Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Good Shepherd Sunday

Last Sunday's sermon received lots of comment. Here it is for your review.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd


“Fr. Paul” B. Bresnahan

May 7,2006

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd.”

There are two images that come to mind when I think of “The Good Shepherd”. Both are helpful when we think of our relationship with Jesus but for different reasons. One image is of the relationship between a mother, a father and a child. Typically, when we bring forth newborn children, we love them, nurture them and bring them through their childhood to adulthood when we watch them leave the nest and fly off on their own. During that time, we stand by them, we love them, and there is often much to be forgiven. When we correct them we do so usually with a firmness that is tempered with compassion. Throughout it all there is an abiding love that is the very ground of our being in relationship which has been brought forth from our love.

This is not always the case. We do know of instances when a father would abandon a child. To me that seems unthinkable, but we know it happens. Even worse is the case of abuse, when children and women are victims of violent outbursts. We know too that there are even mothers who will abandon their children and even abuse or neglect them in some cases.

But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He loves us, forgives us and embraces us with the compassion of a mother and a father that absolutely delights in a child. A child is the flesh and blood image of his or her parentage. So too are we, in a certain sense, the flesh and blood image of God. Insofar as Jesus is the incarnate love of God, so too by his Grace, we become the incarnate children of God. Since we are incarnate into the Body of Jesus by adoption and Grace, so then we become incarnate in the Grace of God. John says as much in today’s second lesson; “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” If we believe that Jesus is the incarnate love of God, then it stands to reason that we are God’s flesh and blood now by virtue of his Grace and his Love.

Imagine the Love he bears toward us that he would adopt us as his very own. Each one of us now bears the image of God on our faces in a sense as we reflect the Glory of God. That means that as we look into one another’s eyes we are looking into the soul of God. As I think about it, the kingdom of heaven is within, deep within the human heart. That is the throne room of God. The human heart is the touchstone of our humanity to the Heart of God. Thus it is in the human heart where we meet our own humanity in the very same place as we meet God’s divinity. It is in the human heart where we become truly known for who we are without any possibility of cloaking or concealing anything from our God.

We say as much every week in that exquisite prayer at the beginning of the Eucharist;

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The heart is where we treasure God, and where God treasures us as well.

There is another image I have to speak of the Good Shepherd. Yesterday we brought home a new puppy. His name is Alcibiades. He is named after a Greek general, statesman and philosopher. He is a delightful animal. And of course we love him very much. I sent his photo out on our parish mailing list yesterday. Even looking at the photo of a puppy we cannot help but be melted with affection as we look into the face of a little dog. Isn’t it interesting that even by looking into the innocent little face of a young pup, we cannot help but see something of glory…as we look into the glory of God’s creation, are we not moved to profound depths of love and compassion. And that’s just for a puppy.

And so there we were, moving about through two shelters, reviewing the many abandoned animals looking for a home. Al was in cage A-27. He had no name. He was sick. Like all the others he was abandoned. There was a lot of barking. There was disease and there were many fleas. You could say it was a condition before Grace.

Think of it. What it was like for each of us before we were adopted by God, and given Grace upon Grace. It was like we were in cages or cubicles; nameless numbers. Our puppy was A-27. He is now “AL”. But he is so much more. He has his medicine. He is fed generously. He has boundless energy and affection. He has a relationship with someone who will shower him with an abundant love.

So too are we with Jesus. We are not just a number anymore in an economic system that grinds on toward its mindless motive for greed and profit. In its initial enthusiasm for the Gospel of Jesus the first Christians held everything in common and saw to it that no one went without. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them,” The new band of Christians was so taken with the obvious implications of the Gospel that they lived it out in community. It is a shame that didn’t make it very far into history before succeeding economic systems deemed it impractical.

So now the puppy has a home and not a cage. He lives in a whole new palace. He can run and bound up on the furniture and leap into the papa’s lap and lick his face, or fall asleep as a reassuring hand pats a glowing coat of radiant fur.

Don’t you see how different life is now? Now that you have been adopted by God as one of his children, do you not see the difference? Or do we take it all too much for granted. Now we can bask in God’s boundless love for us. His forgiveness is such that he would even give his son for us as payment for our sins. Now our sins are not counted against us. Instead we are now transformed from Glory to Glory through his abundant Grace.

So now sin and disobedience are not our calling, but Grace and Joy are the condition we are called into. John again today puts it this way; “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” So lets put all that aside, as we live now into the joy of our Father’s home.

We have found a home in him because he is our Good Shepherd. And there are still more sheep that must be drawn into to his house and his great mansion. In ever widening circles of inclusion we see the savior’s embrace reaching out from the hard wood of the Cross so that everyone may come within the reach of His embrace. If we believe that Jesus really is the Good Shepherd, then we will live out the implications of that in our Gospel life. I hope that as impractical as that may sometimes seem, we will at least make the attempt to live the Gospel life.

The reason for living out our lives that way is very simple; Jesus is the Good Shepherd.


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