Sunday, April 26, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Easter/Good Shepherd Sunday
Each year during the Easter season we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, when we recite or chant the most beloved psalm in the bible, # 23, and hear Jesus refer to himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
Given that we have come through Lent and Holy Week, and especially Good Friday, we KNOW that Jesus’ words are true in reference to himself. He DOES lay down his life for his sheep – the church, you and me.
As we review the 23rd Psalm – and we do it THREE times today, in the psalm and two of our hymns! – what attributes do we find in this shepherd? With the LORD as our shepherd:
- We shall not be in want.
- We go beside green pastures where the grazing is always good.
- We come to still waters where the drinking is always fresh.
- Our very souls are restored, and following his steps we walk in the right pathways.
- And, should troubles come, we do not fear, because the shepherd IS WITH US, NO MATTER WHAT. His rod and staff, which guide us as sheep can also be used as a protective weapon against any enemy that we as a flock or as individuals might encounter.
- We are able to eat of bounty, even in the midst of the enemies themselves, and our heads are anointed with healing and blessing oil. Our very cups are running over with blessings.
- Goodness and mercy are with us always, and perhaps most importantly,
- We will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER
What amazing promises are ours! Simply by having the LORD as our shepherd. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of HIS flock??
How comforting to hear the words of Jesus in our gospel lesson for today: I know my own, and my own know me. To be known by Jesus – not as one who scares us, but one who is there for us in the midst of any situation, brings peace in our hearts. Trusting upon the Great Shepherd in the midst of troubles can calm us, give us courage, and give us hope for a new day.
This Shepherd is not like others. This Shepherd does not run away when troubles come. This shepherd is invested in his sheep.
The Reverend Dr. John Fairless has this to say:
“Jesus says that living life his way is sort of like a shepherd in the old days – most likely, the shepherd had a literal financial interest in the welfare of the sheep. He or she was part owner of the flock, so it was in their best interest to deliver them to market (or to the shearer) in the best possible condition. Healthier sheep equals higher dollars.
But more than that, the shepherd shared a bond with the sheep. The shepherd knew them each by name (his own pet names for them;) he knew how they acted, which were prone to act up or skip out, which were prone to mind and follow in the way they were led.
The sheep also knew which was their shepherd, they got used to the shepherd’s voice. Even when penned with other flocks and other shepherds, only the voice of THEIR shepherd would rouse the sheep to follow. The shepherd was sworn to protect the sheep, and – evidently – would put themselves at risk in order to fulfill this duty.
Jesus says, I am a lot like that; I KNOW you, and you know me; we’re really in this thing together. I have given my life for my sheep. All of them. Even the ones you can’t see in this fold.”
For me, this is certainly comforting and encouraging.
As we look at the 2nd lesson from 1 John today, we hear this counsel: Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
Love, is an ACTIVE verb. It is not enough to just speak words of love – even though they can be quite beautiful. We are called to SHOW our love.
Jesus, the Great Shepherd shows this love.
He lays down his life for those he loves.
As we read in another place in John’s gospel: Jesus says, No greater love has one than that they would lay down their life for their friends. And you are my friends.
1st John tells us that as those who follow in the Way of the Shepherd, we too are called to be ACTIVE in love for each other (and for those who are not yet belong to our fold!).
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 to help? we are asked.
As I said last week, it is not enough for us to find comfort in the presence of Jesus in our lives and that is an end to it.
Today, it is not enough to acknowledge we are in the Great Shepherd’s flock and he feeds and nourishes us, leads us in the right way, protects us from danger, and yes, even lays down his life for us.
We are called to be the Presence of the Great Shepherd in the world: to feed and nourish and lead others into the right way, to protect them from danger, and yes, in some ways, even lay our lives down for them!
What does this look like?
Who are the vulnerable ones in our midst?
Who are those who are lost, struggling to find their way, but the path seems far off and they find themselves in spiritual weeds?
Who are the ones rejected by society, seeming to have no Shepherd to protect them, to nourish and feed them?
How wonderful that we have chosen the Ali Forney Center as the recipient of our Lenten Denial funds. Have you made a contribution yet? There is still time. We are still collecting. These young people, who, as Mr. Siliciano told us were driven from their homes because of their sexual orientation, often because of the religious beliefs of parents and others – these homeless youth, almost on our very doorstep as there is a shelter on 31st Avenue, not a mile away from us, certainly need nourishment, comfort, courage, and green pastures.
We are giving financially. Would you be interested in showing your LOVE IN ACTION? We can connect you with Ali Forney so you can volunteer. They need those who can provide food and help cook the food. Right here, in Astoria!
It is wonderful that we have the Community Supper once a month. And our Coordinator, Elizabeth Lacks reports that we had almost 50 people here for our April gathering – a quite diverse group from neighbors close by to families with young children who came to us via a van. Powell Griggs even arranged a magician for the group, which was quite popular. Young and old, familiar and new faces are here each month.
Have you come for the supper at all? It will warm your heart to be a part of this – and be a part of the Trinity family showing our LOVE IN ACTION. If you can’t come, have you brought in some food for the meal? It’s always the 2nd Friday of the month. Come join us and show hospitality to our neighbors.
Today we vote on participation in the Cooperative Internship program with the Lutheran seminary in Philadelphia. If we approve this unanimous recommendation from the council, come September, we will have a seminary student here with us for 3 years to learn how to be a pastor. How exciting for our congregation. What a witness of LOVE IN ACTION to the larger church and to the student.
We will request that, if at all possible, this student be bi-lingual with Spanish as the language in addition to English. It is time to step up in love to reach a part of our Astoria/Long Island City population who is not a “part of this fold” because of language. We have Spanish only speakers at our Community Supper. And some have asked for me, as a pastor, to pray for them. In Spanish, of course. I’ve needed Maritza Tamayo to translate. Other Spanish speakers in our family help in so many ways with our guests. About every 3 weeks someone comes to the Rectory for pastoral care or counseling, and they only speak Spanish. During Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, Spanish only speakers came for services and a pastoral blessing.
Imagine how we can show our love by having another pastoral person here to reach this part of the fold? Imagine, in perhaps two years we can have Spanish language bible study and even a worship service in Spanish. This is showing our LOVE.
Trinity prides ourselves in being welcoming and hospitable. Every Sunday we have FIRST TIME GUESTS at worship. Most find us on the internet or have walked by our doors for months (even years!) before they decide to enter our doors. How wonderful. But there is more we can do.
We are called to invite others to be a part of this flock. We are called to show love, for each other, AND FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT IN OUR FOLD!
Jesus says, I lay down my life for the sheep. 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.
This summer we will hold three barbecues in our back garden. What a great way to invite roommates, neighbors, coworkers and friends to get to know our Trinity family in a way that is, perhaps a bit less intimidating. Breaking bread with each other with the smell of fresh food on the grill and homemade salads and desserts. Who can you invite?
The International Musical Saw Festival is coming at the end of May. This is ALWAYS a delightful time in our church. People will be coming from great distances: Japan? S. Africa? To be a part of it.
This very Friday we have a Square Dance. Right here. In our basement. Can you invite someone to come to this?
Jesus is our Great Shepherd. He brings his never-ending love, protection and guidance to our lives, both to our community and to each of us as individual sheep.
What a comforting Presence is this Great Shepherd.
We are called to bring others into his presence, that they too may know the joy and peace of following our Shepherd.
Let us commit ourselves this very day to follow our shepherd, and invite other sheep we encounter to join the flock!