Sunday, April 22, 2018
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Prayer of the Day
O Lord Christ, good shepherd of the sheep, you seek the lost and guide us into your fold. Feed us, and we shall be satisfied; heal us, and we shall be whole. Make us one with you, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 4:5-12 Salvation in the name of Jesus
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24 Love in truth and action
John 10:11-18 Christ the shepherd

Sermon
Title:  Easter Life in the Good Shepherd

Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.

It is still our cry, though the lilies are fading.  The decorations are trimmed down a bit.  This fourth Sunday of Easter marks the halfway point of the seven Sundays total.  Our frenetic and frenzied dash from the empty tomb – half out of joy, half out of fear; is slowing down.  The resurrection day run is evolving into an everyday pace, an easier pace, a gentler walk.  And this is a good thing.  We could never have kept up that sprint.  Sure there’s the reality that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak; but also, the world is demanding, life is complicated, a long distant dash is foolish – ask any wise-pace-setting marathon runner.

If we are going to make good on the challenge I put before us a couple of weeks ago, if we are going to turn this resurrection celebration into resurrection practice, living each day as Easter people, rising each morning to our new life in the risen Christ, then we have to calm down and think of the long haul, of going the distance.  Especially because we do not even know how long that distance might be or what we will be facing along the way.  So, after celebrating the joyful and challenging life in the resurrected community two weeks ago, after feasting on our encounters with the risen Christ last week, it is time to take a breath, and, in the midst of green pastures and still waters, to see the risen one, Jesus the Christ, as our good shepherd.

Today, let’s take our resurrection victory in Christ that is informing our resurrection practice, shaping our resurrection life, and focus on care-taking for the long journey, for the faith-filled journey.  The journey that we are called to walk with our risen Savior who is our Good Shepherd.  We use the much loved 23rd psalm to guide our way.

While doing a chaplain residency at Bellevue, my supervisor encouraged us to use the psalms with people, especially the psalms of lament.  He found (and we found by adopting his suggestion) that the psalmist’s voice of lament gave the suffering person a voice, a vocabulary for their own painful ordeal.  However, this supervisor made it clear that the 23rd psalm, as loved and well known as it is, would not serve this purpose.  He felt it’s tone and language shut down the voice of lament that needed to be expressed.  And I agree with him, however, there is a place for this psalm none the less.  And one such place is to inform our journey with the resurrected Christ and find comfort and encouragement for the way.

It begins:  The Lord is my shepherd which immediately sets up our place and our relationship.  We are the animal that is neither independent or self-sufficient.  And, we are not alone.  The sheep are part of a flock and this flock has a guide and a protector.  Sheep have no defenses and will follow anyone or anything even to their own demise.  But ours is the good shepherd, the divine one, the one who made all things and loves all things.  It is an undeserved blessing that this one claims us as sheep in the flock.

In the original Hebrew, the next phrase – I shall not want – goes beyond just my basic wants and suggests that nothing will be missing. Nothing. In the completeness of our Easter joy, we know this is most certainly true.  All is provided us, even a life that knows no end.  In God’s abundance, nothing is missing.

For this next image, please allow me to bring in another animal – I haven’t mentioned our dog Brooklyn in quite some time, but he comes to mind here.  Because where our translation suggests sheep comfortably lying down in the phrase makes me lie down in green pastures, perhaps encouraged by the very proper sheep posture that we see in paintings inspired by the 23rd psalm, the original words better suggest sprawling. Lying down and experiencing a full body, full stretch, full release sprawl.  I bring in Brooklyn because he knows well how to accomplish this.  He is a master at sprawling.  And we have hundreds of pictures to prove it.  Legs stretched back.  Total collapse on floor or, more often, bed.  And as he relaxes more he stretches out more.  Seeming to grow to twice his normal length.  The dog knows how to sprawl.  Do we?  Can we stretch out in the comfort and grace that our good shepherd offers us?

Perhaps in the silence of meditation and centering prayer, one can begin to experience a sprawling spirit as we rest in the presence of the peace-providing, risen Christ and know that there are no boundaries to the mercy, grace and love that is ours in this new life. Sprawl out and explore the great expanse of our calm in Christ

And while there, take note of not just still or quiet waters, but waters of quietness.  Waters that soothe our anxiety, silence the noisy world, and still the voices of doubt and fear.  Waters that wash us into new life through the gift of baptism and quiet for all time threats of death and separation from God.

Jesus’ words in John’s gospel assure us of the restoration of our souls and all creation.  No price is too great for God to pay for our salvation.  The cross stands as an unwavering testimony to the ultimate price.  The empty tomb to the completeness of our souls’ restoration.

The right pathways on which the good shepherd guides us are not the straight-forward, reach a goal, perhaps even figure it out and go it alone type that we might wish for.  Circuitous is more the nature of these right paths.  Winding.  Meandering.  Torturous even.  But they are the paths on which we are being led.  Never abandoned.  Never forsaken.  The nature of the paths demand we trust our good shepherd.  The nature of the paths prove us wise when give him our discipleship.

For these paths might, no, they will, at various times lead us through the valley of shadows that make us think of death, fear our fate, question God’s promises and Christ’s resurrection victory.  Question we may, Christ is most certainly present.  Whacking us with the rod and guiding us with the staff, yet, in both of them we find comfort.  Not because we seek pain, but because the shepherd has earned and deserves our trust.

Though, as sheep, we are vulnerable to every one of our enemies, though a host of illness inflict us, though our thirst in this wilderness is constant, it is the good shepherd who brings feasting in the face of battle, brings oiled healing in the face of disease, brings a constant supply of refreshment in the face of profound thirst.

And while our paranoia may try to convince us that all kinds of threats our following us where ever we go, the shepherd assures us that the gifts of goodness and mercy are following us all our days, and the resurrected shepherd has prepared a place in God’s eternal home forever.

In these words and promises of God we find that which sustains us as we follow our risen Lord, the good shepherd, wherever we are led.  He does not lead us to exhaustion, but rather with gentle care and sustenance that satisfies.  Hear these familiar words of the 23rd psalm, not just as sheep in need of a shepherd, but as Easter people who are resurrected to new life, a new way of living, a way that is guided and guarded by the good shepherd Jesus the Christ, who has brought us into the flock of God by grace through faith.

The Lord is our shepherd, we remind ourselves that nothing is missing, each time we shout:  Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

 

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