Monday, April 27, 2015

I need to be a sheep

Good Shepherd Sunday
A sermon preached at St. Luke's Church in Scranton, PA
The Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch

So last night I had an email from Fr. Sweeny saying, “You do remember that you are coming to St. Luke’s tomorrow.” This is because in an earlier email to him I had written that I was looking forward to seeing him and all the people of Good Shepherd. Now this is not because I am confused about which of our churches in Scranton I was visiting today, but because I was thinking about The Good Shepherd.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Always on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd is one of our powerful and treasured images of our savior, and is worthy of our contemplation as we celebrate the resurrection and new life, abundant life, of Easter.

So why a Shepherd? And what does that mean to us today, in the middle of downtown Scranton?

Shepherds hang out in the wilderness, and on the edge of things. They are nomads, in a sense, wandering from place to place to provide good grazing for their sheep. Shepherds are watchful, looking for green pastures and still waters, keeping an eye out for enemies as well …and for dangerous terrain… and for lost sheep. Shepherds are caring; after all, that is their main job to care for the sheep.

So just maybe a shepherd is useful image for the people of St. Luke’s in this time of transition. Transition can leave you wondering: what is this all about, will it ever end, will I ever feel comfortable and at home again. Perhaps a few of you have felt like you have been in the wilderness, or at least on the edge of things. So it may be a comfort to remember that
in the midst of it all comes Jesus—not just any shepherd, but the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd is not only on the edge of things, watchful and caring, but is the one who goes looking for every lost sheep, and goes so far as to lays down his life for the sheep. Now despite what I have read about real shepherds in the time of Jesus who might sacrifice their lives to protect their sheep from the enemy, I find it hard to fathom. I can see a shepherd being good with a slingshot, fighting off the wolves or lions that might prey on their flock. But to give their lives for those sheep?

But lest we forget the very reason we are here, this is what Jesus did—gave his life for us. Willingly lay down his life for us.  And we weren’t even born yet. After all, this is why we are all here this morning. None of us would be here if we didn’t somewhere in our heart of hearts know that we are loved by God, and that we hunger for that love.

There are many ways the shepherd leads us, but I have three thoughts this morning

One: It’s about relationship. It’s a relationship in which the shepherd cares for us, wants us to be fed and nurtured, and knows us by name. The Good Shepherd wants us to follow him, not for some great glory, but so that he can lead us to good things.

Two: it’s about the flock. Flock is a single noun that encompasses many. Jesus call us to him “so there will be one flock, on shepherd.” We are not in this on our own; we are all in it together. This does not mean that we all do the same things at the same time, or believe exactly the same things, or practice our faith in the same way. It means that we are not alone. We navigate this territory in relationship to one another. It is a shared journey; one each of you shares with everyone here today and with all the people of St. Luke’s. And you know it is more than that. You share in the life of the Diocese of Bethlehem, and beyond. Because what we are, are members together of the Body of Christ. Noting less.

What does it mean to be the flock? To be the Body of Christ? To be St. Luke’s?

Three: it’s about hospitality.  We are to remind each other that we are on the journey together and to point out the gifts along the way. When some of us are walking in the shadow of death, others are to hold up the light and remind us that God is with us. When some of us are hungry, others are to show the way to the abundance of God’s table, to offer food and drink, and, as the First letter of John commends us, we are to love “not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

How can you offer hospitality now, and in the time ahead? To one another, to someone new to come among you, to those who serve with you along the way?

This is how we survive the wilderness: relationship, togetherness, hospitality. But our lives in Christ are not about survival. This is how we celebrate being the people of God: relationship, togetherness, hospitality. This is how we live the new life, the abundant life, that Jesus gives us.

It is easy to lose sight of this. It is easy to listen to other voices that distract us from the Shepherd’s voice. We can succumb to the siren call of voices tell us we will be happy if we buy certain clothes, cars, or phones. I know that I can be distracted by voices who encourage me to be prideful and arrogant, voices who tell me I am less than who I am…or more, and voices who encourage me to join the chorus of complaint.

When we are distracted by other voices, we can see only the valley of the shadow of death and miss that the Good Shepherd is there, leading us through. Without the voice of the Good Shepherd, we can see only that we are surrounded by enemies and miss the table that is set for us in the midst of those who trouble us.

I don’t know about you, but I need to be a sheep.  I need to be one of God’s flock. I need to be cared for. I need to stop trying to do it all on my own, I need to stop trying to fix everything, I need to stop holding on to useless things and troubling practices. I need to pay attention to the one who calls me by name, who leads me to good places to rest, to holy food and life giving water.  The one who revives my soul, the one who, in the midst of trouble, sets a table in front of me and invites me to sit and taste abundance. I need to put myself in the hands of Jesus, who offers not just life—but abundant life

What does it mean for St. Luke’s to have life? And to have it abundantly? How is this already manifest among you?

In contemplating the Good Shepherd, artist and minister Jan Richardson poses these questions:
As you navigate this shared life, what, or who, is determining the direction of your path these days? Which has more influence over the shape of your path—your reactions, or your intentions? How are you experiencing the hospitality of Christ? How might he be challenging you to know and hear him in this season?

In out collect for today we prayed: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads. Be a sheep. Follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. Receive the new life, abundant life, given to you by Jesus.

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