Where the Good Shepherd Leads
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21, 2013
The Continuing Episcopal Church in Summerville
Earlier this week, we were reminded of some painful and difficult realities of life. The bombings in Boston brought back to mind some things we would prefer to forget. For instance, life is fragile. Also, the world is small ... and getting smaller all the time. And finally, there are some people whose goal in life is to harm other people. Indeed, life is fragile; the world is getting smaller; and some people want to do harm to others.
We have known about life’s fragile nature for a long time. We have known or experienced tragedies in the lives of family members or among our friends – probably from the time of childhood. We recognize that bad things do happen to good people, and we are frustrated in our attempts to answer “Why?” Life is fragile, no doubt.
Also, the world is getting smaller. The things we read and hear about elsewhere are happening here. Our country is not as isolated and, therefore, as immune as we once thought we were. The “melting pot” nature of the United States – of which we are so proud – seems to have some serious down side to it. The world is becoming smaller, all the time.
Finally, the goal in life for some people involves doing harm to others. The end goal may be something different, but the means to that end is to hurt other people. This goal – either as a means or as an end – represents something profoundly antagonistic to the values of our way of life. Life itself seems not to be cherished, in opposition to what is taught by our culture and in our churches. The goal in life for some people involves doing harm to others.
As we reflect on the past week, therefore, we come face to face with several painful and difficult reminders – reminders of lessons we would prefer to forget. Nevertheless, there they are. Our lives and our faith must deal with them, whether we want to do so or not.
As we attempt to come to terms with such realities – as Christians – I have a couple of perspectives to share with you this morning.
In the first place, being a Christian and being an American are two different things. Sometimes one supports the other ... but sometimes it does not. Events like ones of last week tend to encourage us to bunch the two identities together – Christian and American – but we need to resist that temptation.
The days of a state religion are long gone – and happily so. The days of special consideration for religion are fading quickly – less happily so, perhaps. But, also, the days that churches support the state – or particular political parties – need to go away, too. We are accountable as citizens of this country and this state. However, as Christian people, we know that the church standing outside the civil authorities offers the most effective
conscience on behalf of the people. Church and state need to remain distinct from each other.
Therefore, in response to the atrocities in Boston, we have things to say – both as Americans and as Christians. But the two are not necessarily the same things. As citizens, we have certain unalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and those rights are threatened by events like the ones in Boston. We have the right and responsibility as citizens to respond. In addition, though, as Christians, we grieve along with our Lord at the loss of innocent life, and we are offended along with our Lord at the presence and the power of sin in the world. The two reactions may be akin to each other ... but they are not the same. For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ himself, we need to keep our faith distinct from all the powers of this world.
The second perspective on the Boston tragedy that I want to share comes straight from the collect and Gospel this morning. The image, intentions, and actions of Jesus of Nazareth stand in stark contrast to those who perpetrate terror and violence. “Jesus is the good shepherd of (God’s) people” (BCP, p 225), as today’s collect affirms. Jesus testifies in today’s Gospel that “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Thus, the good shepherd has an entirely different way of relating to people than do the terrorists of Boston.
Jesus calls us, as a shepherd calling his sheep. The collect references the Gospel reading at this point: “Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads” (BCP, p 225).
People who have visited the Holy Land often describe an event that apparently is fairly common there. That is, several shepherds may collect their sheep together in a cave for protection overnight. At first light, though, each shepherd takes his turn calling his sheep ... and only his sheep come out to follow him, in response. Other sheep wait inside the cave, until they hear their shepherd’s voice. Thus it is that we pray, “Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.”
In conclusion, then, Jesus the good shepherd calls his sheep. He leads them by that means, rather than by fear and coercion and terror. The good shepherd “makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake” (Ps 23:2-3). May we, therefore, be always ready to hear the voice of our good shepherd and to follow where he leads us. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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