Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

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>Shepherds

>Today is the fourth of Sunday of Easter, traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The gospel from John focused on Jesus’ exhortation that he is the shepherd and he knows his sheep, that those who enter the fold by the gate are true sheep, and those who enter via the window or over the fence, as it were are theives and bandits.

It’s hard to look at this text in context. As one of my friends and parishioners noted this morning at coffee hour, even during Jesus’ time it might have been hard for the followers of Jesus to get the allegory of Jesus being the shepherd of a flock, afterall, they were poor urban folk living in Jerusalem, fishermen of Capernaum or Magdala, and Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth.

Shepherds lived a lonely, solitary life. They brought the sheep out to the pastures beyond the villages and towns, and stayed there all day, watching over their charges to keep them safe from wolves and/or poachers, sometimes staying away from civilization for days and weeks. The shepherds knew their flock, and the sheep knew their shepherd. The shepherd attends his flock with the diligence and care of a father for his children.

Knowing this, seeing Jesus as the Good Shepherd isn’t impossible. Jesus came into the world to gather God’s children to him, to bring them to the fold, the Kingdom, and lead them to a way of life that it is harmonious with creation. He warns his first century listeners to be wary of those who claim to have the answers, to have the right way of life, for they are the thieves and bandits who jump over the wall or go through a window to get into the fold, rather than follow Jesus through the gate.

Today, the shepherd is as foreign to us as a knight on horseback or a Hobbit. We don’t have occasion to see them on our commutes to work and school, not most of us, anyway. Still, the message Jesus offers is worth noting. It’s in our best interest to be wary of those who say they have the answers, the secrets to life, those who invite us to get rich quick, to be the alpha dog, the leader of the pack. Strange, as I was typing this, a television commercial was playing in the living room and the jingle went something like, “I want it all . . . I want it all . . . I want it now.” Is this the message we want to convey? Having the most doesn’t get you into the Kingdom, having all the answers to the most puzzling questions in the universe may get you a spot on a game show, but it doesn’t guarantee a place at the table, or a room in the Father’s house. Hearing the Word, sharing it, living a life in right relationship and taking right action, a life modelling the gospel to one’s best ability invites us to join the fold, to enter by the gate. In this way, we can be shepherds like Jesus. Or if we must be sheep, we will know who our shepherd is.

Alleluia, He is risen.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

Ellen+

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>The Kingdom of Heaven is Like . . . .

>This past Sunday’s Gospel comes from Luke in the fifteenth chapter. Jesus is teaching the crowds, to which sinners and tax collectors have arrived and this is upsetting to the local authority, the Pharisees and scribes. How dare they, these sinful people, join good, law-abiding citizens in hearing the teaching of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth? Religion is for the good people, not sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, actors, and women!

Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

What is important to God, Jesus says, is one repentant soul.

He goes on to tell the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Parables are stories used to teach, using the familiar. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” So Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who searches high and low for the one sheep that strays, the one that drifts apart from the herd and when he finds the sheep, he brings it home and calls his friends and family to celebrate.

Big deal, you think. One out of many.

Well, it is a big deal.

All the other sheep are following along, behaving properly, staying out of harm’s way. But there’s the one who stands out for all the wrong reasons – misbehaving, not getting the rules. So imagine how great it is that the sheep is found and brought back to the fold where it will be cared for and loved just as much as all the others. That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, says Jesus, it is a place where anyone can come out of the cold and be welcomed into a loving and accepting community.

Church isn’t just for the good. When I was a little girl, I thought all the good people were those who went to church; I mean, they had to be good, right? They went to church and so it just made sense.

Good people do go to church – it’s where people learn to be good the way God wants us to be good. It’s also the place where people who have problems, where brokeness and pain can be healed, where we learn to love and be loved, where we reach out and are touched, where we can fall and know someone will help us up.

People sometimes call me good and I always am amazed at this. If I was truly good, I’d have no reason for salvation; there would be no reason for that messy death 2,000 years ago that started to turn hearts and minds around. No, I am human with moments of goodness and when I falter, I know that the shepherd will come and find me and bring me back to the family, or the housewife will sweep the corner where I’ve hidden and pick me up and polish me so that I gleam like all the new coins in the box.

You see, the Kingdom of Heaven is like that.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,

Ellen+

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