Homily: April 26, 2015

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar The Lord is my Shepherd… I shall not want.

 

Famous words.

But what’s behind them?

 

Calling Jesus the Good Shepherd is really about relationship:

Who is Jesus to me?   And who am I to him?

 

Throughout the ancient world

leaders in many cultures were called shepherds.

 

(Warning, sexist language ahead!)

 

Th word shepherd was applied to leaders everywhere

In the ancient world

from the patriarchs of the family

to the local government bosses,

the ancient equivalent of Marlon Brando as “the Godfather”

all the way up to Caesar in Rome himself.

 

So we clergy.

Priests, Bishops, Rabbis.

We’re also called shepherds.

 

Shepherds are thought of as leaders.

They are strong.

They wield power and influence over others.

 

Sometimes that power and influence

gets used, abused and even deformed

by the very ones who are called to exercise it.

 

It can and does drive some of us away from the fold,

and even worse, away from God.

 

However, there is one distinctive trait

of Christ the Good Shepherd

that John keeps mentioning over and over and over

five times in these seven brief verses.

 

Christ lays down his life.       Christ lays down his life.

Christ lays down his life.        Christ lays down his life.

Christ lays down his life.

 

What makes Christ radically DIFFERENT from any other shepherd around?

Its his totally self giving love.

 

Christ is constantly in the self giving mode

with each and every sentient being in creation,

not JUST with the sheep of his own flock,

but with everyone and everything around him.

 

Why is that?

 

John alone of all the evangelists

maintained that Christ,

because he was somehow God,

was present and active way back at the Creation.

 

This tiny thought peeks through in several places-

Early on, in John Chapter one,    we hear

“Through Christ all things were made.”

 

Later in the Gospel of John

Jesus himself stumps everyone around him

including the priests and theologians

by claiming “Before Abraham was, I am.”

 

Again, Jesus says to his friends

“I and the Father are one.”

and “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”

 

Now, I will be the very first to admit,

I don’t quite understand

HOW exactly Jesus is God and yet also fully human.

 

But I DO know this.

 

If Jesus did indeed participate in the creation,

as John said he did,

then it makes perfect sense that he would lay down his life for us all.

After all, he created us.

 

Those of us who are parents don’t need to look very far to comprehend

the depth of such self giving love.

 

My younger son Matt FINALLY came home

last Sunday night after 4 months in Thailand.

 

The ache I felt for him

the longing, and the sense of worry and care were almost physical.

 

Matt is my own flesh and blood.

I’d do anything to defend him, nurture him, help him.

 

That, my friends, is the closest I can come

to what it means to say

Christ is the good shepherd.

 

He created us,

He cares for us more deeply than we can care for our own children,

or for anyone else for that matter,

be they lover, friend, neighbor parent or child.

 

What does that mean for us?

 

We too are created in that image-

God’s image-

The image of Christ the Good Shepherd

in order to love, to care,

to demonstrate compassion for each other-

…. and not just our own folk or family or tribe,

but for all people

and for all the creation

just as Christ the good shepherd does.

 

We hear how universal this compassion is in Christ’s own words:

“Other sheep I have not of this fold.

I must bring them also-

So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

 

That is one part of what it means

To say all people are made in God’s image…

We, each and all,

share that capacity,

that calling, that need,

to demonstrate compassion and care

for and to each other,

for and to all.

 

It’s not just the job of the chief Shepherd Jesus.

 

It’s not just for other leaders,

be they politicians, parents, or clergy

pastors, rabbis, imams.

 

It’s all our jobs to care for each other-

from least to greatest.

 

As Christ is the good shepherd,

so we too are all good shepherds

made as we are in God’s own image.

 

This past week was Earth Day.

On that day we normally think of ecology and caring for the environment.

 

That’s a huge piece of our shepherding task.

We are called to take care of the earth.

 

As the bumper sticker with the picture of the earth on it says

“Love your mother.”

 

But like Jesus

who created that earth and all it contains

we also need to open up our eyes to the whole world around us.

 

We can and must and will

care for each other-

for all people-

for all the creation-

just as Christ created all and is the Good Shepherd of us all.

 

How will you and I be good shepherds today?

 

Amen.