A Good Shepherd for a Time of Pandemic
Today we celebrate “The Good Shepherd Sunday,” so called because we read Psalm 23, the Gospel of John where our Savior describes himself as the Good Shepherd, and in the early-church’s willingness to walk the talk as described in Luke in our first lesson from the Book of Acts (2:42-47).
Jesus define his calling as being “The Good Shepherd.” His calling was grounded in the prophetic tradition of a future “Shepherd after God’s own heart,” (Jeremiah 3:1) willing to feed his sheep, to care for and to defend them, and to gently lead them.
For “The Good Shepherd” each one of his sheep is exceptional and cherished, each one with his or her unique traits and needs. A true shepherd tended to his flock with love and devotion, providing each sheep with exactly what it was required. And that was what Jesus did for his flock, and continues to be and do for us, “Who are his people, and the sheep of his own pasture.”
For Jesus it meant to be a gateway to new pastures and new life, an open and inviting gateway which would remain open even if all other doors in life are shut on our faces. But Jesus it is also a door with the inner strength necessary to defend the flock – us – against all kinds of self-serving and life-sucking intruders, like our present season of Covid-19.
In our Lord’s time, shepherds were a dime a dozen. In the early agricultural life of His time, sheep were as common as backyard birds. Why Jesus is “The Good” Shepherd? Because He was and continues to be committed to His calling. He would not abandon His flock. He would carry on His shoulders and rescue the lost sheep. He is “The Good Shepherd” because He lay down His own life for the flock, for you and for me.
Christ’s commitment to care for all never wavered, even in the face of criticism. He had a clear vision. And He never hesitated: “Not my will, but yours!” (Luke 22:42), He said. Jesus was grilled about the wisdom of his plan of salvation. Peter himself tried to get the Savior out of harm’s way. Yet, Jesus did not change his mind; rather, “He steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).
It is interesting to note that in the Old Testament God speaks of His people as his sheep (singular), stressing the importance of each individual as His sheep. Even counted in the thousands, when appropriately one could describe the people as God’s flock, still God delights in calling his people his very own sheep. Under God eyes, we never lose our individuality.
Jesus never rejected anyone willing to come to Him. He was clear about one thing – “I have come not to call those who got everything right, but those who have found in their heart a God’s size hole” (cf. Luke 5:32). And, my friends, such people, like all of us, come in all ages, races, languages, income brackets, genders, ability, or disability! Yes, my friend – There is a reserved seat for everyone under the Sun. Even for you, and for me. That is the Good News!
In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul describes God’s peace surpassing all understanding. In other words, a peace that apart from God doesn’t make any sense. It is the peace that made Job say even in the midst of his calamities, “I know that my Redeemer lives!”
It is the peace that Jesus, The Good Shepherd offers us in the midst of the stresses of Covid-19 or its economic and social side effects. It is the peace that we feel in our hearts as we walk through the darkened path of this time of upheaval and uncertainty. It is the peace that we feel in our hearts when we recall that it is God who provides our sustenance and that “The Good Shepherd” will lead us into fields of abundance, where we shall not lack what we truly need.
It is the peace that will fill our hearts once we remember that “The Good Shepherd” is looking after each and every one of us. It is the peace that, when realizing we are in God’s hands, even if the situation does not merit it, our souls are at rest for God has been good to us.
But even as individually we are the flock of Christ, as the Body of Christ in this world, the Church, we have been called to tender the flock that has been entrusted to our care.
If anything will kill a church is its failure to live to his mission – caring for others and letting the chips fall where they may. Archbishop William Temple said it, “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” And as another Archbishop William Ramsey, paraphrasing St Paul rightly said, “The church that lives to itself will die to itself” (Romans 14:7-9).
Whenever our concern ceases to be those we are called to serve, and we become self-obsessed with survival or self-preservation, and our priorities and ourselves are at the center of everything, we will fail God’s calling. We should always remember that even if our religious name is The Episcopal Church, our official corporate name is “The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.” If it is mission, it is us.
Thanks be to God for St. David’s, and each one of you in your individual giftedness making a difference in the world around us. “Size matters,” we are told. Yes and no. As long as we trust that “It is not by force nor by strength, but by God’s Spirit,” (Zachariah 4:6) we will be in the right track. And nothing, not even a mighty mountain, will stand in the way for making St David’s all that God has called us to be.
I thank God for your faith and your faithfulness, for your hope and hopefulness, and for your love and loving-kindness.
And now, “Glory to God whose power working in us, can do infinitely more that we can ask or imagine: Glory to Him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.” Amen.