The Calling of the Good Shepherd, Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21st 2013
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21st 2013
Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23 Revelations 10:22-30 John 10:22-30
The Calling of the Good Shepherd
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and we are the people of Christ’s pasture and the sheep of his hand. (Psalm 95:7) So our particular flock, our particular congregation is God, the Father’s gift to his Son, Jesus Christ and we belong to him and no one will be able to snatch us out of his hands. The Psalm 95 continues, “O that today we would listen to God’s voice! Do not harden your hearts!” (Psalm 95:7-8) We need to open ourselves to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, who knows us. Let’s listen for his voice calling us and follow him.
Now being a flock of sheep is a metaphor and all metaphors break down. We don’t want to identify completely with dumb sheep. That they are vulnerable, love to flock together, are good followers, and provide us with clothing and nourishment is the place where the metaphor holds, but it breaks down, because Jesus also called us his friends, so in an important way we have to also become shepherds. In that way we will follow in our Lutheran tradition of being “the priesthood of all believers.”
This is still the 4th Sunday of Easter so we have no Old Testament but only New Testament readings. Only a few weeks ago we celebrated the festival of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, “whom the God of peace brought again from the dead” in the words of our prayer. Thus the story in Acts is in the place of the Old Testament lesson. In the Acts of the Apostles, they follow the acts of Jesus and now the acts of this congregation will follow. In Acts we see how St. Peter followed Jesus in raising Dorcas, which is Greek for Tabitha, from the dead. Like Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, Peter raises Tabitha from the dead with prayer. Working in a hospital during our clinical training, I would hear code 99 come over the loud speaker and all the doctors and nurses would rush to a room and bring a person who had just died back to life. That makes me believe that intense prayer can also make God step into action and bring someone’s spirit back. My oldest brother Matthias is a pastor in Canada and he related how he prayed for a woman to return to life in her hospital bed and she did and he was very sorry later. She was not happy about it and she was not a very kind woman. She was not like Tabitha.
Authentic miracles involve signs that further God’s Kingdom, which was certainly the case in a Peter’s miracle. Tabitha was devoted to good works and charity. She was taking care of many widows, who were the most vulnerable people, the very-least-of-these in the society of that day. Widows had no rights and no means of making a livelihood. I was reading about a city in Afghanistan where men divorced or abandoned their wives, in one case leaving a wife with five children. Some of the women in that place were reverting to prostitution to provide for their children – not because they wanted to, but because they couldn’t see their children starving. They of course have no laws for dead-beat dads. Such laws would provide a solution, but only the men make the laws and the women experience their tyranny. In elementary school learning about our American Revolution, the Tea Party, Paul Revere and such, I heard the slogan, “Taxation without representation is tyranny!” Having to bear children without representation is much worse.
In this story she is sometimes called Tabitha and sometimes Dorcas, which means a “gazelle” in Greek. When she suddenly died the widows called Peter without delay, because she was really their shepherd upon whom they depended. They were weeping and showing Peter the tunics and other clothing that she had made. She was probably providing clothing for them to sell in the market place so they could manage a livelihood without begging and perhaps doing something that would be shamefully worse.
In Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland this Sunday, the women of the congregation, many from Tanzania and Uganda, will dance and wave colorful scarves in honor of Tabitha, for the way this woman stood in and provided for the widows and gave an example to the early church so that bishops later had to take special responsibility for widows, even giving them something like honorary positions in the congregations of the early church afterward. These enrolled widows served and were supported in the early church like deaconesses and nuns today.
We need women shepherds or leaders. Women can make a real contribution to society in ways that most men are incapable of making. Not women who become harder and more masculine than even men, like for example Demi Moore in the movie G.I. Jane. From time immemorial, women have known ways to avoid conflict, where men see no alternative. Remember the story of the Greek women of Lysistrata, who would not sleep with their men until they negotiated for peace in the Peloponnesian War? That made the war come to a quick close. Women bear a child in their own bodies for nine months and then give birth bringing a new being into this world and thus they tend to have a deeper attachment to life and nurture and love than men who have been brought up not to cry, to deny their feelings, and to detach themselves from them in order to be able to take lives and kill as warriors.
I remember a woman in the sixties who inspired us seminarians so much. She came to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio with a message of peace. She spoke out against the Vietnam War and noted how in peace time the sons buried their fathers and how in war, the fathers buried their sons. Now we have to say daughters as well, because women too will be participating in combat.
