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