Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Sermon for November 26, 2023: Given by Marge Kilkelly titled "Help Wanted: Shepherds" based upon Psalm 46 and Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95 KJV
95 O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is his also. The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.
Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I swear in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land;
and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
Welcome to worship today, those who are here and those who are joining us online. Thank you for this opportunity to share this time with you. My name is Marge Kilkelly, over the years I have worn lots of hats, now I am mostly a farmer and a foodie. My husband and I raise cashmere goats. I am also a member of the Board of Directors of the Maine Council of Churches and attend Christ Church Episcopal in Gardiner. I am so pleased to be joined by fellow Board Member Diane Dicranian- thank you Diane for sharing the work of the Maine Council. And thank you to all of the people of this congregation who have been so helpful and supportive today.
A friend of mine who was a supply priest in the parish I attended, always started the service by saying: Today we are governed by Rule 42. What is rule 42? Whatever happens is exactly how we planned it. Rule 42 lets us all just take a deep breath and enjoy our time together.
Over the past few weeks we have all been impacted by the tragedies that have surrounded us ...local, national, and international... it hurts to walk through that pain, it causes us to question everything and can have us feeling deflated, overwhelmed, and helpless. Worshipping is our way to hold up each other, to walk together and to find the light and love of God in even the most difficult situations.
This is the last Sunday of the Liturgical year, next Sunday we celebrate Advent and the New Church Year. It is also, in old English tradition, the end and beginning of the agrarian/agricultural calendar. So today as we celebrate the Reign of Jesus, a door closes on the past year and we prepare for the next.
The beginning of the agrarian calendar for the old English farmers- provided time to prepare for the coming season. The crops were in and now it was time to reflect, review, repair, and especially plan to improve during the next season, the next crop. Agriculture, then and today, is all about creation- caring, cycles of life, and continuing to try and improve crop or livestock yields – learning from mistakes made and improving moving forward.
Our Faith is about loving God and Gods creation - and it is important for us not to ever be complacent. The liturgical calendar also provides time for us to assess our actions, to learn from our mistakes, to repair those relationships/things needing repair, to improve how we live in the world, to contemplate what we can do to make a difference, and to look to the new year with a sense of renewal.
The assigned readings for today- from Ezekiel to Matthew- which are filled with references to shepherds, sheep, goats and care made me smile. When you invite a farmer to preach and have those readings you have to believe that God has a sense of humor and it shows.
As I thought about being with you this morning, I was aware of a number of things that I had recently seen or heard that had been hanging around in my head: the shocking headlines, pictures that broke my heart, comments from friends saying “ I don’t know what to do to help!” and even posts on FB.
A week or so ago I saw a quote from Julian of Norwich “We are not created by God but made of God...” that has continued to circulate in my head for days- I love it. “We are not created by God but made of God...”
A post in response to the tragedies we have seen in Maine and around the world was “We should not ask Why God but Why we let things happen...”
Somewhere in all of that was a message I needed to hear and would not be silenced. To prepare for this morning I was forced to face them, to hear them and to attempt to make sense of them.
For me the truth is that we could spend forever asking why- but, if we believe as Julian says we are made of God the answer actually lies inside of us not outside of us. Therefore, I believe we must spend our time figuring out how we can be the change needed in the world.
Creating change is a process as old as time itself. Creation itself is change and Change is creation.
Every single one of us was created with the ability to make change. We all have some strengths and some challenges- but when we work together all of our strengths and challenges fit together like a puzzle and make the whole- strong.
We were created with all the tools we need...
By making choices to do what we can to help another person we are doing God’s work on earth. We are not just talking about Love but showing by example the Love of God for the world.
Doing God’s work can sound intimidating. What can I do?? How can I make a difference? Doing God’s work does not have to be headline worthy, the opportunity to do Gods work is folded into our everyday lives-
During October, I know you studied Mathew 25: 35-45 where Jesus honors the people who choose to help others and further shows his deep love for all of us by actually identifying himself with those that suffer and are struggling- when you cared for the least of these you cared for me.
Just as important Jesus does not shy away from criticizing those who choose not to help. He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. … without choice the word love is meaningless.
The biblical references also show us that the choices that have been made throughout history are the same as the choices that we make today- every day. And God has chosen through the Prophets and Jesus to give us models of how we can do Gods work on earth.
Jesus as shepherd caring, leading to lush pasture, assuring water, protecting the sheep improves the lives of those sheep. But just as important are the other benefits of that care- for example sheep, and in my case cashmere goats, also provide amazing fiber.
When a shepherd cares for the flock, one of the products was wool. Wool is spun into yarn. Yarn is woven into strong fabric for clothing and blankets. When we make the choice to do Gods work on earth – to create hope, to show others the power of God’s love by how we act- we change individual lives. At the same time, we also are creating change, when we do our tiny part we are in fact spinning strong yarn, strand by strand- then that strong yarn creates the fabric of a strong community.
As shepherds we are living into God's call to us in the
Let us pray- Father-Mother God
Thank you for creating in us the tools to do your work on earth. Watch over us as we look towards the new year, be with us as we consider the ways that we can be the good shepherds to our brothers, sisters and all of your creation. Thank you for the knowledge to read, hear and understand scripture to strengthen our relationship with you and each other. Thank you for the ability to choose our actions and learn from those choices. Help us every day to grow in our faith and to do your work on earth by taking the time listen, to share, to be kind, and to be aware of the needs around us as we endeavor to share in the job of shepherd; weaving the strong fabric of our community that always reflects your Love and the model of Jesus. Amen
Resources used: Maine Council of Churches website and Facebook for folks to reference. https://mainecouncilofchurches.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/mainecouncilofchurches
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.