4/26/2015 Fourth Sunday of Easter Text is John 10:11-18.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was a child, I was a typical little kid – full of energy and mischief…and full of wonder and joy over the simplest of things. I remember making bouquets of dandelions and buttercups and tiny little mayflowers (which should be out by now) and bringing then into my Mommy who would put them into a juice glass. I remember the hours of entertainment I had at night in the heat of summer trying to catch the ever elusive fire flies. I remember playing games like hopscotch and kick the can and red light with the neighborhood gang. And I remember the very first games I learned to play with my mom. No, they were not games like Shoots and Ladders or other childhood board games. The first games I learned to play were with a deck of cards. You know the games – things like War and Go Fish and Old Maid. It seems like both yesterday and a century ago that I picked up my first pack of cards and tried to shuffle it. With clumsy, untrained fingers, most of the cards ended up on the floor. When this would happen, my Mom would scowl and I would giggle with delight. Somehow, in my youth, it was fun to have to bend over and pick up every last card and search for the lost ones. But that was then and this is now. Today, I frown as deeply as my mom when a single card falls to the ground. The old bones and worn joints just ain’t what they used to be!
Whenever I look at a deck of cards and think of the days of innocence, the days of early childhood, I remember how patient my mother was in teaching me how to do things that were second nature to her. I remember how gracious she was when I gave her a lovely bouquet of ragweed. I remember the simple things she taught me, like brushing my teeth before going to bed and saying my prayers at night.
My mother may not have been the most wonderful mother in the world. She had her faults, like we all do. She was not a woman who bestowed hugs and kisses. And I sure could have used more of them growing up. She could be moody and she knew how to develop guilt buttons and how to use them. But, she was still my mom – my teacher, my guide – and no matter how angry I became with her at times, I loved her deeply.
It is the best that moms have to offer – the love, the protection, the guidance, the wisdom – that I think of as the model for the modern role of a shepherd. That’s right – not pastors – mothers! Perhaps St. Anselm’s canticle to the Good Shepherd from the Episcopal Church’s Supplemental Liturgical Materials sums it up best. It goes like this –
Jesus, a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labor we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through you gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us.
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.
St. Anselm chose the image of a mother, one who is empathetic, sensitive, alert, guiding, advising, protecting, teaching and self-giving, to describe the Good Shepherd. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus gives us life, and as a mother recognizes the voice and cry of her children over the thousands of voices in this world, Jesus hears our cries for help. He knows his own and cares for each one of them. He teaches us, guides us, points us in the true direction of life, and shows us the way to green pastures. He makes his voice and his presence known to us and he promises to be with us always. When danger comes, he works to keep us together, gathering us for safety and protection. He stays with us, and helps us battle whatever dangers come our way. He offers to carry our burdens, shouldering our sorrows. And he rejoices with us. In him, God, the Father, knows our names and we are his. And, of course, for us he died. He gave up his very life so that we might be forgiven and return to the fold of God’s loving arms.
Jesus does this for us. But unlike a mother whose concern is for a little brood, Jesus doesn’t stop with a small group of people. Jesus goes beyond us to gather other sheep, others in need of all that he has to offer, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. And, if one becomes lost, if one sheep, out of all in his care, strays always, he searches for that one sheep to bring it back into the fold. That’s how important every one is to him. He will drop everything and search so that no one is lost.
Our mothers may love us, care for us, guide us, teach us, and do a thousand other things for us, but they can’t give us eternal life. They cannot wash away our sin. For they cannot be perfect, even if we want them to be or see them that way. Only the Good Shepherd is perfect and only he can cleanse us and give us eternal life. He does this out of his love for us and all the sheep of his fold. The people for whom Jesus lays down his life are not just the chosen few, not just the immediate family. Jesus’ life is laid down for everyone.
So, you may be different from me. We have had different mothers. We have had different experiences growing up. But, we share the one shepherd whose voice calls us all and who knows us all by name. Physically, you may be very different from me. Your coloring may be different, your size, your stature, your gender. But, under the skin, we are the same. We are sheep in need of a shepherd, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
The same shepherd who was there for my mother and my mother’s mother and my mother’s mother’s mother is there for you and for me. Like our mothers before us, we may be in the role of shepherding our children, and like our mothers before us, we make mistakes along the way and need a shepherd to forgive and guide us. Jesus Christ is that Good Shepherd. He was there for them; he is there for us; and he will be there forevermore.
May we follow his example of loving patience and forbearance, of gentleness and forgiveness, of openness and hospitality, as we shepherd others throughout our life time. Any may each us know the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, and may that peace keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd of us all. Amen.