Let us pray:
“Most gracious and gentle God, from the womb of your love your gave birth to all creation; and in your Son Jesus Christ you reveal a loving kindness that longs to gather up your children under the shadow of your wings.
Bless, we pray, all mothers, especially those who nurse and care for your children.
Give them patience and wisdom. Sustain them in gentleness and grace. Deepen the tenderness of their affections. Affirm them in the nobility of their calling.
May our children always find in the embrace of mothers an outward and visible sign of your never-failing love and care. And through the love of our mothers, may we all feel the warmth of your tender mercies and know the constancy of your unconditional love.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Hallelujah, the Lord is risen!
Why then, do we find ourselves back at the temple?
We’ve been through the long work of soul-searching and casting off the works of darkness that is Lent. And we’ve trod the long and difficult path that leads from the garden to the upper room, to the glorious empty tomb. So, how is it that the lectionary organizers place us way back in the feast of Dedication, which is Hanukkah? Another miraculous appearance or even something from Season 2, I’d understand, but there seems to be a disconnect here. At least, those were my first thoughts as I looked at the readings for today.
Lent shows us where we’ve been, Easter shows us where we’re going. So, what’s with the prequel?
Then it came to me.
Traditionally, Mystagogia is a period in the church’s life, after Easter, for neophytes to be instructed in the mysteries of our faith. It is also a season of reflection for our more seasoned members. Rather than rush to get things back to “normal”, after all the Easter preparations and celebrations are over, it’s a time for us to look back and contemplate the meaning that Jesus’ resurrection has for our daily lives; To see what, as Pastor Suzi said last week, the “new normal” is, now that we have been reconciled to God.
To ensure that we’re truly on the right path—that we haven’t just put back on what was cast off during Lent—we are encouraged to (as we say) persevere in resisting evil, and when (not if) we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. So let’s look a little deeper into the good news we have before us this morning, to see what mystery or mysteries there are for us to contemplate.
In today’s gospel, we find Jesus being challenged by a group of people (assumed to be Jewish leadership by most scholars) who seemingly could not or would not accept his identity. “Are you the Messiah? If so, tell us plainly, they insist—as if there was a microphone hidden somewhere, collecting all the evidence they would need to convict him. But Jesus turns the tables on them, figuratively this time. “I have told you plainly” he says, “and for those of you who believe actions speak louder than words, look at the works I’ve done; even they testify to who I am”.
So the problem, Jesus points out, isn’t that I haven’t “told you plainly”; the real issue here is that you’re unable or unwilling to accept what I’ve told you because you are not in right relationship with me. Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd and his flock to illustrate what a right relationship between God and the people of God looks like (Hint: It looks like living the 23rd Psalm). They don’t recognize the voice of this shepherd, because they’re not his flock.
We know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but are we part of His flock? Are we good sheep?
Sheep, in the today’s world, have traditionally gotten a bum rap. They’re seen as docile, not-too-bright creatures, without a lick of intestinal fortitude in them. On the other hand, spiritually speaking, they represent unity and peace. And their young ones (lambs) are the embodiment of purity and innocence.
Since Easter we have, through our Collect Prayers, been in a constant dialogue with our creator; beseeching the God who:
1. Gave His only begotten son to deliver us from the power of our enemy, to grant us so to die daily to sin.
2. Established a new covenant of reconciliation, so that we may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith.
3. Made himself know (in Jesus), to open our eyes to see him.
4. As the good shepherd, pursues the lost and lays down his life for his flock; enable us to hear his voice, know who calls us and follow where he leads.
We have been asking God to help us be good sheep; Jesus’ sheep.
Jesus’ sheep hear his voice and follow him.
"Two men were walking along a crowded city sidewalk. Suddenly, one of the men remarked, "Listen to the lovely sound of that cricket," But the other man could not hear the sound. He asked his friend how he could hear the sound of a cricket amid the roar of the traffic and the sound of the people.
The first man, who was a zoologist, had trained himself to hear the sounds of nature.
He didn’t explain to his friend in words how he could hear the sound of the cricket, but instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a half-dollar coin, dropped it onto the sidewalk, and watch intently as a dozen people began to look for the coin as they heard it clanking around amid the sounds of the traffic and the sounds of the crowded city living.
He turned to his friend and said, "We hear what we listen for."
As good sheep, we learn to listen—even amid the noise and struggle of our daily walk—for the voice of our shepherd: who will lead, guide, direct, strengthen and protect us. And we follow him—from weddings and miracles, to betrayal and the cross, to resurrection and ascension—through our thoughts, words, deeds and our lives together as a community of faith. We follow him through the many wonderful ministries, here, that are our response to His call and that exemplify our belief in and commitment to our baptismal covenant.
Jesus knows his sheep, and his sheep know him who calls.
“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”, says Psalm 139. “You know my coming in and going out. Even before a word is on my tongue, you O Lord know it completely”. Jesus knows who we really are—that sometimes we wander and on occasion get altogether lost, either because we get distracted by other shepherds or because we choose to be driven rather than lead—and yet loves us (Hallelujah) anyway.
On the other hand, “knowing” Jesus’ voice (at first glance) seems to imply some kind of cursory recognition. In Spanish, however, there are a couple of words used to describe or define “to know”; Saber and Conocer. “Saber” is more at being aware of or knowing about someone or something. But “conocer” leans more in the direction of having deep personal knowledge or experience of someone or something. “Saber”, we know by heart. “Conocer”, we know in our heart of hearts. And I think this is where our thoughts are being lead; From a group of people surrounding Jesus in a temple a long time ago, to a group of people gathered around Jesus in a church today.
In last week’s gospel lesson, Jesus said to Peter “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” And today Jesus is saying to us, “Do you love me? Be my sheep”.
Let us pray,
God of the green pastures and still waters, we come before you in this hour longing for the peace, healing and wholeness that only your spirit of grace can give. Help us in this season of introspection, to find the holes in our logic; the empty places in our hearts, and the gaps between our beliefs and our behavior; that we may be filled with your Love, embrace your mysteries, and follow where you alone lead.