Thursday, May 10, 2012

Homily: Jan Robitscher speaks Sunday, Easter IV on 'I AM the Good Shepherd' in Seattle, WA

“I AM the Good Shepherd”

(Jn. 10:11)

Easter IV, Year B    
Jan Robitscher
Trinity Parish
April 29, 2012
Seattle, WA

Psalm 23
1 John 3: 16-24
John 10: 11-18
Acts 4: 5-12

(Sung) I AM the good shepherd, I pasture my sheep,

For them I lay down my life. Alleluia!

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Wanted: One Good Shepherd. Must have strong skills in spiritual, temporal and community leadership, be a person of prayer, a leader of worship, a lover of liturgy and music--did I mention being a strong supporter of the music program?--help the flock to grow and to be a positive force in the community. Does this sound familiar? Yes, it comes from your Rector Profile, and it could have come from ours at St. Mark’s in Berkeley, California, for we, too, are in the midst of a rector search.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? The Good Shepherd is a leader, almost always a religious leader, whether deacon, priest or--and especially--bishop. That’s what we want, right? A Good Shepherd; someone who will lead us (and yes, we are like a flock of sheep in many ways) into green pastures and beside still waters where we will live happily ever after.

Guide Dog 'Lenore' with lambs
on Good Shepherd Sunday

But is that really what this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, is all about? Let’s look again at our readings. All of them speak of leadership and two of them deal specifically with leadership in terms of “The Good Shepherd”. The image of the Shepherd is a recurring and familiar one throughout the Bible. Sometimes it refers to real people who were really shepherds, as, for example, David was when he was called to be anointed king of Israel (1 Samuel 16). David was, by all accounts, a “good shepherd”. He did all that was required to care for his real flock of sheep. As king, he was not perfect by any means, yet he is still well remembered.

And if David was a good shepherd, it is easy to see how we can fall into thinking that our last Rector--or our next--is the Good Shepherd. But we have strayed (like lost sheep) from our readings for today.

There is much more to this image of the Good Shepherd. We have only to look at Psalm 23, which is by tradition attributed to David. I suspect we could all recite by heart:

                   The LORD is my shepherd;*

                                    I shall not be in want.

Quire, Trinity Parish, Seattle, WA
Here God (the LORD) is the Good Shepherd and God’s people, the flock, depend on God for everything, just like real sheep. Whether by still streams or in the darkest valleys, the Good Shepherd, God, is there.

But is is Jesus who takes on this image in the deepest, most profound way. He claims

                   I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays

                        down his life for the sheep. ...I know my sheep and

                        my own know me... and I lay down my life for the

                        sheep.”  (Jn. 10:14 )

Here is the real Good Shepherd, as Jesus identifies himself with God. Here is the one whose voice the sheep of the human “flock”-recognize. Here is the One who, like a human shepherd, leads by following (yes, shepherds lead from behind their flocks), asserts authority by serving, is “The Door”, laying across the entrance of the corral, and is even willing to lay down his life for the sheep.

The Easter story is just as Jesus said in our Gospel reading:

                   For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay

                        down my life in order to take it up again...”

Jan Robitscher and 'Lorelle'
We are here today because Jesus, the Good Shepherd, willingly gave himself to death on the cross and rose again, all in obedience to the Father’s command. 

I AM the good shepherd, I pasture my sheep,

For them I lay down my life. Alleluia!

So, if Jesus is the one and true Good Shepherd, where does that leave us “sheep” today, and those who are our human “shepherds”?

We of Trinity, Seattle and St. Mark’s, Berkeley, both as communities and as individuals, and many in other places, are in times of transition. Like the earthquake that struck here on Ash Wednesday of 2001, the earth moves beneath us, people we know and love leave us, and we are left wondering if there is any stability at all.  But this is the very time we need Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Search Committees need to listen for and to his voice. Each of us--and all of us together--must be willing to follow where he leads. But how do we do this?

It is here that the other readings today speak. For it is Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, who testifies that healing comes in Jesus name; there is help in no other. It is the voice of the Holy Spirit that will become our “Good Shepherd” after Jesus ascends to the Father. It is the Spirit who will be poured upon us with the gifts we will need to follow in “The Way”, the earliest name for the Christian life. It is the Spirit who will lead remind us of all that Jesus, the Good Shepherd said, who will lead us into all truth and who will comfort us--literally--give us strength--to continue to be Jesus’ hands and feet, eyes and heart in the world.

And what of human shepherds? Are there any human “Good Shepherds”? How will we know? At best, we are but faint reflections of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. But there is encouragement for us. Listen again to some words from the First Letter of John:

          We know love by this, that he [Jesus] laid down his life

            for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

            Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in

            truth and action. ...And by this we know he abides in us,

            by the Spirit that he has given us.

It is by love that we reflect the way of the Good Shepherd. And it is to the extent that we love one another in truth and action that we reflect Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

I AM the good shepherd, I pasture my sheep,

For them I lay down my life. Alleluia!

[Note: This paragraph is special to the day.]

Jan Robitscher and Fr. Paul Collins
Dear friends in Christ, and especially my friend, Fr. Paul--How can I ever thank you for the opportunities to preach and teach over all these past almost 20 years, some 14 of them here at Trinity? More than that, it has been an honor and privilege to have watched you; to watch the “flock” of St. Hilda’s-St. Patrick’s and then here at Trinity Parish grow and flourish; to have participated with you in retreats; to share with you the Word of God and to give into the hands of this community the very life of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Fr. Paul, you surely deserve a rest from your responsibilities, which have been a true reflection of the Good Shepherd. I am confident that you will go forward with whoever comes next to even more glorious worship and to greater ministry. 

But in the meantime, follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Listen for his voice. Welcome the Holy Spirit. Use all of the gifts bestowed upon you, and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will lead you to just the place you need to be.  Let us pray:


                   O God, whose son Jesus Christ is the good shepherd

                        of your people: Grant that when we may hear his voice

                        we may know him who calls us by name, and follow

                        where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit,

                        lives and reigns, one God for ever and ever. AMEN.

No comments: