SHEPHERDS IN THE CHURCH April 2021
I was in theological school, I was given a fieldwork assignment to a
church that had an eight o’clock service of Holy Communion from the
old red prayer book. It was the English Harris tweed set. Everybody
was there for his or her own private devotions and no one even
hazarded a glance at their neighbours in the pew. When it was over,
they all left with hardly a word. That church was not doing well, as
I don’t imagine they even knew one another, or even wanted to.
Today’s gospel reading was all about shepherds and sheep.
I remember several years ago doing a teaching here about ministry and saying that we are all the ministers. The traditional model is that the minister ministers and the congregation congregates. He prays and they pay! In the lesson Jesus says that he is the shepherd, and the understanding is that we are the sheep who know him and follow him. He knows us by name. I always thought that sheep were too dumb to know their names. But these sheep recognize his voice. I wonder how many Christians could say the same! Yes, he is the shepherd, but we, as his followers are called to be his presence in the world. Our vocation is to be shepherds as well. What does that mean?
Recently I saw a TED talk. It is an organization which has a mission to put out ideas worth spreading and this talk featured a presentation by Pope Francis. There were many thoughts in it that I felt had to do with what it means to be a shepherd at this time in our world. So, I am going to pass some of it on to you for your reflection.
Our lives are made up of encounters because each person’s existence is tied to that of others. It is about interactions, not just passing by and going through the motions of living. When we have contact with the sick, refugees and the poor, it raises the question: “Why them and not me?” How many of us have been through a time in our lives when we were down and had nothing? How many of us could have ended up on the “discard pile”? There but for the grace of God…Most of us know the expression that none of us is an island. We are not isolated and independent. Everything is connected and interacts with everything else, and we know that because of the discoveries of the new quantum physics. We all need healthy connections with others in spite of our judgements and our wounds that were never cured.
people believe that a happy future is an impossible hope, but
happiness is a gift that happens between each of us and the whole
community. We can discover far away planets, but we need to
rediscover the needs of brothers and sisters who are orbiting around
us. This shouldn’t be reduced to social work. This should be our
basic attitude influencing our political and economic choices as well
as our relationships.
Human solidarity can help to eliminate the “culture of human waste”. This isn’t just about things, but about people who get cast aside by our system. Our economy puts buying and selling ahead of people. Our response has to come from our hearts, and this requires concrete action, not just theories and ideologies to appease our consciences.
people are not just statistics or numbers. They have faces and need
to be taken care of. The parable of the Good Samaritan is about those
who would rather not be bothered and those who actually care for
others. The question, “Who is my neighbour?” is really about:
whom should I take care of? The Samaritan didn’t ignore him as if
he weren’t there. There is so much suffering in our lives, but
everything seems so centred around money instead of people. Often it
is the so-called respectable folk who have the habit of turning the
other way and not caring.
Thousands of human beings, entire populations are left behind, “on the side of the road”. There is so much to do, and we are surrounded by so much evil. But no system can kill our desire to open up to the good. We might not be good Samaritans, but each of us is precious in the eyes of God and we can be bright candles in the darkness of this world, an Easter reminder that the light overcomes the darkness.
As Christians we have hope and that means that we are not naïve about the tragedies that we face. Hope is not just about getting by, but it can see tomorrow. It is the door that opens us to the future. It is a little seed that grows into a big tree, like invisible yeast that allows the dough to grow. A tiny flicker of light can shatter the darkness. A single person is enough for hope to exist and that person can be you and me. Then there can be another “you” and “another you”. It turns into an “us”. When there is an “us” it turns into a revolution.
We need a revolution of tenderness. What is that? It is love that comes close and comes from our hearts. It activates our eyes and ears and hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the weak and the poor and those who are afraid of the future. It also means to listen to our common home, our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness also means to use our hearts and our hands to bring comfort and to take care of those in need. Tenderness is being on the same level as the other. Parents can be like this with their kids. God put himself at our level in Jesus. Tenderness is the path for the strongest and the most courageous men and women. It is not weakness. It is strength. It is a path of solidarity and humility.
The more powerful we are and the more impact we can have on others, the more responsible we are to act humbly. If we don’t, then our power will ruin us, and we will ruin others. In Argentina they say that power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach. You get dizzy and drunk and lose your balance. You end up hurting yourself and those around you. Power has to be connected with humility and tenderness and then it can become a service and a force for good. The future isn’t just in the hands and politicians and corporate CEO’s, but each one of us who recognizes the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us”, as we realize that we need one another.
So here we sit and as we read all this may we realize anew that we are all ministers and that as Christians and followers of Jesus, we too are called to be “good shepherds”. We are called to live out our solidarity with those around us who need our love and compassion and our care, for we are all connected. It is the Easter season, and the world needs our light, our hope and our action.