I guess I will start like most others that have shared their mission moment with us.
When Stephen brought up this whole feed more sheep thing, I had to stop and think how do I feed sheep? How have I fed sheep in the past, how do I feed them now, and how will I feed them in the future?
First of all, around our house it seems we feed a lot more than just sheep: there are the 3 cats, 2 dogs in the house then there’s the stray cats my wife feeds, the neighbor’s horse and goats and even the occasional fox eating the stray cat food on the front porch.
The past: The past was full of trying to raise kids, showing them right from wrong, how to share with others and how to love. There was also helping family and friends with their houses (it seems everyone was redoing their house at the same time). I would try and help with things that were happening in the community also, and then there was the church; there is always something that needs to be done at the church.
The now: Well, there’s still always something that needs to be fixed at the church!
We have our son Ryan’s girlfriend Jennifer (and her dog Charley) living with us while she finishes up with college, something that I must have picked up from my parents. You see when I was growing up it wasn’t enough to have mom & pop, my grandmother (granny) and 5 boys in a 3-bedroom house. No, we always had somebody else that was in need of a place to stay, from my brother Kevin’s fiancé to my aunt May. That’s why, when Jen needed a place to stay, it just seemed to be the thing to do. I feel working on the church and trying to keep the doors open (literally) allows the sheep to come and be fed. In my job as a road foreman I think of it in much the same way. Clearing the roads of snow or fallen trees allows other people to travel safely to feed the sheep that they are feeding. As for the potholes, life is full of potholes so get over it. But maybe I can fill a few of them also to pave the way for the sheep to go and find the food they need.
The Future: there is still something that needs to be fixed at the church.
In the future I hope I can continue to do what I am doing plus try and be better at public speaking so I can share with others how blessed I have been to have a wife and family that loves me, friends that care about me, but most of all I have the love of Jesus in my life.
October 2, 2011
When Stephen began talking about these feed more sheep moments, I experienced a mix of emotions. I was excited to hear the stories of so many in our small community, but I also experienced guilt and anxiety. When it came my turn, what would I say? I am in seminary, so I felt that this should be an easy task. But, as I thought about what I would say, I started to question my own sheep-feeding-methods. I was not providing food for the needy; I was not politically active, working hard to abolish oppressive political policies or ideologies. I was not even venturing beyond my own little world, trying to be the love of Christ to those in dire need.
Thankfully, I did not remain in this place of guilt. I was able to move past it, but not by some great effort of my own, it was through the testimonies I heard every Sunday. Hearing Al talk about treating people at Ace the way he believes Jesus would treat them and the way Marian is able to feed sheep through sharing kind words in the midst of stressful situations has carried me through my guilt to a place where I could consider my own calling. These voices have helped me come to grips with the reality that the food I am able to provide may be very different than the food others provide.
So in the midst of learning Hebrew this summer, I began thinking about my particular flavor of sheep-food. The majority of my time was consumed with trying to learn this new language. While my wife will tell you it occasionally sounded like I was weeping from another room, I assure you I was simply sounding out the first eight verses of Genesis in Hebrew. The rest of my time was spent working, spending time with friends or here at church. In the middle of my busy schedule, where was my feed-more-sheep block of time?
Just like the testimonies helped me move through a place of guilt, the testimonies also helped me understand my own particular flavor of sheep food. InAdrian’s testimony, he told us about how he is able to feed more sheep by saying one word: yes. The apparent simplicity of his answer to God’s call helped me understand that my way of feeding more sheep is probably even simpler – I don’t even get to the point of answering God – I simply listen. In studying Scripture, in studying the work of theologians and historians I am doing one thing – listening for the voice of God. But, this listening does not solely subsist in my academic life – I listen for the voice of God in conversations with fellow students, at work with Christian and non-Christian coworkers, in worship on Sunday morning and also in sharing in your lives.
But, if I stop with listening, I know that I wouldn’t really be feeding anyone but myself. I understand that listening for the voice of God necessitates that I pass on what I have heard to others. This passing it on has taken and will take many different forms. Someday I hope to be able to help college students listen for the voice of God through a scholarly study of their faith. Right now it takes the form of conversation and relationship with people in my everyday life. You will not necessarily hear me say, “The Lord said _______ to me last night,” but, do not be surprised when I become ridiculously excited about a particular passage of Scripture or the thoughts of a theologian.
So, my feeding of sheep has two parts – the first part is listening for the voice of God and the second part is repeating that Word as faithfully, and as often, as I can.
September 18, 2011
I’ve been sweating this assignment since Stephen announced it last January. I teach youth ministry and Christian education at Princeton Seminary; I’m an ordained United Methodist pastor. In other words, I’m supposed to feed sheep for a living – so why is the “Feed More Sheep” moment in worship so intimidating?
I’ve decided it must be because I have a “sheep disorder.” I show the symptoms from time to time. The first symptom is guilt: What if I’m not feeding enough sheep, or the wrong sheep, or if I’m feeding the right sheep the wrong food? The second symptom is a direct result of the first: exhaustion. Truth be told, I’m exhausted from feeding sheep. What if I’m trying to feed too many sheep? What if I don’t have enough food to go around—for them, or for me?
