The Rev. Sheila M. Scott, Deacon
Fourth Sunday of Easter
One of my vivid memories from my early childhood is Grandma calling out at dusk for my brother and me to come home from our daily after school adventures with other kids in our neighborhood. She had a distinctive high pitched voice, no matter where we were in the neighborhood, there was no missing her call to us: “Levente, Csilla, zu haus”. Everyone around knew, we had been summoned, and we better get going… there was no disobeying my Grandmother, she loved us, but she had no qualms in disciplining us if we disobeyed her. Having been raised by a devout German Roman Catholic Grandmother, I believed that is how God is, a strict disciplinarian.
Those early years I associated God more with punishment than with love. Eventually I came to understand that God is much more forgiving than my Grandmother was. Unfortunately many adults never get past that childish understanding of God’s nature. My heart goes out to them, they miss out on God’s abundant love and grace for every human being.
Many Christians today can only focus on the “thou shall nots…” of the Old Testament, and completely miss out on Jesus’ radical message of love, forgiveness and compassion for every human being, no matter who they are, where they are from, and what they have done in their pasts.
Today’s Gospel reading from John says: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).
Now let’s be honest, when we think of sheep, we think of feeble minded animals, who are unable to think for themselves, and therefore apt to follow along with the rest of the herd, sometimes into dangerous situations. Why would we want to be associated with sheep?
Well, we humans are not much better than sheep, we tend to follow our peers, and not think through the consequences of our actions. I believe it is safe to say, we all have been there, and done that at one time or another…just to realize later we should have used our heads a little more.
The Prophet Isaiah used sheep to illustrate the waywardness of God’s people also “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6)”
Being a good sheep, a sheep that sticks with its flock and tries to remain close to the shepherd, requires some basic qualities that are also essential to being a good Christian. Like the sheep, we Christians benefit from belonging to the flock – the church, where we receive guidance, nourishment, love and care. With benefits, come responsibilities also, and those cannot be taken lightly. We need to extend the same love and care and provide nourishment to others outside the church walls, those at the margins of society, the needy, the sick, the dying, and the elderly.
There are multiple false prophets in our society who claim to have inside knowledge of the word of God. Sometime we wish Jesus’ call to us would be as loud and clear as my Grandmother’s was, leaving no question in who is calling us, and what he is calling us to do? But are we ready to hear God’s voice plain and clear, and follow his command? How could we justify our inaction? And then there is the cost to discipleship, are we ready to pay the price?
Earlier in my Christian journey I would have liked the easy way out, a clear, unambiguous message from God as to what I was called to, but then I realized every time God communicated with humans directly, it was a terrifying experience, so I figured I am safer doing the work of discernment, learning to listen to the Shepherd’s voice deep down in my soul. Learning to hear the Shepherd’s voice requires emptying our minds of all the chatter, listening, and patiently waiting to hear Him. The same is true for discernment in a church community.
The Good Shepherd cares for all His sheep, not just some of them, and not for some more than others. Jews of Jesus’ day felt they were the chosen ones of God, but Jesus said: “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” (John 10:6).
Despite Jesus’ message of inclusivity, of love for all people, throughout the centuries Christians time and time again tried to put a fence around God and say, “Private property, off limits to outsiders”.
Or, we as a people, yes, I am talking about us Americans, we get it in our heads that we alone are privileged by God. Once we have come to believe that God is the personal property of our country, then it becomes very difficult for God to get it into our heads that God cares for those folks “over there” just as much as God cares for us folks “over here”. Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father” not “My Father”. Our, includes not just one race or nation, one religion or denomination, but EVERYONE. How many wars, injustices were perpetrated in the name of God? Think of the Crusades, slavery, the Holocaust, and the list goes on and on…the herd mentality in action!
Despite all our shortcomings, God never gives up on us. We may stop loving God, but God never stops loving us. God is out there on every road where people like sheep get themselves lost, and calls them back home.
The Good Shepherd cares for His sheep, and for all his sheep equally. He promises to keep his sheep. God does not promise us that we will never have to go through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23), but He does promise us that none of us need to make that journey alone. Faith in the Good Shepherd is a means of facing challenges head-on knowing that we are never alone.
It is tempting to believe that we are smart enough and discerning enough to understand the word of God and follow it on our own without the guidance of others…but in the words of Father Richard Rohr: “…there is no other form of Christian life except a common one. Until and unless Christ is experienced as a living relationship between people, the Gospel remains largely an abstraction” (2016 Meditations by Fr. RR)
We need to learn from each other, support each other, in order to grow in faith and love, and then be able to share that love with others outside our comfort zones, changing the understanding of what church is.
We are at a crossroads in our church community and our nation. It is up to us to choose the road ahead. Are we going to choose the voice of the Good Shepherd and his message of radical love and inclusion, or are we going to choose the voices of false prophets, and their voices of hatred and exclusion. It is up to us, what will it be?
I would like to close with a poem by an unknown author:
“Let us dream of a church
In which all members know surely and simply of God’s great
Love, and each is certain that in the divine heart we are all
Known by name.
A church in which
Worship is lively and fun as well as reverent and holy…
The Eucharist is the center of life and servanthood the center of mission…
Affirming life over death as much as life after death,
Unafraid of change, able to recognize God’s hand in the
Affirming the beauty of diversity,
Abhorring the imprisonment of uniformity…
Let us dream of a church
With a radically renewed concept and practice of ministry…
Where there is no clerical status and no classes of Christians…
So salty and yeasty that it really would
Be missed if no longer around…
And finally, let us dream of a people called
To recognize all the absurdities in ourselves and in one another,
Including the absurdity that is LOVE,
Serious about the call and the mission
But not, very much, about ourselves”.