Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The 4th Sunday in Easter: Mother's Day. Good Shepherd Sunday.


Debra brought beautiful flowers for Mother's Day. And her guitar.

On the other side of the door, Debra is already there waiting for me to open up. She’s got a big vase with beautiful flowers for Mother’s Day. And her guitar. We get to work setting up and Dion arrives and then Deacon James and soon we’re getting  it together and Debra and I have time to practice the King of Love My Shepherd is to the tune of O Waly, Waly and as we’re practicing Joey arrives with Rachel and Dion helps her into the sanctuary.

As a prelude for the service, I play O Good Shepherd Feed my Sheep by the Jefferson Airplane. We sing Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us to open the service. As it is every 4th Sunday of Easter, it is Good Shepherd Sunday.

The first lesson is Acts 2: 42-47

Here we find the 4 marks of community (42):
1.     Devoted themselves to apostles’ teaching
2.     Fellowship
3.     Breaking of bread
4.     Prayer

The fruit of this community is that (44) They were together and held all things in common and gave to  any as they had need . When  I ask what this sounds like, John R of course responds From each according to his ability, to each according to his need . Someone asks Didn’t Marx say that? And I respond that it started with 19th century French philosopher Louis Blanc and then Marx. And now scholars feel that Blanc got it from Acts.  So that classic formulation had its origins in the Bible.

It’s been hard  to talk about socialism in the US for a long time, but Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty seems to be opening up room for conversation. I remember my friend David when he and his garin first reestablished the kibbutz at Gezer. I am finally living this, he said, From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. And to a great extent they were. When last I saw him, 32 years later at the same kibbutz, that dream, as well as a lot of others, was long gone.

Last night there were over 150 communists here. There’s a thirst out there for something. Little would they suspect it could go back to the Bible.

And the result of this sense of community was that they lived with (46 ) glad and generous hearts… This is also also part of a progression that leads to hope and what I’m now learning is an equally essential spiritual gift, joy. What I have so often seen in African-American worship. And More Light worship. The joy that sings forth from a community of struggle committed to each other with mutual love and accountability.

We proceed Psalm 23 by singing Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.
And we say the Psalm, both in the King James version, you can’t really do it any other way, and in Spanish. And then Debra and I do our King of Love My Shepherd is and it feels very good.

One of my clergy colleagues said that Psalm 23  is the  Mona Lisa of the psalter…It’s images, even in a  tense and troubled time (David being pursued?) is that of  abundance over  scarcity…the overflowing cup, the anointing with oil, the banquet in front of enemies…
The truth of the world is that there is enough. It is a lie that there is not enough. It is ultimately a question of distribution, not production.  In urban ministry we have learned that it is better to start with not a  needs assessment but a capacity assessment. When we start with needs, we get overwhelmed. Depressed. Ready to give up. Believe that our salvation  must lie in someone else’s hands. Someone else’s power. But when we begin with capacity, with what we already have, then possibility, hope begins to emerge.
The theologian Walter Brueggemann once said that  Resistance begins with doxology. We begin with giving thanks for all we have to be thankful for. When  I felt most alone, that turned me around.
This psalm, more than almost any other Bible passage, fills us with comfort. Helps us feel protected. Cared for. Loved.
And the end can be read whole life long….or I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

In 1 Peter 2: 19-25, we’re back to joy again. And also a reflection on as Dr. King said it and Andre reminds us, the redemptive power of unmerited suffering. While I don’t completely understand it, James Cone makes the same point in Black Theology.
Sharon Welch has said that cynicism is a prerogative of privilege. Only the privileged liberal middle class can afford to be cynical, ultimately  a justification for abdicating oneself of responsibility for the struggle. Of breaking solidarity, abandoning those who are oppressed, excluded, marginalized.

Finally we come to the Gospel, John 10: 1-10. We are now half- way to Ascension, half way through Easter. Maybe we do this every year to show what the ministry of the risen Christ is all about.
We forget that at the time of Jesus, all the  shepherd/shepherding language was already nostalgic. A romantic memory of a long gone nomadic past, part of the mythology of King David. Most everyone, even farmers, lived inside the gates of the city and only shepherds lived outside in the hills coming in only to trade.
Likewise, very few of us have any real contact with sheep outside of street fair petting zoos, scruffy as they are. When  my kids were little, we tied to come up with urban images .They thought of Kenny the porter of our apartment building who took it on himself to walk all the building’s kids to the bus in the morning  and see them safely home when they got back in the afternoon. That works for me.
Who else? Do you have your own images?
So it is Mother’s Day. And those images work for our mothers. Or those who have been mothers for us. Recognizing that not all mother relationships have been good and that often, others have played that role.

As I close, I’d like to share with you Bobby Mc Ferrin’s setting of the 23rd Psalm, dedicated to his mother. Listen closely to the words:

The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won't forsake me,
I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen

 We pray. Andre sings for us Blessed Assurance. We take up our offering. Sing the doxology. Do a half way decent job of singing Go with us Lord... to the tune of the Tallis Canon, as a round.
The join hands, sing Amen. And clean up as we prepare for our own afternoons.
The Session approves a candidate for the porter position. And people to serve on the pastoral evaluation committee.

Outside, the sun is shining.It is warm.

For other Good Shepherd Sundays:

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