Monday, April 30, 2012

The Good Shepherd of ALL God's People!

The Good Shepherd
When I was just a neophyte in ministry I met an interesting character at a community organization meeting. We were in the midst of dealing with the integration crisis in Boston, and the community was in need of much healing. He was a member of the local Greek Orthodox Church, a short squat fellow with almost a week’s growth of unshaven face on him. His clothes looked like they slept with him, and from the corner of his mouth he continually chomped on the stub of a cigar. I guessed him to be in his sixties, but that was difficult to tell, given the way in which he carried himself. Come to find out, he had been a shepherd in Greece before he came to this country. I had never met a shepherd before (I haven’t met once since either for that matter) so it was only natural for me to ask him what it took to be a “Good Shepherd”.
“Tree tings,” he said without hesitation and with a heavy accent.
“First you gotta know de sheeps’ namz”
“Den, you gotta whack ‘em upside de hed when dey stepz oughta line”
“Tird, dogs, no way you can keep de sheeps in a flock unless you gut dogs!”
I was fascinated by this facile explanation, but it made abundant sense to me. You must know the sheep personally, you must be willing to discipline them; after all, the word discipline at its root means to make sure they follow; and thirdly, you cannot keep the flock together without a good sheepdog or a border collie.
Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that the shepherd follows the sheep. The sheep have a pretty good sense of where they are going. The shepherd follows so that he can keep an eye out for a stray or a group that might stray or worse still if a flock splits. Only with good sheepdogs or border collies can you keep the whole flock together or to drive them back to the sheepfold at the end of the day.
The wolf may in fact harry the flock but the Good Shepherd will put himself in harm’s way to protect the sheep and he will drive away all danger and keep the sheep safe.
When I think of the Good Shepherd, I cannot help but think of the Salvation Plan of God. There is an orphanage in the South Sudan, which the Diocese of Bethlehem was instrumental in building and supporting. This is part of God’s salvation Plan.
There is a wonderful church in Douglassville PA with lots of young people and a day care center called the Good Shepherd Learning Center. More than a hundred of our community’s children are gathered day in and day out. They learn together. They have fun together. They are kept safe together. This is part of God’s Salvation Plan.
Across the parking lot from the Church there is the Keystone Villa, a place for seniors to spend their latter years of life together and safely. We care for them too and know that well we should, since many of us will be gathered into places like that at some point in our lives.
We all know intuitively that there is a Salvation Plan and that it is built on the idea that we all know instinctively the difference between right and wrong. And for those who may not quite get it, we have it a Law written in stone to help us figure out the basics.

Interestingly, we all know where we are headed as the flock of Jesus Christ. We know where we’re going because we abide with the Shepherd all along the way. The Shepherd likewise abides with us. We hear his voice though he is often removed from our sight. He calls us each by name. He keeps us together because when we stray away from the flock someone comes to seek us out, circles around once or twice and we resume our safe pasturage until the day’s end and we return by the sheepfold to find that we are home again.
Whether we find ourselves in an orphanage in Kago Kegi, a place called the Good Shepherd Learning Center, or the Keystone Villa, we have a place where we can call home; it is called St. Gabriel’s Church, Douglassville, PA. For my life’s journey there have been other names like St. James’s, North Cambridge,MA; St. Richard’s, Toronto, Ontario; St. Luke’s, Malden, MA; Christ Church, Hyde Park, MA; The Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, OH; Holy Cross & St. Cyprian’s, Pawleys Island, SC; St. Andrew’s, MA; St. Mark’s, Saint Albans, WV; and St. Peter’s, Salem; MA.
They are all a part of God’s Salvation Plan. Through all the priests and people who have been my Good Shepherds along the way I have discovered how generous is God’s love, and how lavish his forgiving power, and how complete his victory over sin and death. Most of them at least...
Don’t you see how different life is now? Now that you have become a part of God’s Salvation Plan, now that you have been adopted by God as one of his children, do you not see the difference? Or do we take it too much for granted sometimes? Now we can bask in God’s boundless love for us, do we not see how different life is now! 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. 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. It is interesting how so simple a Proclamation can be so controversial as we no doubt notice in the Episcopal Church. But we know God Shows No Partiality! 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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