6 Epiphany Thursday Berkeley Divinity School
The Rev. Paul J. Carling, Ph.D. February 20, 2020
Standing Up to Bullies
Psalm 105; 1 John 2: 18-29; John 10: 19-p
Growing up with four brothers, each born less than 2 years apart, can be tough. Dad, chronically tired and anything but woke, called us “a pack of wild Indians.” Thank God for the moments of grace. Like being 10, lining up for recess, when the class bully snarled, “Hey, four eyes, get over here and carry my books.” A deeply religious child, I prayed to God… “Smite him… and quickly!” In a way, God did, as I heard, “Don’t talk to him like that!” The bully looked up at my older brother, and said – softly –“I’m talking to him, buddy, not to you.” To which my brother replied, “Yeah, well, when you’re talking to him, you’re talking to me.” I felt so grateful then, to be part of that motley flock.
Today, Jesus confronts different bullies, zealots existentially threatened by his radical notion of a Messiah – bringing salvation through healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, cleansing lepers, freeing God’s people to live in dignity. Blinded by fear of losing what little power they had, they tried tricking Jesus into blasphemy, so they could murder him.
What was it like for Jesus’ “sheep” to watch this chilling spectacle; their friend and teacher confronting the powers and principalities in such a high – stakes conflict?
In truth, people of faith today, trying to follow Jesus’ way of love, are surrounded by just such a host of bullies – religious leaders, and their political and corporate allies – motivated by greed, colluding to strip Jesus’ sheep of the most basic human rights: pride in their identity: their race or their gender, decent housing, a quality education, a living wage, a vote that counts, accessible health care, freedom from violence, and from environmental disaster.
And as Christ’s representatives in this “fragile island home,” we’re called to speak out now, as Jesus did then, defending Christ’s sheep, in spite of the risks and consequences. I don’t know about you, but I find this absolutely daunting.
So consider Jesus’ words to those bullies, “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep.” In other words, proclaiming Jesus’ message depends on the support of a motley group of companions, abiding together, and discovering the reality of God’s presence and action in our lives – a messy community of love that strengthens us to stand up to the bullies of the world, on behalf of all God’s children.
One of my favorite preachers puts it this way, “… you cannot, after all, follow a shepherd all by yourself. You’re stuck with this flock, or some flock, and everyone knows that sheep are… well sheep. They panic easily and refuse to be pushed. They make most of their decisions based on their appetites, and they tend to get into head-butting contests for no reason at all. But stick with the flock. It’s where the shepherd can be found, which makes it your best bet not only for survival, but also for great joy. ” [i]
[i] Taylor, B. B. (1993). “The Lost and Found Department,” in The Preaching Life. Cambridge, MA:
Cowley Publications, p. 145.