Sunday, April 21, 2013

21 April 2013 ~ The Rev. Peter M. Carey 21 April 2013 Sermon – the Good Shepherd

The Rev. Peter M. Carey
21 April 2013
Sermon – the Good Shepherd

Today we pray:

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, for ever and ever. Amen

The “good shepherd,” a phrase that rolls off Christian tongues so quickly may conjur up happy and pastoral images from stained glass windows or statues of a kind Jesus taking the lamb to his chest and caressing it.  And, of course, this image is one that we celebrate, and we give thanks for the way that God through Christ is kind and loving and caring. 

For our ears, the “good shepherd” is a happy image of an  ideal kind of parent or boss or leader, who cares for us even we are the sheep who have wandered away.   In John’s gospel, Jesus proclaims himself as the “good shepherd” and then after forgiving Peter and showing his love for Peter, he asks Peter to feed my lambs, to tend my lambs, and feed my sheep.

Those who first heard the words, “the good shepherd” may have had a more jarring image, when “good and shepherd” were referenced together.  Indeed, we might say they were thrown into confusion, or cognitive dissonance.  For the ears of those who first heard the words “the good shepherd,” those who gathered in the catacombs and who met in hidden places for fear of the Romans, those early followers of “the way” that we hear about in Acts, for them, these words may have been strange indeed.

First, the shepherds.  The shepherds were seen as strange and even vulgar and thieving figures in the time of Jesus.  Accustomed to rough living, contending with wild beasts and wild people out in the hinterland and wilderness of Judea and Israel, the shepherds protected their sheep with passion, but learned to be tough and learned to live rough.  They were shaped by their surroundings, by the work they did, and by those with whom they interacted.  The shepherds were, in many ways, wild and unpredictable – at least for those who lived in the towns and cities.  They were feared by many, and if people of Jesus’ time were asked to do a word association test and the word was “shepherd” they might respond, “thief,” “crook,” “undesirable.”

However, it was these thieves, crooks and undesirables to whom God first sent the Angel – “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.”  And they went to the manger (a strange and wild place to be born!) and they were welcomed there by Mary, and Joseph and Jesus.  Our image of this meeting is cleaned up in our imagination by artwork and by cute Christmas Pageants, however, it must have been quite a meeting, quite an encounter – quite an epiphany – for these thieves, crooks and undesirables as they encountered “God with us.”  From the start, Jesus, himself showed his radical hospitality and welcome to even those who might be outside the margins, who might be seen as “other,” and who were not “perfect” or “holy” or “cleaned up and ready for prime time.”  Jesus welcomed them though they were thieves, crooks and undesirables.  Jesus welcomed them not because they were good, but because he is good, and desired them to be with him.  Strangeness and wildness.

In this first story of Jesus life, of his birth, we are introduced to the shepherds, these thieves, crooks and undesirables.  Today, we hear about Jesus, himself, as the “good” shepherd, a contradiction in terms, perhaps, for those hearing “good” and “shepherd” together, but here we see and hear Jesus redeeming the image of the shepherd, just as he is our redeemer.

Jesus is the good shepherd who cares for his sheep, who’s voice is recognized by the sheep, and who protects them, abides with them, cares for them, and also whose “rod” and “staff” protect them.  With the staff, the shepherd would herd the sheep, keep them  moving along the way, keep them on the narrow path, and find them and rescue them when they fall.  With the rod, the pointy side of the crook, the shepherd would fend off predators, those who mean the sheep harm, those who would make the sheep cringe with pain and fear. 

"Bostonians are rightly proud of our Marathon.
It is a uniquely American event which opens its arms to the world.
Any and all are welcome: men and women, able-bodied and disabled, young and old across the races and religions of the planet.
That anyone could target this celebration of global family is impossible to conceive.
Our hearts ache for the injured innocents; and we are so grateful and proud of our first-responders, our President, our Governor and Mayor for their calm strength and leadership in this tragic time."

~ James Taylor, April 15 2013

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