Nora Terrill, 16 years old and a sophomore at North Cross School in Roanoke, Va., gave the sermon for all three services on Youth Sunday – also Good Shepherd Sunday – April 22, 2018.
Dear Lord, open our ears, hearts, and minds so that we may hear your voice and love and serve you in your will now and forever. Amen.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Nora Terrill and I am 16 years old. I am very excited to be up here today to deliver this sermon. If you don’t know me, you are really missing out. So come say hi afterwards!
Fun fact: Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as a good shepherd. He protects his flock no matter what and he is willing to die for them. When one sheep strays from the flock, the good shepherd brings it back. The good shepherd protects the sheep from the wolves.
Although a good shepherd is portrayed exactly as it sounds, someone who protects his flock, there is another meaning behind it too. A good shepherd is a model of someone who is fulfilling God’s promises and doing God’s work, someone who lives out the image of God. By fulfilling God’s promises, the good shepherd shows God’s love for us, the flock. He loves us like God loves us. Jesus is not only a good shepherd because of his duty and willingness to protect the sheep, but because of his relationship with God as well.
The positive image of the good shepherd is sharply contrasted with the negative image of the hired hand who abandons the sheep and leaves them to the wolves. The hired hand leaves the sheep because they are not his and he does not love them like they are his own. The hired hand does not love them like the good shepherd loves his flock. The love a good shepherd has for his flock is a model of the love God has for all of us.
Instead of fulfilling his duties to protect his sheep, the hired hand gets distracted by the wolf and abandons his sheep. The wolf represents distractions from God. So, in today’s Gospel, the hired hand gets distracted by the wolf and does not protect his flock.
These distractions from God can be seen as worshipping other idols. The good shepherd does not get distracted by the wolf, which further enforces the idea of fulfilling God’s promises.
The wolf is a distraction from God, or another idol worshipped. These other idols aren’t exactly what you may be thinking of. They’re not little figurines that we learn about in history class that people pay tribute to in hopes of rain or good crops. These other idols are things that distract us from God. And if you really think about there are countless examples of this in literature, TV, and in the Bible.
In The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald about aristocrats living in Long Island in the 1920s, money distracted Daisy, one of the main characters, from her true self. Daisy married her husband, Tom, because of his money. Later in the novel, we find out that Jay Gatsby, her old love interest, has moved to a neighborhood across the bay from her. When she reunites with Gatsby, he shows off his newfound wealth, which brings Daisy to tears. Daisy then has conflicted feelings throughout the rest of the novel between her two love interests because of the money they have, which distracts her from her true feelings and causes her to worship the money.
In one of my favorite TV shows of all times, The Office, the protagonist of the show, the regional manager of the Scranton branch of the fictional company Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott always gets distracted from his work. One time, he had three months' worth of productivity reports to sign, which he did not want to do, so he procrastinated as much as possible. He walked around the office and made jokes about seemingly everything in random accents and voices. Instead of signing the forms and getting it over with, he sent chain emails about monkeys and called his coworker, Ryan, multiple times and tries to prank him using different voices. At one point in the episode, Michael gets so bored that he challenges Dwight, another coworker, to a duel at the dojo because Dwight is "assistant to the sensei." The whole office decides to go watch the duel between Michael and Dwight, which Michael wins, instead of doing their work. After that, Michael still refuses to do his work so the rest of the office has to forge his signature on the documents. Which is why his boss, Jan Levenstein, gets mad at him for the nonexistent productivity in the Scranton branch and threatens to downsize his branch in almost every season of the show.
When we look in the Bible, we see this happen too, such as the time when Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem. He finds people making business deals and selling doves instead of worshipping God. Jesus then gets mad and flips the tables of the people doing these deals, saying, “ My house shall be called a house of prayer but you are making it a den of robbers.” The people in this verse let their business deals distract them from worshipping God in a holy place.
Worshipping idols is something we are all probably a little guilty of, including myself. We all have those few wolves in our lives that we let distract us from God. For example, my family took a break from church for about six years. Those six years were quite eventful. I switched schools, started riding horses, started and quit ballet, and church became a distant memory for me. Around the same time that all of this was happening, horses became my obsession. I would spend every weekend horse showing or getting ready for shows. The thought of going back to church never crossed my mind because I was so busy with my horses. Horses were an escape from the everyday stressors of school. They took my mind off of my not-so-nice classmates. During that time, my relationship with God was not very strong. Horses were my wolf and I did not have a good shepherd to show me the way. And while I still love riding horses, I am very glad I am back here.
