Easter 4—B–April 22, 2018
Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18
I’ve talked several times before about an ole boy in my parish in North Carolina who fell into a deep depression after his wife of 60 years died. His will to live ebbed away and we thought we were going to lose him, too, but six months later he was his old self again. I asked him to what he attributed his new health and he said he took what the doctor prescribed, but he believed the real key was the fact that several times every day he would pray slowly and deeply the 23rd Psalm and that transformed how he thought about his life and his future. His thoughts of despair and loneliness changed into thoughts of hope and healing with the Risen Christ gently leading him day by day.
He became a living example of Romans 12: 2 which reads: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds….”
So how do WE keep moving from being conformed to this world to being “transformed by the renewing of our minds?” Paul answers that question in the preceding verse when he says: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Wat presents his 85 year old body to the Risen Christ, just like 20-something Peter does and maybe 40-something Mary Magdalene does, when they decide following Jesus is better than following anyone else they know or can imagine.
For these people being a disciple is a better life choice than being depressed, confused, lonely, angry, and fearful. If Jesus really is the Messiah, the one anointed by God to overthrow the Romans and bring into being the Reign of God, they want to be on his side, for sure.
Of course we know Peter comes to regret that decision when Jesus is arrested and tried by the Powers that Be.
Later, the Risen Christ helps Peter recommit to following him by asking him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” And after each affirmative answer, says to Peter, “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep”.
He is asking Peter to join in his work of leading the flock. But then Jesus tells Peter, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
And that’s the rub, isn’t it! Who doesn’t want to be led to green pastures and still waters?! Who doesn’t want to have their souls restored and rebooted? Who doesn’t want goodness and mercy to follow them all the days of their lives?
I certainly do! And if praying the 23rd psalm will give me that then what do I have to lose? Maybe add reciting the 23rd psalm to knocking on wood, not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, and anything else that promise to make life safer, easier, richer, and better!
If God is a cosmic vending machine that gives out all the good things I want, then why not go to church and recite a prayer at bedtime to feed the machine? See Homebrewed Christianity Guide to God by Eric E. Hall who, like many others, uses this image
This may sound good, but just imagine if our parents had been that kind of vending machine when we were three? If parents don’t set healthy boundaries, children will be at the mercy of their unbounded and chaotic ego, in which there is no green grass and still water, but only flashy and empty substitutes.
Such children become adults who are malnourished, malformed, and maladjusted, thinking that everything that happens in the world is about them, and their happiness. They can only become the hirelings who care for personal comfort over the common good, and who run away whenever the wolf appears.
But this isn’t the kind of shepherd the Bible gives us, is it, because the Bible is quite clear that the Good Shepherd doesn’t follow us, but rather we follow him.
Follow Jesus, where? Not around the Valley of the Shadow, but through it.
Not away from those who trouble us, but to dinner with them.
Not away from the common good, but towards it.
As I said on Easter, each of us comes to this present moment propelled by the momentum of our past. All our past actions, inactions, and the pushing and pulling of others, brings us into this moment. And if we are going one direction in this moment, we will most certainly go the same direction in the next moment. Unless…until we listen to the Good Shepherd who brings us a new possibility in each moment for a truer and more loving way to be, luring us into a better future, if we will but listen and follow. As we know, change is inevitable; growth is optional!
And that future offered us by God is not an isolated future, but a future in communion and fellowship with all those who love the Lord Jesus.
The Good Shepherd is luring us into deeper communion with himself and others—even with those who are so different from us that they scare us. He is luring us to follow him, so we too might learn to share his measure and depth of compassion for the lost sheep.
The First Letter of John tells us today: “We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
As Jesus tells us, “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.”
Being in Jesus’ flock is an organic belonging, more like belonging to an enormous and diverse family, than belonging to a club where everyone shares the same interests.
I used to belong to Cedardale Tennis and Fitness Club in Haverhill, but then a year ago it burned to the ground and those who played tennis started looking for new places to play.
In 1987 Grace Church, New Bedford, where I was rector for six years before coming here in 2012, had a devastating fire that totally destroyed the magnificent church. Or rather, I should say, it totally destroyed the magnificent church building.
It did damage the community too, when some decided they didn’t want to worship in the less grand parish hall and so they left Grace—and mostly stayed home or some worshipped elsewhere. But fortunately there was and is another group at Grace, who know the difference between going to church and being church.
This is the difference we can only learn from the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.