Sunday, April 26, 2015

4 Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday
April 26, 2015
The Baptism of Cohan Ranney

Psalm 23; John 10.1-10

+ As most of you know, our congregation of St. Stephen’s has a very solid tradition of Benedictine spirituality. Several of us, including James and myself, are actual Oblates of St. Benedict at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. Others of us are spiritually aligned with Benedictine spirituality. We carry out this spirituality by not just following the Rule of St. Benedict in our personal devotional lives. We actually attempt, through our ministries, to make the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict a reality. We do so by following St. Benedict’s command to welcome all people who come here as Christ. That means, people who come to this church are welcomed and treated with respect, no matter who they are. Because we believe that Christ dwells within each one who comes through that door. And that’s not just our newcomers. That’s our long-time members too.

The Rule of St. Benedict has been a great source of living out the Gospel in a practical way. And one of the areas of the Rule I’ve always loved and appreciated it the chapter on Abbots and Abbesses. Abbots and Abbesses, of course, are the leaders of monasteries. And I’ve discovered that Benedict’s chapter on Abbots or Abbesses is probably one of the best documents written on how to be an effective pastor and minister. And not just for clergy. But for anyone in leadership in the church.

The Rule makes clear that care of the sheep entrusted to one, is vital to a healthy monastery and, in our case, a healthy congregation.  St. Benedict writes:
“Above all let [the abbess] not neglect or undervalue 
the welfare of the souls committed to her, 
in a greater concern for fleeting, earthly, perishable things; 
but let her always bear in mind 
that she has undertaken the government of souls 
and that she will have to give an account of them…

“Let her know, then, 
that she who has undertaken the government of souls
must prepare herself to render an account of them. 
Whatever number of sisters she knows she has under her care, 
she may be sure beyond doubt that on Judgment Day 
she will have to give the Lord an account of all these souls, 
as well as of her own soul. 

“Thus the constant apprehension 
about her coming examination as shepherd 
(Ezech. 34) 
concerning the sheep entrusted to her, 
and her anxiety over the account that must be given for others, 
make her careful of her own record.” 

Essentially Benedict’s Chapter on Abbots and Abbesses is about how to be a Good Shepherd. That is very appropriate for today because today is, of course, Good Shepherd Sunday—the Sunday in which we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. And I’m happy that, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are able to celebrate the baptism of Cohan Ranney.
Jesus describes himself in today’s Gospel as the Good Shepherd. This is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used for the people listening to him in hat day and age. They would have “got” this.  They understood the difference between a good shepherd  and  a bad shepherd.  The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his flock.  He looked out for them, he watched them. The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock. He guided and led the flock to a place to eat.
This is an important aspect of the role of the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd didn’t feed the flock.  Rather the good shepherd led the flock to the choicest green pastures and helped them to feed themselves.  In this way, the Good Shepherd is more than just a coddling shepherd.  He is not the co-dependent shepherd. The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed the sheep.  Rather, he guides and leads the sheep to green pastures and allows them feed themselves.

The Good Shepherd also protects the flock against the many dangers out there. He protects the flock from the wolves, from getting too near cliffs, or holes, or falling into places of water.

Let’s face it, there are many dangers out there.  There are many opportunities for us to trip ourselves, to get lost, to get hurt.  If we follow the Good Shepherd we avoid those pitfalls of life.

Of course, the journey isn’t an easy one.  We can still get hurt along the way.  Bad things can still happen to us.  There are predators out there, waiting to hurt us.  There are storms brewing in our lives, waiting rain down upon us. But, with our eyes on the Shepherd, we know that the bad things that happen to us will not destroy us, because the Shepherd is there, close by, watching out for us.  We know that in those bad times—those times of darkness when predators close in, when storms rage—he will rescue us.

More importantly the Good Shepherd knows his flock.  He knows each of the sheep. If one is lost, he knows it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold.

In our collect for today, there is a wonderful reference to the Good Shepherd.  In the prayer, we ask God:

“Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name…’

Jesus sets the standard here for us.  Yes, we are called. But, in our calling, we then, in turn, are to be good shepherds to those around us.  We are called to serve, to look out for those people around us who need us. We are called to lead others to those choice places of refreshment. We are called to help and guide others.  And, most importantly, we are called to see and know those people we come into contact with in this world.  We are not called to simply exist in this world, vaguely acknowledging the people who are around us.

How often do we walk around not really “seeing” anyone around us? We are called to actually “know” the people we are called to serve.

The God Jesus shows us is not some vague, distant God.  We don’t have a God who lets us fend for ourselves.  We instead have a God who leads us and guides us, a God who knows us each by name, a God who despairs over the loss of even one of the flock.  We have the God who, in Psalm 23, that very familiar psalm we have all hear so many times in our lives, is a God who knows us and loves us and cares for us.  

But God accomplishes this love and knowledge through us. We, by being good shepherds, allow God to be the ultimate Good Shepherd. We were commissioned to be good shepherds by our baptisms. On that day we were baptized, we were called to be a Good Shepherds to others.

Today, dear Cohan is being commissioned to be a good shepherd in his life as a follower of Jesus.  And our prayer for him today is that he will, truly, grow up to be a good shepherd to those he meets and serves in his life.

Anyone can be a good shepherd.  Certainly, priests and pastors have long clung to that image and applied it to their vocation.  We’ve known the good shepherds in our clergy and ministers. I hope I have, at least sometimes, been a good shepherd to the people I have been called to serve.  

And we’ve all known the bad shepherds.  But, today, we don’t have to worry about those bad shepherds. Today, we celebrate the Good Shepherd—the Good Shepherd that is showing us the way forward to being good shepherds in our own lives.

So, on this day in which we celebrate the Good Shepherd, let us be what he is.  Let us live out our vocation to be good shepherds to those around us.  Let us truly “see” and know those people who share this life with us.  And let us know that being a good shepherd does make a difference in this world.

Let us make a difference. Emboldened by our baptism, strengthened by a God who knows us and love us, let us in turn know and love others as we are called to do.

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