At the prompting of a wise friend, I framed the message today on the idea of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. So, in essence, I gave The Last Sermon. The condition was I had to play the hand I was dealt, scripturally speaking; in other words, I had to follow the lectionary readings for this Sunday.
If today was my last sermon, then this is what I wanted to say: Don't be sheep. Be men.
Christ is the Good Shepherd, but I believe he desires to be the shepherd of men and women, not sheep. Sheep are downright stupid. We embrace that sheep imagery and think it biblical and meek and mild and compassionate and so on and so forth. Now, sometimes we may act like sheep, but we were not created to be sheep.
Listen to Alfred Lord Tennyson - For what are men better than sheep or goats that nourish a blind life within the brain, if, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer both for themselves and those who call them friend? (The Passing of Arthur)
And if you're partial to westerns, one of the best in recent history is Open Range with Kevin Coster and Robert Duvall. In one of the film's most poignant scenes, Coster's character is listening to a member of the townsfolk bemoaning all the injustice and violence being doled out on the little town by the evil land-grabbing-baron. The guy says, "Well, what can we do?" Costner responds, "You're men, ain't ya'?" And everyone in the saloon knows that no, they're not living like men, but rather like sheep.
Taking intentional steps in the direction of being men and women has to do with paying attention. I had the people recite this poem by William Carlos Williams, it being National Poetry Month and all:
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
If you and I are just sheep, then a red wheelbarrow it just a red wheelbarrow. And that rainwater? Nothing but rainwater. The white chickens? Just chickens. But you see, my friends, so much depends upon you and I not being sheep and paying attention to those things around us. If we're living like men, then things mean things: like red wheelbarrows and white chickens and silver chalices filled with communion wine and bread blessed and broken by the hands of a priest-friend and an old rugged cross upon which Jesus died. So much depends upon us not living like stupid, empty-headed sheep. So much.
If today was my Last Sermon, that's what I'd tell you. This old world's got more than enough of stupid. Be a man.