A Sheep, A Neophyte and a Shepherd Walk Into a Church
Sermon by The Reverend Jodi Baron 4th Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2015 Grace Episcopal Church
Have you ever contemplated why this place is so special?
Why you feel like you should come here instead of anywhere else?
I thought more about it last night as I watched and listened and prayed in this place…bustling with tiny feet and big feet. With spilled drinks and stuffed animals by the altar.
It occurred to me, that one of the reasons why this place is so special is because of the safety we feel knowing that God is among us, assuming all that we have to offer into his divine presence only to transform it into strength to go out there…and carry on his good work.
Last night Grace had a gathering of families to share a meal, pray, and be together in this place.
It was a great evening!
Kids played, parents talked, music was offered, bread was broken.
One of my favorite parts about the evening was when we were all standing around the altar.
We were praying and touching and listening.
After Christian spoke the words Jesus gave us instituting the memorial of his death and resurrection, we heard a few shy “ding”s from about 3 or 4 little ones who were gathered up close.
We didn’t bring a bell.
But the liturgy had previously soaked into their bones and when a part they were familiar with was absent, they filled it with their voice.
That was an Easter moment!
For that to happen, though, those kids had to be exposed to the liturgy. Those saints for parents had to commit to coming week after week, persist through the fights, the tears, the tantrums, the bursts of commentary…praying, hoping, begging the Spirit of God to speak to their little hearts so they will one day know God the way we do.
We have to participate in the actions of word and sacrament; over and over and over again in order for the formation to take root. Formation is something that takes time. It isn’t a magic pill that can be taken to alleviate pain and suffering.
It’s a practice that shapes what we believe and how we see the world we live in.
These children, last night, were all over the map in terms of the depth to which they had been formed in this place.
Our sheep pen.
The place where we come to collect our hearts and minds and rest in God.
The place that is protected by walls, much like a sheep pen is by fencing.
We are invited to come back, over and over, to contemplate these mysteries of our faith, together. It doesn’t happen just once or twice. It is always happening, ever unfolding, completely in God’s time.
Just for a few mortal moments.
It takes all of our liturgical seasons to unpack the acts of God told through scriptures!
We need Advent to prepare for Christmas.
We need Christmas to orient our hearts for the Epiphany.
We need Lent to prepare our hearts for Holy Week, Jesus’ death, and the Great Vigil where we celebrate God’s victory over death in the resurrection of Jesus.
This season, sometimes referred to as “Eastertide” has evolved over the centuries of Christian practice.
In the ancient church (as in 3rd and 4th century) this time between the Vigil of Easter and the day of Pentecost, preachers used to focus their messages around the sacraments.
They called it “mystagogy”, or teachings on the mysteries.
It was a time for the neophyte (or newly planted) Christians to be taught what they just got baptised into on Easter.
They would cover baptism, eucharist, marriage, unction, ordination, confirmation and reconciliation of a penitent.
Our church teaches that the two primary sacraments are baptism and eucharist. We teach that these two are necessary for believers. That the other 5 are important, but not needed by all, nor are they needed as often.
I don’t know about you, but I could ALWAYS use a refresher on the meanings of these graces God has given the Church.
I feel as though my understanding of the meaning behind each ritual, each sacrament, invites new things from me each time I participate.
That is how I like to look at “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
This is historically the Sunday when all things pastoral come out of scripture and we meditate on Christ as our Shepherd.
Our Good Shepherd.
It’s a passage we hear a lot, it’s a metaphor used a lot within our faith.
Sometimes referring to leadership within the church, others to the church universal.
What ever the unpacking reveals of this rich metaphor, it usually evokes images of cheesy white Jesus cuddling with a baby lamb.
Maybe you’ll even run home and google “Good Shepherd” and find your own rabbit hole to dive into.
Maybe you are right now!
That may have been an image that has made its way around Christendom for quite some time, but there is another one that I think of when I hear this text.
It is an icon of Jesus standing in a pasture with sheep all around him.
Originally a mosaic from the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, C. 425-426.
I came to know it when we ordered a print to give our oldest daughter when she moved into her own room.
She was about 3 years old, and felt very scared to be so far away from us (in our 900 sq. ft. apartment!).
We hung this icon above her bed with an anglican rosary beside it.
We told her the story of Jesus as our Good Shepherd.
We told her how part of being a Christian is growing in strength to be outside of the pen where the sheep sleep.
How Jesus asked us to carry on his work of being a Good Shepherd in the world after he went back to heaven.
That the shepherd doesn’t stay in the pen.
The Shepherd is out there, looking for the next pasture to take his fold to, keeping watch over the dangers that threaten to destroy God’s kingdom.
And the emphasis on this shepherding metaphor is not on the function of the job but the description of the character necessary for this vocation.
Some scholars believe this is a cross reference to a passage in Ezekiel chapter 34 where we read about the Kings of Israel who had BAD shepherds, who endangered & exploited the flock.
And so, in this morning’s text, Jesus seemed intent on redeeming this imagery of shepherding for his people so that they could be transformed by the great rescue God was planning.
Listen to my voice, he tells his people.
I am the Good Shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
And 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.
We are an Easter people of the Incarnate God!
We all are ejected out from the pen to go find the rest of God’s flock who aren’t here!
We are all told to be Good Shepherds for God’s created creatures and earth!
May we have the courage to be good shepherds to the people in our lives.
May we have the strength to find pastures for God’s flock to rest a rejuvenate.
May we have the eyes to see the dangers that injustice, bigotry, and hatred threaten to destroy God’s good creation.
Happy Easter Neophytes!
Live into the mystery of the graces given us through the sacraments so that you have the strength to go forth in the name of the Risen Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!