Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd

It has been a rough week.  The news has been full of bombings and explosions.  There have been graphic pictures of murder and mayhem.  Our news reports tell of horrible crimes and accidents that keep us mesmerized wondering what is going to come next. 

I have lived in the Boston area when I was in seminary.  I know what the Boston Marathon week is like.  My heart goes out to those who live there and the violation of their city that these bombs have done. 

At the same time, closer to home we also hear of the terrible explosion of the little town of West just south of here.  We have seen graphic footage on the news of what can happen to a small town when fertilizer, usually a constant element, loses its stability.  They still have not found all the missing.  Our hearts go out to these places and we offer to aide such places in their time of need.

It has been hard to watch these events and view them with the eyes of faith.  We want to ask, “What is God doing?” or “Where is God in all of this?”  But in both of the instances what I saw in the videos that were run ad nauseum on the news was not just the explosions, but those who ran to help.  Over and over we saw that as soon as the initial explosions happened, there was a swarm of first responders who scrambled to help those who had been hurt.  In the West explosion, the largest group of deaths was of those who were first responders.  They were those who were willing put their lives at risk to help others.

It is this kind of action that gives me hope.  What I kept seeing in the videos and the reports was of heroic action of those who rushed NOT AWAY from the explosions, but TO render aide to those who had been injured.  Whenever we have such horrible disasters we continue to see the best of humanity come forward.  Acts of terror still bring out the greatest heroism; disaster requires a greatness of human spirit.  It is in this that I see the life of Christ lived out most readily by those who may not even know what they are doing.

As some of you know, I have always had difficulty with the sheep-shepherd image of Jesus.  Particularly with the image of the sheep as the followers of Christ.  Origen, the 2nd Century theologian whose commentary of Scripture was quite allegorical, said that sheep represented the unthinking part of our selves.  And I have a hard time thinking that those who rushed unthinking to the aide of others was sheep-like.  But if it was sheep-like, it was the kind of sheep that I want to be like.

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus confronting those who wanted simple answers to his place in the Temple during Hanukkah.   They want to know if Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus says that they do not believe he is the Messiah because he is not of his flock.  “The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep,” Jesus says.  He is saying to the naysayers that they cannot recognize the goodness, the holiness of his actions because they do not recognize his voice.  Belonging to Christ’s flock has less to do with what you believe but what you do. 

The voice of the Christ that calls us to lay down our lives for others is something that goes way beyond belonging to a specific denomination or believing a certain set of religious tenets.  It is the call to martyrdom that has nothing to do with church attendance or even commitment to a specific faith.  It is the response to something that goes against all our human need for self-preservation.  It enters into the realm of the mystical—it is the response to a call to be more than human, greater than is natural.  It is to reach out in goodness for the benefit of others.

We don’t talk about the mystical very often in the Church.  If there is anything that the Church has traditionally been wary of over the 2 millennia of our existence it has been mysticism.  The mystical is so ‘off the charts’ and uncontrollable.  But it is in the mystical that we know the voice of the Good Shepherd. 

Last week Amy got you to talk with others about your faith during the sermon.  It something that we Episcopalians are  not very comfortable with, yet I do find that here at St. Martin’s I have found more people willing to share faith than other parishes I have served.  Part of that has happened because of the split in the diocese and having to claim our relationship with Christ more publicly than usual.  It is also the time we live in:  we are embarking on an era of mysticism, I think.  We are not interested in doctrine.  We are interested in how the relationship with have with God can be lived out in our daily lives.

Like the flock of Jesus, we want to live out our faith, not discuss whether we living by all the rules.  Jesus said to those who were questioning him in the Temple, ‘it isn’t about whether I am the Messiah or not.  It is about what you are going to do with your life.  Are you going to live according to the goodness of God or are you going to hide behind all your rules and laws?’

We have found among us those who are willing to respond to the greatness and goodness by rushing to help those in need in times of disaster.  We often call those people heroes or saints.  I have been a bit depressed about how often the press is ready to label action as heroic when it is doing what we are called to do as those who are faithful to God—faithful to the call to care and help.

Now the important thing for us today is that this impetus to respond to the needs of others goes beyond disaster times.  It is our everyday.  Those who follow Christ are those who are laying down their lives for others every day. Those who listen to the voice of the God, laying down one’s life is the default in life.  Whether it is raising of children, taking care of those who are ill, listening to the concerns of others, running a business and caring for one’s employees or teaching skills to others, it is all about laying one’s own life down for others.  The sacrifice to be at the service of another is part of the glue that holds society together. It is participating in the goodness of God.  We become the incarnate Christ for others.

Those of us who hear the voice of the Messiah and follow him are known by making ourselves available to others.  It is the only way we can look at what has happened this past week and not despair.  I would invite you to give thanks for those who gave their lives in the service of others this week and to pray for them and their families knowing that you too may hear the voice of God to do the same one day.  It is what we do.  It is what it means to walk in the light of the saints and martyrs of the faith.  But we have nothing to fear.  It is the life of Christ that we live.  Amen.

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