First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: June 16, 2019
Scripture: Hinduism. Basavanna, Vacana 247
Romans 12:9-18 The Message
Sermon: “Simpson’s Sheep Just Want to Sleep, Showing Up”
Hinduism. Basavanna, Vacana 247
What sort of religion can it be without compassion? You need to show compassion to all living beings. Compassion is the root of all religious faiths.
Romans 12:9-18 The Message
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody.
All I remember from the experience was an exchange I had with Elsie Crickard, who had once been my District Superintendent early in my ministry. There was a requirement for those of us just out of seminary to fulfill three different experiences in the Annual Conference. One of which was to attend a gathering at the Conference Office, take a tour, learn about requesting information, support, resources, etc. from the Conference Office and Staff…I attended…though I did not want to be there. I had grown up in the conference. I had watched my dad navigate the conference.
I had already been serving in the local church and accessing information, support, resources, etc. from the Conference Office and Staff for some 6 or 7 years. This meeting, an all-day meeting mind you after a 2 ½ hour drive, was a waste of my time. I stood next to Elsie at the back of the room we had gathered in about half way through the tour and expressed my displeasure of my required attendance. I did not need to be here. I could be using my time more effectively.
Have you ever been in that situation, present in a place you just really do not want to be and yet required to be present? It is frustrating at best and life and soul sucking at worst. I can get myself pretty worked up when those around me seem to be taking up my time with things I do not need or need to be interested in, especially when, at least in my mind and opinion, I have the answer and solution!
I thought of this experience as I considered Mr. Simpson and the problem he had with his sheep.1 Here is Mr. Simpson, he has a pretty good life it seems. He has a good routine. All is well on Mr. Simpson’s farm. He wakes in the morning with the rising sun. There are certain things that need to be taken care of. He has been doing this for a long time, he knows what to do and how to get it done. He most likely does not have time for interruptions in his ritual and routine. He does not need distraction because it takes away from the important things he needs to get done.
And then there are his sheep, for whatever reason they have decided not to participate in the routine ritual this morning. These sheep have decided to not participate in the status quo. They have decided to sleep all day. I wondered why? Were they just tired? Had they stayed up too late the night before? Were they organizing a “sleep in?” Was this some kind of protest against routine and ritual… the status quo, the way things have always been? I wondered, what is behind this defiant act of these sheep?
And again, there is Mr. Simpson. He has to break his routine and figure out how to get these sheep awake. He tries everything to get their attention. I wondered in the midst of his clanging, rocking, whistling, noisy carrying on if he got the attention of the other farm animals? Did they turn around and watch anxiously from where they are and listen to Mr. Simpson’s noise and ranting and carrying on? Did they talk among themselves about those lazy sheep and how they should listen to Mr. Simpson and his loud display? There is plenty of that in our world today, blustery noise trying to get our attention, lord knows there are those telling us we should be paying attention!
And so Mr. Simpson’s loud carrying on is to no avail. The sheep just want to sleep. So, Mr. Simpson decides to acquire and set loose a secret weapon. He goes to the local animal rescue, a wise decision on his part and gets a dog…a barking, chasing, rounding up, noisy dog. That will do the trick.
How many dog persons here this morning? I am a dog person, though we have two cats as well. I thought about bringing our dog Simeon with me this morning, but I decided with communion I was not sure how I would navigate that. Simeon, our oldest dog is a Labrador/Shar Pei mix. Mr. Simpson’s dog reminded me of Simeon. Simeon is not much of a barker… though he will if he needs to. I have long referred to him as my Zen Master. Overall, he is a calm, laid back, easy going dog. He is perfectly content just being present.
One of my favorite stories took place when we lived in western Kansas and I was out on a walk along a country road. As we walked, Simeon began to lean into me placing himself between me and the road ditch to my right. It was a little annoying actually. He began pushing really hard into my leg as we walked. I would scold him and yet he just kept pushing. I took my headphones out of my ears and discovered the sound of a rattlesnake just a few feet in front of us. Simeon is calm and gentle, however also a protective dog.
When we are at home he can sense when I get upset and will come sit …usually just out of my reach… I have interpreted that to be, “I’m just here, you don’t need to scratch my head, this isn’t for me it’s for you…calm down and be.” At least that is how I choose to translate.
There is something about Mr. Simpson’s dog that reminds us it is not the loud blustery noisy antics of the crowd we need to move through this life, though sometimes it might be necessary… I believe often it is the quiet, patient, gentle nudges of those around us we need to pay more attention to. Too often it is those that we miss if we are not paying attention. Just watching for those who simply show up, make themselves vulnerable and seen, who are perfectly content simply being present to and for you… or encouraging us to do and be the same.
Brene Brown, Author and Speaker in her book about Vulnerability speaks to this “Showing up” when she says, “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re afraid about what people might see or think.”2
We should never mistake quiet presence and vulnerability for weakness or lack of fortitude.
I believe that is at least in part, what Paul is addressing in this piece we read from the letter to the Romans. Paul is talking about building community, which I believe is what the Christian journey is about. Paul is writing to this early community of faith about what it means to be a follower of the Way. He is writing about what it means to live in community and connection with one another. We need not; we should not try to go it alone. The community of faith is about being together, about showing up, about not abandoning one another when times get tough, sometimes in strong, perhaps even noisy ways… however, in my experience it is often the gentle nudges, the quiet presence, the refusal to give up, the showing up, the “Being There” that motivates and reassures those who are struggling with the status quo, struggling with the journey, and looking for hope, compassion, and love.
Paul says of community… “Let love be genuine, love one another, rejoice in hope, be patient, pray, be hospitable to strangers, bless those who curse you, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another, do not be haughty, live peaceably with one another… show up. Be vulnerable. Be Present.”
After Elsie had probably had enough as she listened to my noisy rant and whining about being where I did not think I needed to be. She turned and looked at me and simply said, “Kent, it’s not what you get out of these kind of meetings, it’s what you bring.” I have never forgotten that lesson, though I am not always successful in practicing it. Elsie’s gentle nudge that day was a simple reminder to be present and be willing to be in community.
It is a valuable lesson from Mr. Simpson, his dog, and his sheep this morning… sometimes all it takes is for one to risk being vulnerable with a gentle nudge to move us on down the road to love. It is a valuable lesson from Paul’s letter to the Romans to simply show up in community and be here for those who long to be loved. It is enough. May it be so.
1 Arant, Bruce, 2017. Simpson’s Sheep Just Want to Sleep, Peter Pauper Press, White Plains, NY.
2 Brown, Brene, 2015. Daring Greatly, How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Avery Random House, Manhattan.