Years ago, when I was working on a master’s degree in counseling, one of the classes I took required some genealogical work. The assignment was to dig into the family history to learn about behavioral patterns that were perpetuated through the generations. Outside of the tall tales and myths I heard from my parents from time to time, I really knew very little about the genealogy of my family. Luckily, there was a great-uncle—one I didn’t even know I had—down in Florida who had done a lot of the hard work of discovering the history and roots of the Keener family. Let me assure you, it was some interesting reading and a whole lot of revelation.
You might remember that song from the old television show, Hee Haw, in which a bunch of forlorn hillbillies are lying around on the porch and singing a lamenting song: “Gloom, despair, excessive misery . . . if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” I think that is the Keener theme song . . . especially after reading the genealogical history my great-uncle sent me. We Keeners never seemed to be on the right side of anything throughout history.
For example, let’s take the American Revolution. My relatives came over from Germany well before the war ever broke out. When the war broke out they signed up to fight for the freedom of the colonies . . . they chose to be on the side of the revolutionaries. In their very first battle, like a lot of the battles, they lost . . . they got captured. Being of German descent they were conscripted into the Hessians and ended up fighting for the British.
British were not too invested in the so-called uprising taking place in the colonies . . . well, at least not enough to go over there and fight their own battles. Instead they hired an army from Germany—the Hessians. The Hessians were soldiers for hire . . . mercenaries. Approximately 30 thousand Hessians fought in the American Revolutionary War—about a fourth of the British forces in the battle. Because of their German ancestry, and not wanting to die, my relatives apparently did not argue about being conscripted into the Hessian forces. Of course, we all know the British—even with their army for hire—lost the war. We Keeners came on the short side of the stick on that one.
This morning I pose a question: Are you a mercenary or a patriot?
A mercenary is a gun for hire . . . a person whose loyalty is with whoever happens to be paying him or her . . . they are not fighting for the cause, but for the money. A patriot, on the other hand, is one who is fighting for a cause . . . most often for his or her country which he or she loves and strongly supports. A mercenary fights for reward . . . for money; the patriot for love. In lieu of our scripture reading this morning . . . I pose the question . . . when it comes to your faith . . . are you are mercenary or a patriot?
I guess the only way that any of us can answer that question is by considering what it is that we expect out of faith . . . what we think we should get out of being faithful . . . what it means to be faithful . . . what it means to be a follower of Jesus. What does it mean to be “faithful”?
Now for some being “faithful” is like a paid insurance policy that assures us our rightful place in heaven . . . an insurance policy that protects us from the things we shouldn’t do because of our sinful nature . . . allows us to go forth and be fully human and full of free will. It allows us to live life as we have always lived it and not have to worry about the consequences because Jesus paid off the policy for us. Being of such “faith” I would think that our faith is driven by the reward . . . driven by what we receive in the end. The loyalty is not in the one that is being followed, but in the payment that is received. Such faith is what I would consider to be a mercenary faith.
In our scripture reading this morning we hear Jesus talk about being the Good Shepherd . . . a shepherd that is willing to lay down his or her life for the sake of the sheep . . . a willingness to die in order to save the sheep. This is not a mercenary, but a patriot. Jesus says that the mercenary, the hired hand “. . . abandons the sheep and runs away . . . the man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” The mercenary only cares about what he or she is paid . . . his or her loyalty is for him or herself and what they can make. The “Good Shepherd”—the patriot—is there because of love . . . love for the sheep.
This reading comes well before the events that happened in Jerusalem. It is a prophetic statement from Jesus about what is about to come . . . the events that led to his arrest, trial, beating, and eventual death . . . the fact that he was willing to lay down his life for all . . . to lay down his life for the cause. He is a patriot. During the Easter season this reading serves as a reminder of what the followers of Jesus are called to be . . . a reminder of who they are to follow . . . they are to be “good shepherds” . . . called to be patriots.
Last Sunday I told you that the call of Easter is to embrace life . . . now, I want to tell you that it is also to embrace Jesus . . . not for the promise of eternal life . . . not for a fail-safe insurance policy; but for the sake of living life to its fullest. Easter is a call to listen to the voice of the “Good Shepherd” . . . to trust the “Good Shepherd” . . . and, to follow him where he leads. He leads us towards life . . . he leads us towards the Kingdom of God . . . he leads us to peace. It is not the life of a mercenary that he calls us to, but to the life of a patriot. He calls us to life . . . he calls us to love.
As a mercenary it is easy to argue that one is living the life of faith. As mercenary one has confessed loyalty for the one who has bought him or her . . . if faith is declaring allegiance to a savior who was willing to go to the cross for one’s sins, well so be it. If that is all it takes . . . consider it done. Remember the loyalty of the mercenary is not in the cause . . . not based on the love . . . but, on where the money is coming from. If faith is a cheap insurance policy promising heaven and nothing else . . . then the mercenary lives a life of faith.
Yet, that is not what Jesus laid down his life for . . . not for cheap grace. No, he laid down his life to show us the way . . . the way to life . . . the way to love. He showed us what it meant to be the “good Shepherd” . . . to be the patriot . . . to die for a cause. What was the “cause”? The “cause” was for life . . . for the Kingdom of God . . . for love. The “cause” was for peace. Peace that comes from being in an intimate and fulfilling relationship with God that lives up to what God has creates us to be . . . peace that comes from loving others as we love God and ourselves. The “cause” is life . . . the “cause” is love. A love that one is willing to sacrifice all for . . . even one’s life.
The challenge of Easter is to embrace life—life through Jesus. Through Jesus this life was revealed . . . not as the world knows it, but as it really is. Jesus calls us to be patriots. What are you? Are you a mercenary . . . or are you a patriot? I imagine that it depends on who you are listening to . . . Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me . . . they too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
Mercenary or patriot? It is always our choice. Let us not do as my relatives did . . . may we all choose wisely. Amen.