Easter 4b, April 26, 2015

April 27, 2015

The Lord Is My #
John 10:11-18

10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

What in the world does that symbol we call the hashtag represent? And why would I say that the Lord is my hashtag? I’m not the best person to explain what the hashtag symbol now represents, but I don’t want the truth to get in the way of what to say about it, so I’m going to explain it the way I understand it. I am a bit of a tweeter, so I have some sense of what it is, but I’m sure there are people in this room who have no idea why people even talk about hashtags. Why I would say that the Lord is my hashtag is probably a mystery to everyone, and it may remain a mystery at the end of my sermon, but I hope I can make some sense of this odd phrase I’ve formulated and claimed.

Even though I am a bit of a tweeter I can tell you that I have found the hash-tag symbol to be perplexing. Before I went on my bike journey to the Atlantic I was encouraged by Kelli Reep, my twitter tutor, to end my tweets with a hashtag in front of the words pedalthompsonpedal, but my phone was slow to remember that phrase and I got tired of typing it. I also didn’t quite get it, so I quit doing it pretty early on.

I’m still not one to utilize hashtag language in my rare tweets, but I’ve come to understand it’s use a bit more. The most helpful thing was to read an anecdote about how the hashtag acquired it’s place in the tweeting world, and I’ll say a bit more about that in a moment. I may not convince you that it’s perfectly reasonable for me to declare that the Lord is my hashtag, but it means something to me. And part of what I’m hoping to do this morning is to bring some attention to the way in which we seek to communicate the good news of God’s unbounded love for us in this rapidly changing world. It’s sort of bizarre to speak of God as my hashtag, but how normal is it for us city dwelling, keyboard punching, grocery shoppers to refer to Jesus as the good shepherd. Granted, you don’t need a degree in husbandry to get the basic concept of shepherding, but we have no idea what it was actually like to be a 1st Century Palestinian shepherd.

The shepherding economy that dominated the land of Palestine provided a nice metaphor for the early Hebrew poets, for Jesus, and for those who wrote about Jesus. This shepherding language has stuck around because it basically makes sense, and it makes for nice imagery. I will say it’s not particularly inspirational for us to think of ourselves as sheep. In terms of animal achievement and behavior, sheep function under a pretty low bar, but such animals need good oversight and it’s nice to think of God as our shepherd, and of Jesus as the good shepherd.

I can affirm that this shepherding language still speaks to our relationship with God in a benevolent way, but we live in a much more complex economy. We don’t handle animals for a living – we manage digits. And some of the most dangerous predators we face don’t have fangs and claws – they have software programs that wreak havoc in our lives through wireless signals.

We operate in a complex and strange economy, and it’s shifty. It’s hard to keep up with how things work and what things mean.

Of course this is reflected in the way we communicate, and one huge change that has occurred during my lifetime is the way we use symbols on the keyboard. Now I totally avoided computer programming when I was in college, so I never caught on to what back-slashes and forward slashes and colons meant when you were telling a computer what to do. But I can remember how dumbfounded I was when somebody tried to explain to me how email worked. Why I was going to be twmurray@juno.com made no sense to me, but I began using the symbols I was told to use, and I’ve sort of learned to do what I’m supposed to do without even wondering why we do it.

You can’t find me @juno.com anymore, but you can follow me on twitter, and I might even start using a hashtag every now and then because I finally sort of get it. And here’s my short tutorial on how twitter works. If you really want to understand how it works you should talk to Kelli or most anyone else in the room, but as I say, I’m more interested in communicating what I think than what is true.

If you abide in the twitter universe you have an address which is a name that begins with the @ sign. Don’t ask why – it just is. And once you have an account other people can notice that you’re there and they can choose to follow you. And what that means is that anytime you type a short message and send it out it will go to everyone who has chosen to follow you.

And here’s where this hashtag business comes in to play. If you want to send out a thought about something that you want to be seen by people who don’t follow you can put a hashtag in front of the key word or phrase and then whoever searches for that hashtagged phrase will see what you wrote. If you are interested in a subject that others have probably tweeted about you can search for that subject with a hashtag in front of it, and you will see what everyone else in the world has had to say about that particular word or phrase.

I read in the Urban Dictionary that this may have come about when Flight #1549 went down in the Hudson River and so many people saw it and began tweeting about it. Early on, someone concluded their tweet with the hashtag preceding Flight1549, someone else retweeted the message, which got retweeted a few thousand or million times in a short period of time, and when people wanted to get more information about the situation they would do a search for #flight1549. And this is how the hashtag came to be reborn as a symbol to seek information about a previously identified topic.

This may not make sense. It may not even be true, but it helps me to understand it. And the way I understand it – you use the hashtag to identify what it is you are wanting to know about. The hashtag symbol is the symbol of whatever it is you are focused upon.

We live in a world where the way in which we communicate is changing quickly and constantly. And while the way in which we communicate is in perpetual flux, the essence of what we communicate doesn’t really change. We are all still trying to stay in touch with people we love and care about, and we are still trying to understand the things that are most important to us.

Jesus used the imagery of a good shepherd to speak of the way in which he tried to get people to follow him in to the true fold – in to the place where they would find life and find it abundantly. He spoke of the way in which a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, and how sheep are able to recognize the voice of the good shepherd.

Where do we go to find that voice? And once we’ve heard it how do we help other people recognize that there is this voice out there that’s calling for us to find life and to find it abundantly? That is the challenge we face, and the opportunity we have. The challenge is that we are inundated with information and opportunities to learn about anything under the sun. Our access to information and to the messages of people from all over the world has never been greater and it grows every day. It’s actually overwhelming to think about what we can learn, what we can see, and what we can spread. If fact it’s possible to be totally occupied with incoming information that will lead us nowhere and to find enough entertainment to keep us satisfied with our lack of understanding.

Our challenge is to gain access to those things that will actually gives us life, and to help others find their way in to that light.

If we are people who consider the Lord to be our shepherd, and people who see Jesus as the good shepherd, then I think it also makes sense for us to be people who consider the Lord to be our hashtag. Because when I say that the Lord is my hashtag I’m saying the Lord is what I’m wanting to talk about. If the Lord is my hashtag it’s the Lord that I’m wanting to be about. The Lord is my hashtag because it’s the Lord I’m wanting to know about.

The Lord is my hashtag. It’s not good poetry, and you may not get it, but in some way that line grabs me in a way that shepherding language doesn’t. I don’t know any shepherds, but I know a lot of people who use hashtags to bring emphasis to the issues of our day, and I want the love of Christ to be one of those issues.

The way in which we communicate with each other is in a constant state of transition, and it’s not easy to remain current with the technology. It can be rather intimidating to try to keep up with the ways in which we share important information, but you can also say that we’ve never had such good tools for the work of sharing the news of God’s abundant love for all of us. The truth is that our challenge remains the same. The Spirit of God has always been a mysterious presence, and there’s always only been only one thing necessary in order for us to experience and to share that mysterious truth. All it really takes is a loving and willing heart.

We live in an odd world, but it’s always been this way, and God is still here with us. Whether the Lord is your hashtag or your shepherd the good news is that when this is the case – you shall not want!

Thanks be to God.


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