When my mother signed me up for confirmation in eighth grade, I’ll admit, I was not pleased. And when my mother finally convinced me to do confirmation I thought that the moment confirmation ended, my life would go back to the way it was before. This turned out to be just the opposite of what would actually happen. I fell in love with this wonderful community and I strengthened my relationship with God.
Whitney [Burton, associate rector at St. John's] reintroduced me to church and convinced me to go to my first youth event. Two years ago today, a nervous little eighth-grade me and my mother pulled into Camp Bethel for Spring Youth Event and from that moment on, I was in love. I made so many friends that weekend and I could not wait to go back. I began to understand what a relationship with God was really like.
Now, almost every weekend I am doing something with church. I serve as an acolyte, I am a YMT member, and I regularly attend youth group. I am surrounded by the most loving community I could ever ask for. I count down the days until the next youth event and I excitedly jump out of bed in the mornings for church or YMT meetings. I have found my flock and I now have Whitney, my good shepherd, to show me the way.
And even with all of that, I still get distracted from church every now and then. I still let my wolf take advantage of me and distract me from what really matters, my relationship with God. After multiple horse show weekends in a row, I am so used to the routine of waking up at four in the morning then working really hard to prep both my horse and myself mentally and physically, and then learn three or more jump courses before I enter the show ring, that church gets pushed to the back of my mind.
And in case any of y’all were wondering, yes, equestrians really are that crazy. That’s why we get our own category of crazy: horse crazy.
A lot of the time it can be difficult to turn away from the things that distract us from God, whatever they may be, and it can sometimes be really hard to come back to the flock. I’ll admit, I have gotten distracted by almost every one of these wolves in my lifetime.
In Daisy Buchanan’s case in The Great Gatsby, money became the most important thing in her life. Money bought her social status, something she had longed for her whole life. We all know that money is not only a distraction in fiction, but in real life too. We live in a world that seemingly revolves around money, which makes it hard to not get distracted by it. Lots of things in life come with a price tag. So, it is not always easy to avoid getting distracted by it, which is why the people decided to make business deals in the temple in the book of Matthew.
In The Office, both procrastination and boredom got the best of Michael Scott. The work he was doing was probably not very fun, which makes it so much easier to procrastinate. Coming from a pro procrastinator herself, that one is a hard wolf to tackle, especially when it comes down to two days before the chemistry checkpoint and I still have three more lectures to watch and four more worksheets to do before I can take my test and hope for a 75 or above in order to make a decent grade. In that case, I will most likely be dancing and singing my heart out to High School Musical instead of doing actual schoolwork.
For me, going back to church was not easy, and I tried to talk my mother out of it. When I lost that debate, I was not pleased. I was extremely nervous to start confirmation. I did not know much about church and I knew no one. I was terrified of saying something unintelligent in class. I also found it extremely difficult to sit through church services. That is a lot of wolves combined into one – fear, boredom, anger, and procrastination.
But, God still pulls me back in, just like the good shepherd in the Gospel pulls his sheep back in, even if he has to go off looking for them,which might not be the easiest thing to do. For me, a good day at church is a reminder that God is still with me. My heart gets the warm and fuzzies as soon as I walk through those big, wooden doors every Sunday or when I hear the first organ or guitar note for the opening hymn.
God pulls us back in because of his love for us, his flock. And because of this love, He tends to the weak, injured, sick and lost so that we are able to be one flock. Before I joined this flock, I was lost without a strong relationship with God, but He tended to me and pulled me back into this community. And when God pulls us back in, he pulls others into the community as well, so that we will hear his voice. In fact, Jesus has so much love for us that he risked his life for us on accord. He has the power to lay down his life and take it back up again. Jesus, the good shepherd, lived out God’s promises by doing this so that we are one flock.
Although we probably don’t risk our lives like Jesus did in order to be with God, we can still risk our time. We consciously make the decision to be with the Lord every Sunday much like Jesus risked his life on his own accord. We have the power to make the decision between being a part of the flock and following temptations of the wolf, even though it can be difficult. I’m sure the decision of Jesus to lay down his life for us wasn’t easy either. But God is here to help us make the decision to avoid the wolves and join the flock because of his love for us.
In the gospel today, the flock is the church as a whole. But, it could be our individual communities within the church. The flock could be our diocese, the youth mission team, St. John’s, the different circles of friends we have made, or the youth group. I guarantee that all of us let the wolf get us from time to time. The important thing is that we let God pull us back in and that we listen to his voice rather than that of the wolf even if it isn’t always easy.
So before we all go our separate ways after church today, I encourage you to stop and think. Take a moment to ask yourself these two questions: What is my wolf? And how does God pull me back in to the flock?
Listen to the sermon on our YouTube channel, here: