Good Shepherds

John 10:22-30; Psalm 23


Good morning! I would like to wish all of the moms in the congregation—including my own mom—a happy Mother’s Day. I also want to remind all of you that this isn’t a happy day for everyone. We must all be mindful that there are women who don’t have children, either because they have had difficulty conceiving or because they didn’t find the right relationship at the right time in their lives to bring a child into this world.

So, to all the women of this congregation who wanted to have children, but have not had them, for whatever reason, let me say, you are loved. We love you. You are every bit as valuable to this congregation and this world. Period.

One more thought on Mother’s Day: please remember that not every mother has a good relationship with her children. This day can be hard for those mothers. Some mothers have outlived their children. This day can be hard for them, too. That doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to keep silent for fear of hurting others. What it means is we have a duty to know our neighbors, to know all the members of this congregation, so that we know who’s hurting. Yes, you can say, “Happy Mother’s Day!” to my mom, and you can say it with unbridled joy. I’m pretty sure this is a good day for her. But please remember that it’s not a great day for everyone, so know your neighbors and think before you speak.

Here endeth the lecture. Now for a happier story.

An atheist, a Jew, and a Presbyterian minister walk into a cigar shop. I know, to you, this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. For me, it sounds like Friday—almost every Friday for the last several months. I’m building some really good friendships with a number of guys from the cigar shop and it gives me a lot of joy, and also a sense of community.

Cigar shops are interesting places. In many cigar shops, there is a strong sense of community. It’s probably because it takes a long time to smoke a cigar, so you have a lot of time to talk with the other people who are there. You can make friends and build relationships, if you choose. And you will meet people from all walks of life. For instance, on Thursday night I was at a cigar shop in Philadelphia. I spent most of the night talking to a rabbi. Again, this is not the beginning of a bad joke. I’ve known this guy for two or three years, and we always have deep theological conversation and it’s always a great time. Simply put, I’ve made some of the best and most meaningful friendships in my life in cigar shops.

By now, you’re wondering where I’m going with all this. I know it’s a really long introduction. So, here it is: the only place where I’ve made more friendships, more deep and meaningful relationships is church. Like the cigar shops, this is a place where we have the opportunity to really know one another and participate in each other’s lives. We do this intentionally. We carve out spaces for this, like the women’s retreat. We do this through the work that we share, whether it’s through committee service, teaching Sunday school, or singing in the choir. We acknowledge the shared value of all we do together.

That’s the obvious difference between churches and cigar shops—there’s a much greater and deeper sense of purpose in church. Another difference is that the sense of community in a cigar shop often ebbs and flows. The regular customers who hang out at a cigar shop can be a loose-knit collection of people (mostly guys, but not always; I’ve known women who hang out at cigar shops). And then something happens, a new member joins the group, of somebody invites the gang over for a barbecue, and all of a sudden, the group becomes really tight, and it lasts for a couple years, but the community rarely has the staying power of a church. The only place where I’ve made more deep and meaningful relationships is in the church. That’s part of what makes us different; it’s one of the most important things we can offer to the rest of the world, community and relationship, membership in an everlasting community.

This is a stewardship sermon. This is a sermon about our responsibility to care for this particular community of faith. And the Twenty-third Psalm is a great text for stewardship, even if it’s not an obvious connection. Most of you are prob