Easter IV Sermon Year B, “One Flock, One Shepherd”

Sunday, May 7, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

Acts 4:23-37; Ps. 23; 1 John 3:1-8; John 10:11-16

Lectio Divina is a meditative prayer form using the scriptures. Its literal translation from the Latin is, “divine reading.” In Lectio Divina a person reads a segment of scripture and then reflects on which particular word or phrase stands out in one’s mind. One then reflects, or meditates, on how through that word or phrase, God is speaking. It is a method of listening to the Divine, allowing the Holy word to become alive for us. For the past few weeks I have been using Lectio Divina with our Tuesday Bible study group to reflect on the weekly Gospel.

A variation of Lectio Divina is to read the scripture and then enter into it by imagining that you are one of the characters in the story. Take for example the familiar parable of The Prodigal Son. When practicing this form of Lectio Divina, I sometimes enter the story as the prodigal: the feckless son who goes off and squanders his inheritance. Doing this, I am able to see the times when I have squandered God’s gifts to me. And also the times that I have been forgiven and embraced.

Sometimes I reluctantly enter the story as the resentful and angry son. I say reluctantly because I know that more often that not I behave exactly as he does. Becoming this character in the Gospel allows me to see the times that I been resentful when someone receives abundant forgiveness and love. Or the times I have been jealous that someone has been rewarded with gifts and a lovely party for no apparent good reason, while I, who have labored mightily, receive scant notice for my efforts.

And every once in a while I enter the story as the father, who offers abundant and non-judgmental love to that feckless son: grace in it’s purest form. And I recall those few times in my life when I have been able to do just that as well. But most especially when I enter as the father, I am reminded of the frequent times I have not behaved as the father. Using this method of Lectio Divina brings me to heart of God’s word: that of all the characters, the father is the one that God wants me to strive to become.

So what if we apply this form of Lectio Divina to today’s story of the Good Shepherd? What character would you enter the story as? And just how is God speaking to you through that character?

Let’s take an inventory of the characters - both two footed and four - in today’s Gospel that we have to choose from.

First there’s the Good Shepherd, who is Jesus. But since we are called to model Jesus’ behavior in the world, the shepherd becomes a valid option - in fact becomes our role model character. As with the father in The Prodigal Son, it is the Good Shepherd in this story that we should strive to become like.

Then there’s the hired hand, the character who when trouble and danger arrives flees, because he does not really care for those entrusted to his protection. His only interest is self-interest.

Then of course there are the sheep in the fold. These are the sheep who know that the only way to authentic life is to trust in the Good Shepherd, who loves and protects them from all the dangers and fears of life: in fact who does this even to the point of giving up his own life for them.

And then of course there are the sheep not yet in the fold. These sheep are those who have not yet heard of the Good Shepherd who provides authentic life. Obviously these sheep live in areas where there is no cable T.V. or cell phone service, leading me to believe that they reside in many parts of rural New Hampshire!

Now I happen to think that there is a sub-category of this bunch of sheep not yet in the fold. They are sheep who have actually heard of the Good Shepherd and desire to heed his voice, but they are prevented from doing so by a bunch of sheep in the fold, (yet another sub-category) but who keep bleating at them they are not worthy to enter. BTW This belief that there are these additional sub-category characters is based purely on my observation and experience, and not on what our text says. At least not explicitly!

Regardless, the good news for the sheep not yet in the fold is that the Good Shepherd will be relentless in gathering ALL of them into that fold - into his loving care and protection - regardless of how much bleating noise some of those already in the fold make when he does so.

So who are you in the story of the Good Shepherd?

Are you a sheep in or out of the fold?

Maybe you are one of the out sheep, whose heard of the Good Shepherd but still isn’t sure if those inside will really want you in the fold?

Are you a sheep in the fold, but sending out the message to other sheep that the fold is full up, go find your own pen?

Or maybe you’re the hired hand, who doesn’t mind getting a nice wool sweater out of your relationship with the sheep, but when a hungry marauder comes looking for lamb chops, you abandon those sheep in your care to that marauder for his dinner?

Or are you the Good Shepherd, who so passionately cares for those entrusted to you, that you always consider their welfare before your own benefit or safety?

You don’t need to determine who you are right now. Maybe like me in The Prodigal Son, you have at one time or another been all of the characters. Maybe you don’t see yourself as any of them. But I encourage you to engage in reflecting on who you are, or have been, or should be in this story, and especially how God is speaking to you.

Let me pose some mildly provocative questions to you, using a current controversy in the Anglican Church, to stimulate your reflections.

The very office of bishop carries with it the responsibility to be a Good Shepherd. In their ordination vows bishops are asked if they will, “[be] merciful to all, show [ing] compassion and defending those who have no helper.” (BCP p. 518) With that understanding, are Anglican bishops and archbishops who are willing - even eager- to power broker a schism in the Anglican Communion over the issue of human sexuality, being Good Shepherds or hired hands?

What about parishioners, priests and vestries who withhold pledging money, and their diocesan fair share assessments, because they disagree with legitimate and Spirit lead actions in the greater Church? Laity and clergy who clearly are attempting to leverage influence in the Church by withholding their money, but whose mean-spiritedness only results in starving essential ministries, outreach, and care for the most vulnerable in the world. Are they good shepherds or hired hands?

How about churches or clergy that bar people from receiving Communion, or fully participating in their common life, or being ordained because they are gay or lesbian? Or groups of Episcopal dissidents, with that very agenda, who accept buckets of money from the Institute on Religion and Democracy - an organization who primary goal is to cause disorder in the Episcopal, United Methodist and Presbyterian Churches over the issue of full inclusion of gay people in the life of those Churches. What kind of sheep are they?

This past week a person who left the church over the issue of Bishop Gene Robinson’s consecration, and gay clergy in general, spoke with me. This person and their family have been reached out to in many ways since they left the church. But to date those efforts have not borne fruit. This person voiced concern over the heightened media coverage on this issue that is occurring once again. They asked me, “when are people going to stop focusing on sex and get on with the work of the Gospel?” Without missing a beat, I replied,

“that’s a great question! When are people going to stop talking about sex and begin focusing on the work God has given us to do?” Sadly the irony of these questions was lost on the questioner. What kind of sheep is this person behaving like? Are they being a Good Shepherd of their own life and the life of their family?

In Bible study this past Tuesday I observed that when sheep are lovingly gathered into the Good Shepherd’s fold, they end up becoming shepherds themselves. Loving behavior creates love, which then desires to share that love with others. Love shared, brings sheep into the fold, creating the one flock that the Good Shepherd died and rose from the dead for.

That is the message of the Gospel. A message that we - both sheep and shepherds alike - are to proclaim by word and deed. A message that there is to be no separation in the church based on race, culture, social status, gender, sexual orientation, denominational affiliation, or all those other things that divide.

Despite the current turmoil and efforts by some to the contrary, that Gospel truth will ultimately prevail. There will be one flock, and it’s one shepherd will be our Risen Lord.

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