I had breakfast yesterday with a pastor—and boy, the sheep that get fed from her ministry! She feeds sheep nobody else will touch. Prostitutes. Homeless people. Addicts. She opens her home to teenagers who have nowhere else to go, and ten or twelve of them live with her at any given time. Somehow, she brings them back to life.
I don’t open my home to ten or twelve teenagers at a time; I’m having enough trouble saying goodbye to the one I’ve got. The sheep in my pasture, my students, are healthy, smart, capable sheep; the sheep in her pasture are broken and struggling. So the guilt starts creeping in: should I be feeding more sheep, or different sheep, or needier sheep?
But then I look at my life, and my moral pendulum swings the other direction. When I look at it, I do feed a lot of sheep—and it’s exhausting! If I’m honest, I’m feeding way more sheep than I can handle. . . and I know it’s a trap. I know that whenever we try to feed sheep out of our own pantries instead of out of Christ’s, we’re going to run out of food. And steam. And hope. Only Christ’s food is enough—only Christ is enough to go around: “I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John6:35).
So where does that lead me this morning?
Well, I suppose it leads me back to another conversation, with a retired Methodist minister who loved teenagers back in the 1970s in the middle of nowhereOhio. Rev. John was my youth pastor. He supervised the Conference Council on Youth Ministry there when I was a teenager. When I became a youth minister myself, I joked with Rev. John that he taught me everything I know about youth ministry –which is mostly true.
A couple summers ago, Rev. John called me out of the blue. He had just returned from his granddaughter Rachel’s graduation in Seattle—they drove all the way from Ohio to Seattle in their RV—and when they went to church that Sunday, Rachel had been excited to introduce her granddad to her youth pastor DJ, who had been important in Rachel’s life. When Rev. John learned that DJ graduated from Princeton Seminary, he asked if he knew me. DJ laughed and jokingly said, “Sure! She taught me everything I know about youth ministry!”
That’s when Rev. John’s knees almost went out from under him…because in that moment, he realized that his own ministry—35 years ago, 2000 miles away, with teenagers he thought he would never see again—had come back to him, and was now standing before him in the form of his beaming granddaughter.
The great “bucket brigade of faith”: you are part of it, and I am part of it. Because Rev. John let God use him to feed a flock of teenagers inOhioback in the 1970s, his own granddaughter, 2000 miles away, left for college with a bucket full of faith.
On Monday, Rev. John and his wife came to visit me in Ocean Grove. We walked on the boardwalk, on the beach, remembering each other 35 years ago. And you know what? My “sheep disorder” went away. I don’t know how many teenage sheep Rev. John fed in his ministry. All that mattered to me was that I was one of them.
It’s like that story they tell about the man throwing starfish, stranded on the beach, back into the ocean. “Why do you bother?” somebody asks him. “You can’t possibly save them all! Does throwing one back really matter?” The man bent over, scooped up another starfish, and flung it into the sea. “Well,” he said. “It mattered to that one.”
God may provide the food for the sheep, but somehow God is still looking for distributors. I think that’s what feeding more sheep boils down to for me. You take the bucket of faith someone has handed to you—a teacher, a pastor, a parent– and you pass it to the next person in line. Maybe to a stranger. Maybe to a student. Maybe to a spouse or a daughter or a son.
I need to say this before I go. Of all the sheep I feed for a living, Kingston United Methodist Church has helped me feed the ones most precious to me. Two years ago we didn’t know whether we would have a church that would helpShannonbe part of the bucket brigade of faith or not. When we moved toPrincetonseven years ago, we struggled to find a church that gave more life than it took. Despite the fact that Kevin and I both see our jobs as feeding sheep, we came to this church two years ago pretty hungry spiritually.
You didn’t think a thing about it. You passed around the Bread of Life that you happened to have on hand, and you fed us. And you fed our daughter. And then you invited us all to pass the Bread to others….to feed more sheep. I am more grateful than I can say thatShannonwill leave for college on Wednesday with her bucket of faith very full. Thank you. Amen.
August 14, 2011
I used to work summers at a camp that had a working farm. We raised goats, cattle, chickens, pigs, and yes, sheep. I loved barn chores, milking the docile cows, fighting with the ornery goats who tried to kick over the milk bucket, often successfully, and taking my life in my hands by bringing the pig its bucket of slop. Inevitably the pig would hear the slop and charge the bucket and the person holding it. Then there were the sheep. I thought sheep were, well, boring. All you had to do was change their water. Feeding them was simple. Put them in a pasture. Done. They spent the entirety of their days eating or sleeping. But, one night a counselor ran into the lodge shouting, “The sheep escaped!” We ran down the road and started herding them back in. The thing was they never run in the direction you want them to. So in a moment of inspiration, I started barking. Ruff! Between barks, another counselor asked, “WHAT are you doing?” I answered “Sheep dog.” The sheep moved from me and towards the pasture until they were all back safely inside the fence. Sheep are actually quite intelligent- they stay together in close-knit groups where they feel they belong. Too often as people, we drive out sheep from our groups, making them feel isolated and alone. I interpret the Gospel’s message as a charge for us to keep all people in the fold, safe and with a sense of belonging.
