Sunday, April 22, 2018

4 Easter

Good Shepherd Sunday
April 22, 2018

Psalm 23; John 10.1-10

+ Once, when I was just beginning my ordained ministry in the Church, I was told that I was maybe modeling my ministry a bit too much on the so-called  “Father Mulcahy School of Ministry. “

This was an insult, by the way.

For those of you who might not know, Father John Francis Patrick Mulcahy was a loveable character in the TV show M.A.S.H. in the 1970s and early 1980s. He was the chaplain at the medical camp.

And this so-called Father Mulcahy School of Ministry meant that, like Father Mulcahy, a priest was more interested in talking with patients about golf or the weather than about spiritual things.  The thinking was that it was more important to be personable and friendly than to be a spiritual consolation to people in need.

I shrugged off such criticism. Because, I will wholeheartedly defend Father
Mulcahy and the way he did ministry on that show In fact, I will not only say that, yes, I maybe did subconsciously model much of my ministry on the Father Mulcahy character, I don’t understand why others don’t. Father Mulcahy was a very positive example of pastoral care when I was growing up. While priests and pastors were often depicted as dour, sour, stern holier-than-thou men in black, there was Father Mulcahy, kind, gentle and meeting people where they were, talking with them on their own level, legitemately caring  their concerns.

And let me tell you, very early on ministry, I learned that sometimes when the priest walks into a room, the last thing people want to do is talk about it spiritual things.

Father Mulcahy was a prime example to me of what it means to be a Good Shepherd. And that’s why I always liked him.  In fact, if there were more Father Mulcahy-like priests in our churches, we’d all be better off, I think.

Father Mulcahy is a very appropriate person to talk about today because today is, of course, Good Shepherd Sunday—the Sunday in which we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the Good Shepherd.

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 that 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.  We all need a Good Shepherd to help us 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 to 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, of course, 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. We are to be actively engaged in the world and it the lives of others.  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 very baptisms. On that day we were baptized, we were called to be a Good Shepherds to others.  

Anyone can be a good shepherd. Certainly, priests and pastors have long clung to that image and applied it to their vocation.  And, they should. We’ve known the good shepherds in our clergy and ministers, cast in mode of Father Mulcahy.  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.  Bad Shepherds who have been clergy, or political leaders or business leaders.

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.  Because in celebrating the Good Shepherd, we celebrate goodness. We celebrate being good and doing good and embodying goodness in our 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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