Like any book we read, or even a show on TV, without the story line before and after it, we have a hard time understanding what the writer is trying to tell us. Especially when we hear just a short part a narrative. I’m not sure if it happens to you, but there are times when I hear a reading and have a difficult time understanding it. I hear it read, I read it, sometimes many times over and I try to figure out how to make it applicable to my life today… and it can be a challenge.
In todays reading we hear Jesus speak in a parable about sheepfolds and shepherds, sheep and gates… and voices. What does it say to us?
If you read the pages before and after this chapter and verse, and recall the readings a few weeks ago, you begin to see the story; Jesus earlier had restored the sight of a man born into blindness. He later hears that this same man he healed had been thrown out of the temple after being harassed, insulted and questioned relentlessly by the Pharisees. Jesus seeks out the man again knowing that there are people following him, Pharisee’s included. And he begins to speak the parable in todays Gospel to those around him, in fact re-phrasing it a second time because they refused to understand it.
The Pharisees and priests of Jerusalem believed that THEY were the only true religious leadership. That it they who the people listened to for guidance and order in their society. And that their voice, their power and position could not be questioned. And here was this Jesus, this intruder becoming another voice in their community, a voice of dissension in their organized world. And worse yet, people were starting to notice him, and listen to him. In this parable Jesus tells them that it is HE who was the true voice for people to hear. And telling the Pharisee’s that in fact THEY were the “thieves”, “the bandits”, and the “voice of the stranger”, the voice that the sheep will not follow.
If we see Jesus in the role as the good Shepherd today, we understand that the bad shepherds are around us also. Jesus knew the risks and the hardships in the life he was leading, and he knew it would be hard for us today to follow. He warns us of the thieves and the bandits even today, those that steal our time, our treasure and our talent. He warns us of those who attempt to lead us astray and the trials we go through. “Many voices call our name”
We’re bombarded every day by these many voices. They call out endlessly with instant solutions for happiness; instant ways to ease our fears; instant ways to further yet isolate ourselves from engaging with each other… and as a result we become unhappy, unsatisfied and walk alone. We walk sometimes as our Psalm today says in a shadowed valley.
There have been times when I’ve been led by these false shepherds, thinking the grass was greener in another valley, and I’m sure it’s been part of many of our personal journeys as well. But then it happens: we make the conscious decision to open the gates of our hearts, to let Jesus be the Shepherd of our life and we listen… we truly listen for his voice, the voice we know we’ll recognize and our eyes are opened.
As Christians we know the voice of Jesus, he leads us to what we need in our lives. Trusting in the call of his voice free’s us to enjoy all of the gifts God has given us. His voice calls on us to share these gifts with all people, regardless of our differences. He calls us to be a people and a church held together by a deep love for each other that originated in Gods first love for us all, and to recognize that his table is there to be shared by all. To seek Christ in others shares in the abundant life he speaks of. The question in todays world is how do we hear this message, and when we hear it, how do we live it out in our lives?
We here at Trinity are blessed; we enjoy and share in a pasture of abundance. A community of love for each other, a community of justice, and one rich in that “Peace which passes all understanding”. We seek to be part of something good, we work out our own callings to be Shepherds of others, to make a small difference in the world.
But we are also people being called by Christ to continually dig deeper; to wake up in the morning and start our days by saying “Today I am a gate for the sheep”. And not only to say it but to begin doing it, living it out in our daily lives and in our interactions with everyone we meet. Not just within the confines of this building but everywhere in the world, at work, at home in any way possible… to become the shepherd of a safe pasture for others. Its quite a challenge. When things are going well we tend to lose perspective about what really matters. We become immersed in our own lives and needs, not intentionally but it happens. We begin to lose sight of what “abundance” means in our lives. How our interaction with others is worth more than the material objects that sometime consume us. God puts us on this earth to share with each other, to encourage each other and in turn allow others to encourage us. If we do this regularly, constantly, the world will be changed for the better because we have passed through it. We live an abundant life that allows us not to simply exist, but flourish, to have a sense of meaning and purpose.
We never truly know what impact we have in our daily interactions with others, what a simple smile can do, a touch. How words spoken in a conversation can spark a change in the other, opening the gate for them. Being that gate. It’s this daily, ongoing, never ending interaction that we are called into, living life like Christ, someone who was not afraid to reach out to people who were different. He opened himself to everyone, tax collectors and lepers, the poor and struggling ignored by the society at the time he lived. How different is it really today?
Those same struggling people walk by us every day. Just last week I caught myself walking past the other… the homeless on the street in Cambridge. I walked by with my eyes down, missing the very opportunity I speak of this morning to see Christ in the eyes of another? It’s bothered me all week. How many times have you? It’s a question that makes us uncomfortable and makes us squirm. We know we do it, but how do we catch ourselves beforehand and instead open our heart?
We do it by opening our eyes to what is going on in today’s world and making an attempt to make a change in some small way. We do it by living our faith on our sleeves. To invite people to share in our lives and our gifts. One interaction at a time. We should never be satisfied when people go hungry in today’s world, not only in our neighborhoods but other towns and the greater world. We should never be satisfied when basic human rights are violated, when discrimination is allowed to fester and rear its ugly head in the world. When people are lessened because of their race, their social status, or their sexual orientation. We are all the same sheep.
We are called here as a community of faith to be Shepherds of others in our varied ministries; our service at Saint Luke’s to feed and interact with those so less fortunate than ourselves, in our support of our compassion children, and in our support of fellow parishioners in their service in mission work here and abroad in other countries like Africa, and the DR. How many here this morning have tried working a day in our Thrift shop, or at St Luke’s on a Saturday?
Yesterday I had the opportunity to watch Norma and Kathy at our St Luke;s weekend, taking the time to stop for a moment and talk to the clients. Sharing for a moment the abundance of their lives with another, eliciting smiles, making someone special, if only for a few minutes. Take the opportunity to feel this yourselves, see that in volunteering our time and getting involved we live that abundant life Jesus speaks of. Live it, share it and teach others to do the same.
The voice that calls us into service for others can be loud at times, and at other times extremely hard to hear. The voice sometimes asks us to test our limits; to do things we least want to do. This voice calls me to leave my safe place and come out into the world in a different way, to be more vulnerable than I’m sometimes prepared to be. To leave what comfort I have and follow the Shepherd into new pastures for a more abundant life. And to give me the opportunity to make a difference.
Jesus said: “I am the gate for the Sheep, whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
That gate is always open. How do we live to be that gate? How will you leave here today and live abundantly, and how will you lead others to that abundant life also?