Hope for the World

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:24-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

I suspect there will be a lot of sermons this Sunday about sheep. John 10 is the locus of a lot the New Testament’s of sheep imagery. I am basically an urban and suburban person. I’ve little direct experience of sheep. I have a lot of direct experience of sermons that aim to teach me a lot about sheep from people who have no more agricultural experience than I do. I have seen a rabbit herd sheep on YouTube. I’ve had rabbits as pets. Their brains cannot be much bigger than an olive. Instead of focusing on the habits of sheep, I think our attention might be better directed elsewhere. Read more

Learning to be Sheep

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43 OR Acts 13:14, 43-52
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Sheep again, that well-worn metaphor. The Bible tells of countless flocks and many working shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Amos, and the shepherds of Bethlehem. The image of a shepherd tending a flock (the latter a frequent stand-in for the people of Israel) recurs often. In the Old Testament, shepherd imagery may point to God, the promised Messiah, or human leaders appointed by God: prophets, priests, and kings. Some of those human shepherds are said to have scattered their sheep, as in Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Ezekiel 34. In such passages, a worthy shepherd is typically promised to gather from the scattered remnants a new, well cared for flock.

Sheep, as I’ve noted in previous lectionary reflections, are not intelligent. Left alone, they wander off, get into tight spots, tumble over cliffs, and fall to predators. After centuries of human-directed selection and husbandry, whatever survival skills wild sheep began with have long since been bred out of their descendants. To be called “the sheep of his flock” is no compliment.

Even so, this week’s readings might tempt us to smug self-recognition, as if, after a perfunctory admission of past stupidities, we are now undoubtedly the sheep who hear the shepherd’s voice and will soon enough stand in the presence of the enthroned Lamb (who is, paradoxically, the eternal shepherd). It’s tempting to see those flock-scattering shepherds as someone the other: first century Jewish leaders, members of other churches and denominations, clergy or theologians whose actions or convictions we find appalling. It’s tempting to imagine we know who is and who isn’t on the right side of salvation history. We may well be among the sheep who listen, and we may fervently hope to one day stand before the Lamb, but the smugness and certainty must go. Read more

The Shepherd Who Feeds Us

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23: Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is striking beauty in the appointed texts for this weekend.

And there are shepherds.

And the shepherds are beautiful.

I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. (Jer. 23:4).

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Ps. 23:1)

. . . and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mk. 6:34b)

The lesson from Ephesians does not mention shepherds but its images and metaphors are equally beautiful, and shepherd-like:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Eph. 2:14)

When one reads these four lessons together, going back and forth among them, savoring their beauty, noting their obvious (and not so obvious) connections, it is difficult to reconcile the vision they cast of the shalom of God with much of what constitutes ecclesial life in our time. Especially in this season of denominational gatherings in which the worst of ourselves, individually and corporately, is often on display: the petty bickering; the refusal to really listen to each other; the lack of charity and humility in our dealings with those we disagree with.  Read more

Lamb and Shepherd: The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

The Reign of Christ
Christ the King

Ezekiel 34: 11-16
Ephesians 1: 15-23 OR 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Matthew 25: 31-46

There is a poster on the wall in the weight room of our local recreation centre where I go twice a week for strength training, along with some amazing 70 and 80 year olds (yes, at forty-six my nickname is “the kid”). I try not to look at the poster as it gets my goat, blithely proclaiming that the destination matters not, only the journey is important. Except, of course, the destination in large part determines the journey and without a destination the journey can get pretty lost and chaotic. This coming Sunday, Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in this liturgical year, is set aside to highlight the destination of our journey together in Christian faith. Having come full circle and before we begin again a new Christian year, it is to remind us, with our hearts enlightened, of who we are and whose we are and of the hope to which Christ has called us. Read more

Jesus, Gates, and Sheep

sheep walking through a gateIn preparation for this year’s Triduum, the three solemn days leading into Easter, those in my parish chosen to proclaim scripture were expected to attend at least one group practice session. In that sense, at least, my parish takes “performing the Word” seriously. We received our texts well in advance in order to prepare, and our practice consisted of reading aloud while a woman from the parish, well known for her attentive, moving readings, offered helpful suggestions. One gentleman read a brief excerpt from John 14, including the familiar passage, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Upon saying these words, our normally laconic coach interrupted, saying, “That’s something I don’t believe by the way. I know Buddhists and Hindus who are far holier than most Christians.” Read more