Whenever we children cried at home, may father would say, “Don’t cry? Your mother will never become a soldier!” Now he could no longer say that to comfort children, because mothers do become soldiers and have to be able to detach themselves from the human feelings of tenderness, empathy, and nurturing love in that role as much as men do.
So many of us were caught up this week by the atrocity that took place at the Boston Marathon and all the news in the aftermath, involved in the shooting and killing of the older Chechen suspect and the capturing of the younger one. Those brothers were truly shepherds of death. They could not know and fathom the human suffering they were inflicting. They may have been able to detach themselves and be completely theoretical about taking out as many people as possible and putting a damper on the festivities and the proud marathon tradition of the city of Boston.
People can detach themselves from their human feelings and live outside of the joys and wonders of their bodies, detached from the happiness of children and the joy that new life brings. We have an elementary school at our corner and when they have school outings one class after another passes by our house. I sit out in the front yard and listen to their incredible excitement anticipating their outing! What joy, excitement, and happiness these children and their new life bring! Because a woman actually carries a new being coming into the world in her body until she gives birth, it tends to put the little baby into her heart and soul after it is born, while often the father has to find a way to attach himself to the new child and often avoids doing so. Like a detached father holding a crying baby at arms-length, not knowing how to draw it close to his heart to comfort it. There are exceptions, but mostly kindergarten, pre-school, and elementary school teachers are still women and men take jobs that they consider more valuable, which our society validates with higher pay, while the women have the more humble but really more important and valuable shepherding role, which our society, however, values very little, if the amount of income is a measure.
It is so difficult to build life up and so easy to tear it down. It is said that an engineer is worth six generals, because it takes an engineer to build a bridge, where anyone can destroy and take one down. Of course, in history the men did have to protect the community from its enemies. The people of a community have to be protected from being killed with impunity. But then, what should have remained defense soon escalates into aggression until it has become part of the problem and not the solution.
So we need protection and, of course, now women and men can be involved in it, because of our advanced technology. But how easy it is to pull a trigger and kill someone or to make a bomb out of a pressure cooker and brutally blow off the legs of marathon runners and how hard it is to bear a child, nurse a child, and support it with all the love and care and heart-ache involved until it grows up and just squeezing the trigger of a gun can wipe out that precious life so painstakingly brought up and supported throughout all those years.
We need protection for sure. But we also have to become the shepherds who have each other in our hearts and bear with each other until we are born again and grow and mature in the stature of Christ, the Good Shepherd. We can have each other in our hearts. You can have this congregation in your heart and find all kinds of ways to make it flourish, grow, and mature.
And shepherds can take on many forms. A CEO can lead an ethical corporation that pays its taxes, gives its workers living wages, health care, and pensions, rather than exploiting them by paying a minimum wage without any benefits. CEO’s can be good shepherds or very bad ones. My son, with his partner in Chattanooga, has opened two vegan restaurants, one there and one in Pensacola. All the help that they hire are musicians. He did not become a pastor of a congregation like yours truly, his father, but he has a whole congregation of those for whom he provides a livelihood and they can go out a play gigs with their bands, record music, and meanwhile they can work in his restaurants and make a living. Some call him Dad, because he is like a father to them although he is only 33.
You have called a good shepherd by calling a new pastor, but you will all need to listen for God’s voice. Not only your new pastor, but you too are challenged to grow and mature in the stature of Christ. Some of us have given Christianity a bad name, but if we become Christs to one another. His name is the one above every name. This congregation is challenged by God to become a place that shows others the way, the way to peace, the way to new life, the way to build up this creation. It is so easy to destroy it. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but there is a Broadway-Times Square, El Camino Real leading to destruction and many are speeding on it. (Cf. Mat 7:13-14) We can bear each other in our hearts, but Christ goes even further and says, “I and the Father are one.” so continuing this creation with all the love and wonder and joy and happiness that can be involved.
Let’s end by all of us reciting the 23rd Psalm together. Hopefully you’ve learned this most beloved Psalm by heart. If I get stuck you can help me and if you do I can help you. It is all about the Good Shepherd and will help us understand how we can also follow in Jesus’ footsteps and shepherd people in green pastures, beside still waters, and restore their souls for the abundant life, which can be enjoyed in the House of the Lord forevermore:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…