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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

B4E - That shepherd thing

There are a number of things in next Sunday's scriptures that strike me. The whole section about the "hired hand" hits a little close to home for me, and I hope for all of us who make our living in churches. I mean, this is from John 10, and Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, with all the prophetic utterances echoing "woe to the shepherds that mislead my people Israel" howling in the background, as well as the memory of the Shepherd-King, David, and the twenty-third psalm. I don't really want to be thought of as a hired hand, but that's really what I am. God is the shepherd. I take some comfort that Jesus also said it was all right to "Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.” (Lk 10:7) That's about all I did for the first ten years in Barrington! It's not the hiring that's the issue, I guess, but whether or not one has the "heart of a shepherd," whether one takes seriously one's baptismal calling to be Christ and learn to love the Church with Christ's own self-emptying love.

Being a good shepherd - that's one aspect of the calling of the Christian community. We have an example in the Master, but by virtue of the Spirit's mark upon us in our baptism, we too are called to  the ministry of shepherding. There is only one way to be "good" shepherds, and that is by doing it God's way, because only God is good. God's shepherd paradigm is Jesus, who lay down his life for the life of all. To be "known" by the sheep, and to "know" them, this is interesting too. It seems to me that at least a measure of intimacy is expected, some "face time" with the community. It could be said that to know oneself is to know the weakness and lovability of others, too, but to "be known" is the clincher: people can't know us unless we're out there and able to be seen. I guess I should be better at returning phone calls in a more timely way, and not try to cut down on my hours in the office. Rats.
Moving on to another aspect of the gospel, there's a tension between the Christ of faith, who is the Logos and thus completely self-emptying and the Utter Totality of things at the same time, and the Jesus of history, who was human, like us, and needed faith, because certainty is not the provenance of the human race. Jesus of Nazareth could not have been certain he would "take his life up again" in any categorical sense, otherwise, he would not have been human. How much courage would it take to die if we were certain, with no doubt, that there was a better life waiting beyond death for us? Or that we were God? Sure, we might be afraid of the pain if that were our lot, but certainty of the beyond would be a Big Help in facing death. I am convinced that this was not the case with Jesus, because no one would want a Messiah who had it all figured out in advance. That's not humanity. I don't want a heavenly actor pretending to be like me. I want a Messiah who is like us in everything.

I understand that John is a late gospel, and more theologically sophisticated by comparison to Mark, with a certain understanding of sophistication. I'm perfectly willing to accept an interpretation of this text that goes something like this: I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. God has given me the power that I have to lay down my life, and I expect the power to take it up again because God can be trusted, the God of Abraham, Moses and Elijah, the God of the living. It was the voice of that God who called me "beloved," whose call and hand I feel upon me in my life, who guides my steps, who wants me to bring abundant life to the many. I can believe, in other words, in a Jesus who has faith, but not in one who doesn't need faith. That one would not be human.
We are God's children now, St. John says. Now. So, the author seems to be saying, act like God's children. Be, for instance, shepherds to the world. Lead like you know where you're going, out of the valley of death's shadow, into green meadows with refreshing streams. What we will be has not been revealed, John says, so, he seems to say, don't worry about that. Trust in the God of Jesus, who gives you the power to lay down your life, and whose power will enable you to take it up again. Your faith can give you confidence, but it's still faith. If we can trust that God delivered Israel in the exodus and exile, and delivered Jesus from the grasp of death, we can trust God to deliver us, too, though what that means “has not been revealed.” But we are God’s children now. Lay your life down, lay it down for others, for the sheep. Have the heart of a shepherd.

Here's our music for St. Anne's this week. As I have mentioned, we're celebrating not just Easter 4, but the 50th anniversary of our pastor emeritus, Fr. Jack Dewes, and the 15th anniversary of the dedication of the current parish church.

Entrance Song: All Are Welcome (Haugen)
Glory to God/Sprinkling Rite: Mass of St. Ann (Bolduc)
Psalm 118 "This Is the Day" (Joncas)
Easter Alleluia (O Sons and Daughters, arr. RC)
Presentation of Gifts: Yours Today (Cooney)
Mass of Creation
Lamb of God ("May We Be One," Daigle)
Communion: Heart of a Shepherd (Cooney)
Recessional: On Holy Ground (Peña) or I Send You Out (Angotti)