Sermon – May 2, 2004

I told you before about my two Swedish bachelor uncles who lived their lives in the original Rasmus homestead on the ranch in Harding County, South Dakota. That was fine for them, but the relatives finally were fed up with their living conditions, so they bought a double wide trailer for the boys to move into and then threatened to burn down the old house. Well, I just happened to be passing through about that time and begged them to let me go through some of the old stuff before they torched the place. I found some treasures. . . old pictures, stuff of my Dad’s, and also a little sketchbook of my Uncle Einar’s that he had as a child. In it were all sorts of pencil drawings, mostly making fun of his brothers. For example, in one picture, my Uncle Ed is drawn flipping over the back of a bucking horse. Uncle Einar was making the point he was a better cowboy. My favorite, though, was a cartoon of my Dad titled, Albert watching the sheep. Einar drew what we called a stone johnny . . a small stone structure on the top of the butte that overlooked the sheep pasture. In the picture, my Dad is asleep and down below the wolves or the coyotes were carrying away the sheep. Albert watching the sheep.

That’s sort of the true about sheep. If you don’t keep an eye on them, somebody will come along and give them a chomp. Sheep are pretty defenseless. Sheep are known by what they don’t have, really. They don’t have eagle talons, they don’t have armadillo hide, they don’t have snakes fangs, or skunk’s smell, or fleet jaguar legs. No, sheep pretty much have four little cloven hooves and row of even dull teeth perfect for munching grass. 

The Bible, as you know, is fond of depicting us as sheep, not in a perjorative way, but one’s who need God’s care, and nurturing, protection and watchful eye. It is not meant to offend, just to point out that in the broad scheme of things, we need God, because we really have no true defense against the things which would devour us, would claim our meaning and our souls and our hopefulness. . . . so, as Brother Martin Luther wrote in the
hymn, a champion comes to fight whom God himself elected.

I am sometimes amused at our bravado and our claims to the contrary. Remember William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus?”

OUT of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Oh, please. I remember in the movie Jeremiah Johnson, one of the trappers noted the shouting of the Crow warriors they encountered. . . he said the louder the shout the more scared they are. Christ knows this of us. . . our false fronts, our masks our bravado, knows us and. loves us just the same. 

I know them, he says, and that is a great and marvelous gift. We don’t always see it like that, though, do we. To be known by God is to be unmasked. God sees us.

Now, the negative way of considering that God knows us intimately, is the way we think of Santa as kids… . . he’s gonna find out whose naughty and nice,” and to that we go, Shoot, coal in my stocking again!” This is the point of view that sees God looking over our shoulders with a pocketful of lightning bolts just waiting for us to mess up. Can’t hide, can’t get away. But this is a paranoid and confining way of looking at God and it is not accurate.

A more positive way to understand being known by God is to realize that there is someone who really knows you, the authentic you. . . the you that you hope to become. . . . the you that is the flip side of the fearful or clumsy or faithless one. . . this is to know that God knows you and loves you and this gives us energy and hope and freedom. To be known by God,, is to be loved by him, in spite of all else.

I have a biker friend name Terry whom I ran into at a reunion one time. Terry was the kind of guy who grew a beard in like sixth grade, then the long hair, tattoos and Harley followed not long after. Now Terry and I were friends long before I ever considered going to the seminary and becoming a pastor. So when we met after about 15 years or so, he asked me what I was doing. Pastor of a small Lutheran church in Texas, . . . and you?” Pastor, huh? Yeah.. No really, what are you up to these days. Pastor, Lutheran church, Texas. Really. No, Rasmus, I know you. You ain’t no pastor. He didn’t know me.

To be known as God knows us is liberating. That in spite of the failure, the mistakes, the dishonesty, the faithlessness God knows and loves us. It opens the door for us for humility, for meaning. It allows us to let go of the false images, the masks, in the realization that the God of the universe has found such pleasure in us that he would become one with us in Christ.

This is a knowing also that gives us refuge. No one will snatch them from my hand, Jesus says. Nothing can take them from me, not sinfulness, not suffering, not fear, not disappointment, not disease, not some broken theology from a television preacher that would mask Jesus the Shepherd as Jesus the cash cow. Nothing will snatch them from me.. That is the reality of being known by God, that his claim on us is uncompromising and final.

And God would have us know him, through Christ. “I and the Father are one,” he says. Not so that we can score some theological points for the Trinity . . . but so that we might realize that we are now connected with the God of all things.

This is a saving knowledge, a redeeming knowledge, a liberating knowledge, and a sending knowledge. A sending knowledge. You see, it teaches us then, how we might know and love others, know and love them through their differences, their failures, their mistakes, their fear, . . .it makes real for us the possibility that we might indeed love others as he has loved us, so that his flock will ever grow.

A final word about sheep. I am told by the folks in my Monday morning pastor’s group, that in ancient times, grazing flocks of sheep were often mixed with another. To separate them, the shepherds would call to them . .. they had a distinctive voice and call that the sheep would turn to follow. They know my voice, Jesus says. . . and I know them.

If your life has become mixed with another flock and the din of circumstances seems to drown out the familiar and the comforting, if you find yourself hiding behind another mask and tiring of the charade, if you yearn for the recognition of your true self which it seems no one can see. .. . listen . . . listen . . . he knows you . . . he loves you . . . he is calling you by name. There, . . . you know the voice.. . . listen. . . and follow.