Monday, May 12, 2014

Sermon: Of Shepherding

Sermon for May 11, 2014
Easter IVA and Mother’s Day
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click here.

Lord, open our lips,
that our mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen

Listen to this sermon here:

Good morning. 

Happy Mother’s day! 
Today we children
acknowledge and appreciate our mothers
and offer thanks for the gift of life.
Today, we also appreciate those who have
served a mothering role in our lives. 
Today, we also recognize those to whom
we have offered mothering.

While we may have sometimes conflicted memories of our mother,
today is a time to hold all those memories
lightly and to be grateful for the relationship; for through her we were born!

My mother, Betty,  
had a deep capacity for hospitality. 
Any friend of my siblings or mine
was a friend of hers. 
Ex-boyfriends of my sisters still hung out
at our house even after they broke up. 
Neighbors would stop by and stay for hours. 
She modeled for me
gracious welcome with a lighthearted humor. 

The rule about having friends over
was to come and meet my mother,
so she knew who was in her flock-of-the-day. 
My mother showed how to care for
whoever came through that front door. 

So, the readings today (about the gate, the shepherd and the sheep) remind me of my mother and her hospitality.

These texts echo love of many motherly types,
who shepherd a flock of children
(at whatever age),
and model caring, nurturing and hospitality.

These are the characteristics of a shepherd, despite that fact that [1] few of us urbanites
have ever met a real shepherd (or a sheep). 
Yet, the shepherd
remains a strong religious image. 

The Hebrew Scripture uses extensively
the shepherd and the sheep to portray
the relationship between
Yahweh and the people of Israel. 
The New Testament uses this strong image
to depict how Jesus revealed the character of God as loving, caring, and nurturing.

But what does a shepherd really do for sheep?  The shepherd:
·       takes sheep to where they can eat and
where they can gather
·       protects the sheep from danger –
of people, wolves, steep cliffs
·       fights the wolf,
while the hired hand might run away
when danger is near. 

The shepherd never deserts the sheep and
is willing to risk life to protect them.

In the 23rd Psalm, we hear how the Lord,
as our Shepherd,
leads us to food and to calm waters and
is right beside us in dark valleys. 

This makes us feel warm and secure. 
We like to think someone is watching out
and caring for us. 
We are glad to be sheep
belonging to a good shepherd. 
We like being taken care of – well, at times.
But at other times,
we may not like the idea of being taken care of.

No warm feeling arises except that of
hot under the collar
if we perceive someone as caring “too much.” 
Sometimes, we resent this care and fight it.
“Mom, let me do it myself!” we would cry.

Think about it –
being a sheep has its disadvantages. 
Sheep are not so bright. 
They are fragile. 
They tend to wander off and lose their way. 

I remember watching my friend Mark
sheer his flock one day. 
He just tipped the sheep on their backs and
they lay, defenseless, as he clipped their wool. 

[2]But, sheep aren’t as dumb as you might think. They’ve learned that there is safety in numbers;
they band together to protect themselves.
Sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice,
following the shepherd to a pasture
where there will be food…abundant food.

To be like a sheep is to be like a child,
being guided and taken care of
by someone larger and stronger –
always receiving and seldom giving.

As children, we needed this loving care. 
There are still times in our lives that
we need protection or
times when we need to be nursed. 

But as we mature,
we have an even deeper need. 
That need, that yearning, that call from God,
is to care for and feed someone else. 

As children, we only receive. 
But when we mature,
we are able to give as well. 
And when we give love
and care for someone else,
we feel a different kind of abundant life –
we feel joyful and alive,
helpful and affirmed,
strong and respected. 

The trouble with seeing our Lord
as the Good Shepherd is that it makes us
the sheep – the helpless, needy, sheep. 
The trouble with thinking of ourselves
as a sheep is that sheep
do not ever grow up to be shepherds. 