Justin Aaberg was just fifteen when he killed himself in the summer of 2010. He came out as gay at thirteen and endured years of bullying at the hands of his classmates in a suburbanMinnesotahigh school. Justin hanged himself in his bedroom; his mother found his body.
To our south, aPrincetongraduate student that my husband Nick knew, a funny, intelligent guy with a bright future ahead of him hanged himself last year. In his suicide note, he wrote that he had struggled for years with his sexuality, increasing his sense of isolation. To our north aRutgersUniversityfreshman jumped off theGeorgeWashingtonBridgeafter his roommate discovered he was gay and maliciously spread the news.
In the school where I taught inTrenton, a fifth grade girl is mockingly called “Rainbow” by her classmates. She acts out and is angry all the time. What will become of her?
I grew up in a Quaker family. I was taught, and still believe that the light of God is in everyone. Not just the people we like, or look like us, or agree with… everyone. Every single time a person kills him or herself, not believing that people will accept who they love, or thinking that the endless assault of bullying will never end, a light is extinguished. My sister is gay and thankfully she did not have to endure what Justin did in high school. But when she worked in a rural school she could never tell her students about her wife. She would have gotten fired, or worse.
When Nick told me about the It Gets Better Project, I was immediately excited. It is a collection of videos submitted online, with a simple message to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: It Gets Better. It started in response to a rash of teen suicides by gay, lesbian, and questioning youth last fall. For those who are being bullied or who don’t believe it will get better, the message is that there is hope. There thousands of videos on the site, including one from President Obama, telling teens to hold on, everyone has future full of joy, love, and opportunity, but you don’t get to see it if you’re dead.
So I took the pledge to spread the message, speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, and to provide hope. In November 2012 voters inMinnesota, my new home state, will have the the power to decide on constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. What message does it send to the Justins out there that people do not see a place for them in society? It’s not one of hope. Marriage equity is not an abstract moral question, it is also question of life and death for young people desperate to feel accepted for who they are and that there is a place for them now and in the future. So how do I feed more sheep? So I feed more sheep by speaking up against this amendment and for marriage equity, I feed more sheep by working to eradicate all kinds of bullying I hear as a teacher and support kids who feel isolated, and I feed more sheep by responding any time I hear someone speaking against the light of God in another person. Because the mission of our church asks that we help keep all of God’s sheep safe and part of our fold.
July 17, 2011
How am I feeding more sheep? To tell you the truth, I often feel like I fail at this call. This may sound strange given my profession: I am after all a teacher of New Testament at a seminary. I sit around reading the Bible all day with people who are future ministers. And although at the end of the day, I do feel that I am called by God to teach the New Testament, sometimes I still have this nagging question: am I truly being faithful to God’s call to feed more sheep? Am I doing enough to answer this call?
And then this past week I went to the annual conference of theUnitedMethodistChurchasKingston’s lay representative. After sitting through days of seemingly endless meetings, this question came up yet again. How can never-ending debates and sound-bite speeches possibly be feeding more sheep? How can committee reports and budget discussions be feeding more sheep? Yet even when reports became tedious or discussions became difficult, I was constantly reminded that annual conference is ultimately about coming together as the body of Christ so that we can do the work to which Christ has called us. I was reminded that we don’t feed sheep alone. At this gathering there were over a thousand United Methodists from the Greater New Jersey conference comprised of different ages, ethnicities, and theological backgrounds. And at this gathering we chose ten delegates to attend General Conference, an even bigger gathering of United Methodists across theUnited Statesand the Globe. The one thing that brings us all together is in effect our calling to feed more sheep. And this is exactly the business of theMethodistChurch. For example, UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) continues to be a huge presence in disaster areas around the world, such asAlabama,Haiti, andJapan. Churches are increasing their membership, and exciting new initiatives are being proposed both by and for youths and young adults. Because we are a connectional church, we are able to serve Christ in innovative and wide-reaching ways.
So how am I feeding more sheep? In a nutshell, I am living out my call to help the church feed more sheep, whether that be as a lay rep or as a teacher of Scripture or whatever the case may be. And when it comes to answering this call, I have learned two things this past week. First, I know that I am not alone. As someone who attends Kingston, I am automatically connected with thousands of other Christians who are also working towards feeding more sheep. The question is not only about how I am feeding more sheep, but about how we are feeding more sheep. And second, I know that God is working through us, even in our imperfections. The Church may not be perfect, just as I am certainly not perfect, but God still works through us to feed more sheep. There is still much to be done, but I know that God will continue to be with us in both the exciting times and the difficult times as we, the body of Christ, continue to feed more sheep.
June 5, 2011