Sermon Notes, 4EasterC
My friends in Christ, when I was growing up, my folks would often take my sister and I to visit my mother’s aunt and uncle, who lived on a farm about 20 miles northwest of my hometown. It was a simple family farm, producing just enough vegetables and chickens and fresh milk for my great aunt and uncle and their family. The farm had been in their family for years and I was always amazed that simply turning the car onto their driveway was like being transported back to an earlier time. Chickens ran amok (as chickens are wont to do), there was a working Model T in the garage, the barn had a real hay loft, and the garden seemed huge to me. Beans, peas, and cabbage abounded; there were even a few corn stalks growing. I used to love sneaking into the garden and pulling up some fresh baby carrots, washing them off in the barrel of collected rainwater, and devouring them.
There were also cows. I was afraid of the cows, and to this day when this ornery deacon encounters cows he gives them wide berth. Once we were out at the farm. I was near the cows – full of fear, but, near them – scared, yet also fascinated by them. I was doing my best to gain their attention. “Hey cow, come here!” “Cow cow cow! Come on cow!” One of them raised her great cow head and looked at me with big, brown cow eyes. She turned and slowly began limbering toward me. We stood facing each other, about three feet apart, my heart racing, the barbed wire fence separating us. Unbeknownst to me, my father had surreptitiously crept up behind me. As I slowly extended my hand toward the cow, my father let out with a loud “MOOOOOOO!” that sent me running and left him roaring with laughter. The cow, I’m sure, shrugged it’s cow shoulders and went back to eating grass.
To this day, farm animals fascinate me. Our lessons today are all about sheep. I took it upon myself to Google “facts on sheep and shepherds”. I was not disappointed. Here are some of the things I learned. In both ancient and modern times, sheep have been used as sacrificial animals. Sheep have excellent hearing. Sheep are able to care for themselves from birth, and are social animals preferring the company of their flock. Sheep have excellent eyesight. They see in color, and although their depth perception is poor they have almost unlimited peripheral vision, with a field of vision of about 320 degrees. Amazingly, because of this, they can see behind themselves without turning their heads.
Sheep can tell human emotion by looking at a face, and they can remember human faces for years. Sheep have closer relationships to related members of their flock and they become stressed when separated from their own flock.
As an occupation, shepherding has been around for at least 6000 years. Sheep must be able to move from pasture to pasture; this required the development of an occupation separate from that of the farmer. The duties of shepherds were to keep their flocks intact and protect them from wolves and other predators. The shepherd was also to supervise the migration of the flock and ensure that the sheep made it to the market in time for shearing. In ancient times shepherds also commonly milked their sheep and made cheesefrom this milk; very few shepherds do this today.
Our readings today speak of sheep and shepherds both realistically and in metaphor. The images of God as our shepherd or Jesus as the Good Shepherd or we as sheep give me great consolation; indeed they should give all of us comfort. The Bible and our BCP are full of sheep. The Good Shepherd. The Pascal Lamb. The Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world. One of the symbols of the episcopate is the shepherds crook. It represents the role of the bishop as chief shepherd, using his or her crook to both guide and correct.
Today we have this short Gospel lesson from the tenth chapter of John, a chapter full of sheep symbolism. It ss rich with symbols and sounds and smells. I close my eyes and I imagine the scene. All those people. It’s Hannukah. Christ is at the temple on Solomon’s Portico…symbolically this is very important: This portico or porch on the east side of the temple is where the King will rule and judge; this east side also shelters people from the winter weather. Here Jesus is, physically embodying justice in this place of justice – a justice we know, the justice that his life and teaching is all about. The Jewish leaders are there to ask Jesus again, “Are you the messiah? Tell us plainly.” Jesus has told them, yet they do not believe. There are two things that mark those in Jesus’ flock: they hear Jesus and they understand him, and they follow him. We are in his flock, my friends, and he loves us more than we can ever imagine.
As I was writing these words earlier this week, the Boston Marathon was disrupted by an unspeakable act of violence. Over and over again I heard stories of people who ran toward the people who were hurt. The sheep would have panicked. The sheep would have ran away. I had to ask myself what I would do in such a situation. I pray, my brothers and sisters in Christ, that I would have the courage to run to those in need rather than to run away – that God would give me the courage to be a servant minister to those in such need – that I, in a time of great need, could be a loving and caring shepherd to the flock that was suddenly entrusted to my care.
When faced with the awful things in life, I think it is normal to ask, “Where was God when this happened?” “Where was God when the bombs went off?” We may be angry and ask, “How can we call God a loving God when this happens?” Please understand: God w as with every one of those people in those horrific moments. God wept with them and God weeps with us at what has happened.
My friends in Christ: In our lives – our parish life and our personal lives – in our tragedies and defeats, in our conflicts, in our trials and our brokenness, in our times of mourning and our times of joy – God is with us. The good shepherd loves us poor sheep, he knows our smells and our faces, he knows our laughter and our tears. He is our creator, our comforter, and our cause for joy.
To that, my brothers and sisters, let the church say AMEN!