Malaria Campaign, we’ve done just that, not that we’ve literally died, but that we’ve been given the opportunity to give generously, setting aside some of our own hard-earned resources in order to make a real difference and to save real lives. Malaria is completely beatable! It’s fully preventable! We can end this scourge if we work together.
Here’s part of a message I received this week from the ELCA Malaria Campaign:
We’re at an exciting moment in history right now. We’re at a time when non-profit organizations, governments, researchers, celebrities and churches all over the world are all working together to take down malaria. We’re at a moment in time when we could turn the tables on malaria. The Millennium Development Goals, established at the turn of the century (2000), call us to dramatically reduce the number of deaths from malaria by 2015. And the ELCA, along with our Lutheran companions in Africa, will be a part of this historical endeavor.
Most importantly, in this campaign we join hands with our Lutheran companion churches in Africa, with whom we have built trusting and mutual relationships over many decades. Together we have all of the tools we need to fight malaria – In the ELCA, we have been blessed with abundance that we can share… With our combined resources and the health-care infrastructure that has been built by our companions over the years, we have powerful tools.
It has been the tradition that every year on Malaria Sunday, the ELCA Malaria Campaign lifts up one of the countries whose malaria program we’re supporting.
In 2012, we learned more about Liberia, in 2013, Uganda, and in 2014 it was Namibia. This year is a little different. This year is the last year of fundraising for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, so we are focusing on securing funding for each of the remaining country programs. Some Lutheran malaria programs began early, and they are fully funded. Some started a little later, and currently have operational malaria programs which are almost fully funded. And some programs have just recently begun. They depend on the successful completion of the ELCA Malaria Campaign in order to be fully funded.
The ELCA Malaria Campaign has a goal of raising $15 million by the end 2015. Thanks to the efforts of individuals, congregations and synods, the ELCA has raised over $13.5 million dollars to date. This means that we are 90% of the way towards our goal. Now is the time to finish strong. To fully fund all of the Lutheran malaria programs, we will need to raise an additional $1.5 million before the end of the year. Working together, ELCA members can fund the good malaria work in all 13 countries, as promised!
Since the beginning of the ELCA Malaria Campaign, over half of all ELCA congregations have participated in one way or another. Considering we are a church body of nearly 10,000 congregations with many and varied ways to engage in our communities and our world, I think this is no small feat.
Thank you for being one congregation that is part of this effort!
Yes, we can end Malaria, but there are lots of big and small ways in our everyday living as cross-carrying disciples of Jesus, that we serve as under shepherds of the Good Shepherd.
- Teachers who help to make useful knowledge available
- Municipal workers who repair our roads and keep us safe
- Parents who raise their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens
- Police, firefighters, 1st responders, nurses, doctors, elected officials, and so many others lay down their lives every day so that we might enjoy a blessed, good and well-ordered life…
In ordinary and extraordinary ways, we who are God’s baptized people are called to live our lives in ways that demonstrate two deep truths:
- That we have faith and trust in God, and so are free to lay down our lives in love of our neighbors
- That in laying down our lives in love of our neighbors, we grow in faith and trust in God
These two truths hold together and play their part in Christian living. As people of faith, we love our neighbors, and as we love our neighbors, we grow in faith and trust in God.
This is the life of the Baptized people of God, the life in which Charlotte, Jermiah, Matt, Greyson and Alaina come to share today. In just a few moments these five people – one man, one young boy, and three babies – will be washed in the Baptismal waters, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and challenged to live lives marked by regular participation in the Christian community, regular worship and life-long learning, and following the example of Jesus, active participation in seeking justice and peace for all the earth! And all this will be done in the Triune Name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – for, as Peter preaches in Acts: There is no other name under heaven, given among mortals, by which we must be saved!
And to this great good news, to this gift of salvation, to this miraculous saving act that will unfold before our eyes in just a few moments, I can think of no other response, and certainly no better response, than to raise our voices in shouts of Easter joy, saying: Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!