Friday, 19 April 2013

“… Just think of the lifetime achievements ….”: a sermon by Bob Faser (John 10: 22-30)

Today, as we celebrate Christ the Good Shepherd, we hear Jesus saying:

 … My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. …

The veteran actor Kirk Douglas once visited Berlin to receive a “lifetime achievement award” from the Berlin Film Festival. After the award ceremony, Douglas and his wife were having dinner with some friends along with an older woman his friends wanted them to meet. Douglas described this woman as “such a happy person, smiling and laughing”. Like Kirk Douglas, the woman was Jewish.

 ... [W]hen ... [Douglas] was told that … [the woman’s]parents and grandparents had all been killed in the concentration camps, ... [he] blurted out, ‘So why do you stay in Berlin?’

Smiling, she gave ... this answer: ‘I owe that to the little heroes.’

 ‘I don't understand,’ ... [he] said. With a sigh, she came over and sat closer.

 ‘When the Gestapo came to get them, my parents sent me to a small hotel to save my life. The owner was the first little hero. She kept me safe for a couple of nights. When it became dangerous, I met my second little hero. Or should I say heroine? She was our former housekeeper. She hid me for a while and endangered her own life. Then I lived in a cloister. My little heroes were the nuns who took care of me when I was very sick. They never asked questions. When the situation became dangerous, my next little hero was a policeman who didn't agree with the Nazis. All through the war, I was lucky to find little heroes who helped me ...’

 ‘So, why do you stay here?’ ... [Douglas] asked again. She looked at ... [his] perplexed face and said, ‘I thought about it, but I feel I owe it to the little heroes who helped me. Not everyone here was wicked.’

Kirk Douglas concluded:

Her story had a great impact on me. Of course, we are always looking for a big hero to emulate, and very often we see them topple from clay feet. How much better to reach for the little heroes in life — and to try to be one. It's not always as hard as it was for the people in wartime Berlin … you only need to try to help other people. And if everyone tried — well, just think of the lifetime achievements.


We contrast this with the cruelty we often see on the evening news. There are many people who seek to hurt, destroy, brutalise, and even kill those around them. We know that this is often for the flimsiest of reasons: because of the other’s race, culture, religion, lifestyle; even just because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. In contrast to the cruelty we see on the evening news, we have the example of Christ the Good Shepherd.

And, today, Christ the Good Shepherd acts mostly through fallible human agents ... through people like you and I. Sometimes, when we least expect it, we are all given the opportunity to express the profound mercy of God.

... My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. …

I heard another story, a very striking one, during an ANZAC Day broadcast a few years ago on ABC Radio. An Australian veteran of the Second World War, a prisoner of war in Thailand, told of his encounter with a Japanese guard.

This guard was somehow different from his colleagues. He didn’t participate willingly in the brutality of his fellow guards. He knew a bit of English, and developed a particular rapport with the Australian prisoners, who gave him the nickname “AIF Joe”. This was the only name that the man telling the story knew for this guard.

AIF Joe was bringing a small group of prisoners (six or so, including the man telling the story) from one camp to another. AIF Joe was the only guard for the group. They were walking along a track through the jungle. On one side of the track, there was a steep drop, with thick jungle below.

Suddenly, AIF Joe stopped. He raised his rifle in the air and fired a shot into the air. He shouted, “I hate bloody war!” and threw his rifle down into the thick jungle.

After the Australian prisoners spent a few minutes agreeing with AIF Joe’s sentiments, they all realised they were faced with a dilemma. If AIF Joe was to show up at the next camp without his weapon, he would be executed. So the few hour or so saw a rare comic moment in that tragic war, with six Australian prisoners and their Japanese guard all searching the jungle for the guard’s rifle.

The rifle was eventually found. The rest of the march to the camp was spent by the prisoners and their guard in fabricating a convincing story as to why they were late, so that AIF Joe wouldn’t get into trouble with the officers. The story must have been convincing. Not only did AIF Joe not get into trouble (at least that time), but the prisoners were given the next day as a rare rest day.

Of course, we are always looking for a big hero to emulate, and very often we see them topple from clay feet. How much better to reach for the little heroes in life — and to try to be one. ... You … only need to try to help other people. And if everyone tried — well, just think of the lifetime achievements.

And, today, Christ the Good Shepherd acts mostly through fallible human agents ... through people like you and I. Sometimes, when we least expect it, we are all given the opportunity to express the profound mercy of God.

To be honest, the story of AIF Joe did not end happily. A later time came when he was caught assisting a prisoner – against orders – and he was executed.

There are risks, real risks, in seeking to live within the spirit of the Good Shepherd. The risks for many of us may not be as physical as the risks that confronted AIF Joe or the risks that confronted the nuns, the policeman, and the other Germans who sheltered Kirk Douglas’s friend.

By living in the spirit of Christ the Good Shepherd, we may face risks of a more social or emotional nature.
  • You may be labeled a “bleeding heart”.
  • You may be called a “do-gooder”.
We may face risks of a more social or emotional nature, risks similar to the peer pressure to conform faced by most young people today. They are still real risks, nevertheless.
 
The good news is that the risks are worth it. Through the risks, we are enabled to follow in the path of Christ the Good Shepherd.
 
 
… My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. …
 
 
And the story continues. For all of us, whatever the circumstances, whatever the risks, we are enabled to follow in the path of Christ the Good Shepherd.
 
 
And if everyone tried — well, just think of the lifetime achievements.

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