Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

Good Shepherd Sunday

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I must remember those who were the Good Shepherds of my life. Having just returned from Toronto, I found myself visiting a flood of memories stretching back more than half a century.

By the way, the reason I ended up in Toronto in 1956 was that my mom remarried after the death of my dad who died in 1953. The man she married, Homer Kershner, "HK" I called him, was hired by the Toronto based Weston Biscuit Company, Canada’s version of Nabisco. He was the chief engineer of the company and it fell to him to purchase and install band ovens and packaging machinery for the many products that Weston’s distributed throughout Canada. He and my mother were among the many "Good Shepherds" of my life.

So there I was in Canada at the age of 11, a child of Blue Collar Somerville, suddenly translated into a somewhat foreign land to me and more jarringly into a solid upper middle class culture. It was not always an easy adjustment.

But there was one thing that I did right. When the parish priest stopped by our home to announce that a new church was being organized in the neighborhood, I immediately began to attend. My family was not the least bit interested in church, faith or religion, but I had then and still do have an incurable case of the love of God and the love of God’s people. 

That parish priest, Fr. Fred Hall became a Good Shepherd to me. In fact his whole family took me under their wing. Particularly as I entered my college years and I grew more and more into my young adult years and independence. Out of their generosity and love, they always held a place for me at their Sunday dinner table. 

Fr Fred and I loved to talk philosophy and theology. Having recently graduated from seminary, his confirmation classes were very demanding. We had to write examinations in the church’s catechism and demonstrate a mastery of the material that is the very underpinning of the church’s teachings and thinking on a whole range of church doctrine.

Being an independent and critical thinker, I loved to challenge my priest and he loved being challenged. Our confirmation classes were exciting and intellectually stimulating. But what I remember most vividly was the love he bore for us.

During our high school years he required that we attend mid week Lenten services at 7am. After Communion we would go to the parish hall as he prepared a full breakfast for us, and I remember his delighting in the work he did, his smiles, his laughter and most of all, I remember his love.

He was, in short, my Good Shepherd; he was indeed our Good Shepherd. We became Good Shepherds to one another. We formed a youth group that numbered, at its peak about 30 teens. He sent several of us to the Diocesan Conference Center for leadership training. We constituted ourselves as a local parish based chapter of what was then known as the AYPA, the Anglican Young People’s Association. We were a very active chapter. In fact the Diocese used to hold youth events for us as Dioceses still do. 

Our own Diocese has a youth council, there are many youth events held at the Barbara Harris Camp and Conference Center and the National Church holds an annual gathering called the EYE; the Episcopal Youth Event.

These experiences away from home, learning how to become more increasingly independent and informed about our church and the world in which we live, continue to be life changing events.  As your children and youth grow I encourage you explore these resources as I did in my formative years.

So there I was in Toronto for my 50th College Reunion. I met with old friends there. I met with Fr Fred’s family. He’s gone on now but we remembered those special days and then we caught up with each other. The intervening years have come and gone, and there was much catching up to do.

Here we gather on Good Shepherd Sunday. I once met a man who was in fact a real shepherd in the old country; Greece, in this case. He lived in Roslindale and I was the Rector of Christ Church in Hyde Park at the time. I asked him what it takes to be a “Good Shepherd”. Without hesitation, he said
“Tree tings!”
“First you gotta know the names de sheeps”
“Second you gotta have dogs. You can’t keep de sheeps togedder widdoutchu gut dogs.”
“Third, every now and again you gotta whacken de sheeps upside de head when dey gets outta line.”
There you are folks; the Good Shepherd as seen from a grown man who did the job in the fields of the Old Country.
Makes sense doesn’t it!

Obviously we have to know them all by name. The collect of the day and the Gospel both tell us that “when we hear his voice we know him who calls us each by name”. We trust that voice because we know who he is. And because we trust him we follow in the way he leads. 

There were many “barking dogs” in my life keeping us all together. I’m not sure that my parish priest would appreciate it if he knew I was comparing him to a barking dog. But think of it. Who are they who keep us altogether? Certainly there are family, friends, teachers, clergy, folks who have taken the time to have a critical impact on our lives. They’ve spent the time to care. Moreover, they were always there!

And then of course there were those times when we got way out of line. Somebody had to whack us upside the head to wake us us up as we blindly, blithely headed toward one catastrophe or another.

My grade eight teacher was one of those Good Shepherds in my life. Mr. Robinson! He was fond of saying “wakie, wakie!” as we seemed so often to be walking around in a daze blissfully unaware of something we were doing that was way off the mark. In the Advent season no doubt you remember that we are told; “Sleepers Awake!”

To know each other’s names; to care enough to be there for one another and to love each other enough to tell the truth to one another in love is to be a Good Shepherd to one another.

What then does it take for us to build one another up in love and to be Good Shepherds now at Trinity Church in Canton?

I found myself thinking about the early church as we see it in the Acts of the Apostles. Listen once again to the words we heard just a few moments ago from the Book of Acts;

"Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."

Yes, and day by day, God added to their number those who were being saved. As Good Shepherds that’s exactly what you and I are being called to do. That word “saved” can be mangled by modernism. But it is is a matter of sober reality that the messes we make of our lives, and the messes our loved ones make can be very real and catastrophic in nature. You name it we do it. Drugs, divorce, dysfunction, depression and on and on an on. Violence, racism, bigotry…the list is endless. 

But there must be one place in this world we live in where we can seek refuge from the misery of this sin sick weariness which so often strikes the human condition. That’s where the church comes in. That’s where you come in.

You and I are God’s Good Shepherds. We know one another by name. We keep one another together as sheepdogs would. We speak the truth to one another in love, keeping one another watchful and wakeful of God’s awesome wonders all around us. And by being the healing and reconciling presence of the Good Shepherd we are being called to add many to God’s household of love day by day!

There you are folks; God's marching orders for this Good Shepherd Sunday! May God so guide us in the living of these days in such ways as God directs us to live.

In the Name of God the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul.

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