Saturday, May 2, 2015

The 4th Sunday of Easter: Sheep...and wolves..

It’s the fourth Sunday of Easter. Good Shepherd Sunday.  Our special guest musician this morning is Martha Kato, a young Asian jazz pianist. ( We begin, as we do we do every Sunday in this season, with our Alleluias. All our music today will be connected to the Good Shepherd theme and the 23rd Psalm, beginning with The King of Love My Shepherd Is/ When we do the psalm, we use the refrain that Bill Schimmel created for us that first Sunday after 9/11. (,The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  Our gospel this morning is John 10: 11-18.
16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

I follow that with  my own version of O Good Shepherd feed My Sheep. Although my favorite (an d definitive) version is by Jorma Kaukonen, I followed it back through Mike and Peggy Seeger’s banjo version to an old blues version by Jimmy Strothers, collected by Alan Lomax. It has even deeper roots than  that, back to a Methodist preacher, John Adams Granade. ( Strothers called hos version Blood Stained Banders. When asked what that meant, he replied, Them Ku Kluxers of coruse.

And then, it was time to begin.

Before I start my reflection, let’s say together the 23rd Psalm. Old school, the King James way: 
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
First of all, did you do the homework form last week? Keep note of where and when you saw Jesus? We’re going to come at that again this week, but from a different angle. Maybe my first question is why is this most popular psalm, maybe Bible passage of all? Why every Easter season, right in the middle, do we pause in the middle for Good Shepherd Sunday? If this is the most important thing for us to know about the risen Jesus, what does that mean? And more importantly, what does that have to do with our Rising, our resurrection living?

Like this….one of my clergy friends around the table last Wednesday said she had been brought up to think of police as her shepherds, that for ever you were in trouble, that’s who you would turn to. What’s it like to feel like you can’t trust the police? That in your community, your neighborhood they mean fear and anxiety, not safety. When preserve, defend, protect doesn’t seem to apply to you? Or your children? What does that feel like? Or when the shepherd turns out to be a wolf instead. Like a teacher who turns out to be an abuser. Or a coach.  Or worse yet, a relative. Or even a parent. Of our most troubled occupiers who lived here at West-Park, about 85% had been abused by a family member. My friend who had a ministry with prostitutes told me over 90% were victims of incest. Same with my friend who had a ministry with runaway/throw away kids in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. Hoe do you maintain a sense of comfort in the world?

Jesus choosing to use this image is kind of interesting. By his day, it was already long past the days of David as the shepherd king. That was already in the romantic mythic past. In Jesus’ day, shepherds were the only ones who slept outside the city gates. Even farmers came inside at night. Shepherds when they came into town were viewed with suspicion. One commentator said, he could have said the good migrant laborer. Rough, crusty, perhaps dishonest, not to be trusted. There he goes again. Funny, in Luke, the shepherds were the first to see Jesus at Christmas. Maybe his parents told him that story. And when he said shepherds?!!! His father explained how the shepherd’s own body was the gate to the sheepfold. Keeping the wolves away with his own body.

Back in January, when we met with the local precinct, there was one police officer who had been in this precinct for 30 years! He’d lived here thorough the worst of the crack epidemic and gang wars. And is still here. One o four problems in developing relationships with police officers is they’re always moving on. You get your assignments as a reward. What if they actually had a stake the neighborhood which you served? That it wasn’t just a stepping stone? That you loved in the same neighborhood as the projects you patrolled, not Staten Island or Cross Channel. Might then you choose to lay down your life to protect an innocent person? How crazy is it that the most dangerous neighborhoods are patrolled buy the least experienced police?

But let’s go back…why do we love the 23rd psalm? Because we want to feel loved, protected, safe. And leaving aside any atonement
theology, something tells us Jesus would have our back. They didn’t take his life, he, in his own words, lays it down of his own accord.
Jesus going to the cross I saying is that all you’ve got? And that is his victory. He has robbed death, the fear of death, of its power. This is the guy you want in your corner.

The way I see it, we are both shepherds and sheep. Let’s get past metaphor. We want this psalm at funerals because at a moment of loss, of feeling bereft, we want to feel that we are protected, we are OK, someone s in our corner, watching out for us. When we first came to the city, when our kids were in school, the porter of our apartment building would go to the bus stop every morning with the children and be there when they came home in the afternoon. Kenny was a shepherd.

But it’s bigger than that. Our friends from Sacramento asked me about 9-11. Last week at another clergy group we’re in, I said what I love about New York city is that it exists by a collective act of will every day. No way any police force or even army could make this work. We choose every day to make it work. We extend a 1000 small graces every day to each other. In he first hours after the attacks, we chose to make it work. And dd. Because we practice it every day. We shepherd each other.

So when you’re looking for Jesus this week, count who looks out for whom, who makes it work. Be there for someone else.

You could see it like this, we rise by laying down our lives…even in the small every day ways…


As our offertory, we sing  Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us and for our closing hymn, The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want.

We make our circle. End the service. It has been a good day.

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