So how do we reframe this?
Scripture offers some insight:
In the story of Jesus’ resurrection appearance
at the Sea of Galilee,

Jesus meets Peter and the others
as they were out fishing. 
Once they notice that
the man on the shore is Jesus,
they bring him some fish,
which he cooks for them. 

Over breakfast, Jesus asks Peter,
“Do you love me? If you do, feed my sheep.” 

He doesn’t say,
“I am the good shepherd and
I will take care of you.” 
He doesn’t say “I will give you rest.”

All he says is “Feed my sheep.” 

To Peter and to us, Jesus says,
“You, too are called to be good shepherds. 
Stop worrying
about who is going to appreciate you
and find ways to show appreciation
to other people. 
Start getting joy from what you can give
rather than what you can get.” 

Christ is the good shepherd of the sheep; 
Christ is also the recruiter and
trainer of shepherds.

This Christian life is full of both
receiving and giving. 
When we follow the voice of
the Good Shepherd, we learn to do both. 
The hired hand’s voice is only one-sided, stealing the opportunity for mutuality.  

We can look upon our parish
as both a care center –
where we can lean on someone
and be healed
AND as a training camp
for how to care for others. 

This Christian life is a blend
of caring for and being cared for,
of giving and receiving,
of loving and being loved.  

In this way, we experience abundant life.

And so, a story.

In the extraordinary film, Ordinary People,
a teenage boy is deeply distressed
over the death of his brother
in a boating accident. 
The boy believes that his brother
was the favorite and
so he attempts his own suicide. 

In the hospital,
this boy develops a relationship w/ a therapist
– an effective shepherd –
who helps the boy recognize his own anger and
guilt, to begin healing. 

The boy is helped and then in his healing,
becomes a shepherd for his troubled parents. 
His parents’ marriage is failing and
when the boy finds his father in tears,
the boy puts his arms around his dad
and whispers, “I love you.”

The boy could never have been
that kind of support for his father
if he had not allowed himself to be supported.
He had to accept himself as a sheep
before he could be a shepherd. 

Our faith community offers both
a place and a ritual that teaches us
to accept our dependence
places and rituals where we can serve, interdependently, our neighbors and
the wider community of which we are a part.

When we learn to trust the Good Shepherd,
to whom we can turn in times of distress,
then we are able
to take part in shepherding and serving and caring for others.  

We all come to St. Philip’s
with our own needs,
but if the congregation or the priest
only responds to the neediness, weakness,
or dependency,
then the congregation or the priest
is being a bad parent. 

Instead, we can see St. Philip’s
as a place of mutual sharing
of needs and strengths –
of compassion and of offering our gifts.

What does this look like for you, today?

Perhaps, asking for help through healing prayer
offered every Sunday in the chapel after services
Perhaps, offering your presence
and service with a ministry team,
Perhaps, writing a letter to a legislator
about your passionate care for the poor,

Perhaps, praying for the group of
Nigerian schoolgirls who have been
brutally kidnapped. 
As our Bishop wrote us this week
in his weekly Epistle,
we can find the list of published names
and chose just one girl (for me, Christy Yahi)
and remember her in my daily prayers
for safe return and reunion with
her mother and her family.

However small our service,
when we partner with the Good Shepherd,
we all experience abundant life.

Christ is the Good Shepherd,
the one who cares for the wounded,
gathers up the strays, looks after the flock. And is present with those girls right now.

Christ is also the risen one
who says to Peter and to us,
“if you love me, feed my sheep.”  

Christ loves us beyond measure and

invites us  
to follow his voice,
to share in his ministry and
to allow him to guide us into paths
of service and compassion.

And through This Good Shepherd,
we will have life, and have it abundantly.


[1] Portions inspired by: Reid Isaac, Fleshing The Word, (Cleveland Heights, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1996), 80-84

[2] Inspired by a reflection by Ms. Kathryn Glover, M.P.A. – posted in Virginia Theological Seminary’s  Eastertide reflections, May 6, 2014, posted at

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