This coming Sunday is the fourth Sunday in the fifty day season of Easter. In keeping with the new Catholic liturgical calendar (and the ecumenical common lectionary) is is known each year as Good Shepherd Sunday. This year I'll be preaching on the good shepherd texts twice. On Saturday we will be gathering for a memorial service to grieve the death - and thank God for the life - of our beloved elder Bernice who died on Easter Sunday at the age of ninety. She has been a vital member of our congregation for sixty years. Bernice asked that we be sure to include the 23rd Psalm - the Good Shepherd psalm.
On Sunday we will be baptising two year old Luke. A few years ago I began the practice of preaching the sermon on the day of a baptism to the person being baptised. I first thought of this when reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's sermon written from prison on the occasion of his young nephew's baptism. Though I expect that it was not unusual for preachers in other traditions to preach to the person being baptised - especially as this often occurred in the home among family rather than on Sunday in the congregation - I have always associated it with Bonhoeffer and, hence, with Lutherans. It seems most appropriate to me that this Sunday the sermon will be created for the baptism of toddler Luke since he is the inheritor of the Lutheran lineage of his parents and grand-parents (not to mention the rich Lutheran heritage of his birthplace in Camrose).
Complicating matters on Sunday will be the text from Revelation 7:9-17 in which Jesus is portrayed as, paradoxically, both lamb and shepherd. It will be an opportunity for us to sing perhaps the greatest hymn text yet written by a child of The United Church of Canada. Sylvia Dunstan's hymn "You, Lord, Are Both Lamb and Shepherd" was originally titled "Christus Paradox" and is grounded in the theology of Soren Kierkegaard. Yes, Kierkegaard was a Lutheran. The hymn will be a fine gift to give young Luke on his entry into the Christian community and story Like the hymn, and following on Kierkegaard, Sunday's sermon dare not attempt to resolve the inherent paradoxes of the gospel.
I find the challenge of preaching at funerals and baptisms to be, well, a real challenge. Speaking a gospel word on such occasions is one of the great privileges of the vocation of a pastor. It is a time when one is keenly aware that words are hardly adequate and yet somehow very necessary. It is only Tuesday but I am already fretting over - and praying for - words that will faithfully express (or, at least, not get in the way of) God's good word.