Sermons on good shepherd
During Lent, when we encountered the “in-your-face” Jesus, the one who purposefully caused disruption in the temple, the one who vehemently pushed back against practices of social injustice, the one who chose always to be politically incorrect, the one who touched the untouchables, who deliberately crossed over social boundaries and made a point of speaking this truth to those in power, and not necessarily speaking that truth in love, I longed for Jesus the Good Shepherd. I yearned to hear…
We all know this Christmas pageant story and we know that the shepherds found the face of salvation in a manger. I often imagine the story is told this way because it was the one place where the shepherds would have felt comfortable – in a stable, with the smell of fresh hay filling their nostrils, with the sounds of the donkeys braying and cows mooing, and sheep bleating, and the animals would have known them. If Jesus had been…
In Matthew’s gospel, today’s story is Jesus’ last teaching opportunity before he is crucified, so we have to imagine Jesus has saved the most important for last. Jesus is saying to us that our actions matter. We are to be accountable to what Jesus has asked us to do. This really is non-negotiable. You may notice that Jesus’ last teaching has nothing to do with orthodoxy, right belief, or how the church is to be structured, but rather, it’s all about orthopraxy – walking the walk, being authentic, making a difference in the world, being accountable for our choices or the choices others make on our behalf. We are living an authentic Christian life when we receive the bread on Sunday and on Sunday afternoon, as we plan our week ahead, we orient our lives to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. Jesus did all of these things, which is why, when we do them, these moments are sacramental. Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you. In receiving the broken bread, we become Christ’s body, so that we can see, be, and do for Jesus, so we can be sent out into the world to move it toward justice, where wrongs will be set right, and only God’s love will pour from all hearts.
I remember a lot of that morning. I remember all of the staff in the rector’s office, huddled around a small TV, some of us pacing, others of us sitting with our heads in our hands, others of us drastically trying to reach family members who worked in the Pentagon. The priests began gathering their prayer books to plan the funeral mass they would offer at noon that day for the victims. From this place of utter darkness, smoldering despair, utter disbelief in the depravity of humankind, and an abiding sense of the presence of evil which was consuming my soul, I walked out into the bright blue autumn sky. It was beautiful and it was memorable. It was a day you would have loved to be sitting outside, turning your face, like a sunflower, into the sun, soaking up the goodness and grace the world offered. The contrast of this scene to the events we witnessed inside that morning on TV was stunning and revelatory: there was still light in the world that even the worst of actions could not extinguish.
They can see it, feel it, and even if they didn’t recognize this divine energy constituting Jesus as the Messiah, they reached for it. They asked the questions, “May I just reach for the fringe of his cloak”, or “May I sneak in to steal a bit of healing”. They weren’t stealing anything. They were receiving freely offered compassion, God’s greatest gift. Jesus was able to turn to the sheep without a shepherd with compassion.
Trusting that Jesus is the Good Shepherd is the key to strengthening our faith in him. We will believe that our lives can change from terrible to wonderful because that is what God wants for us, life in abundance