Thursday, May 04, 2017
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A: Good Shepherd Sunday, caught between being a shepherd or a sheep. What would ewe do?
Lately, I am deeply aware that there is a separation in our walk with Jesus as heirs of the Kingdom of God between what we feel should be our reality as people of faith and what actually turns out to be our reality as people of faith. Those expectations (and remember that expectations are just premeditated resentments!-ref. an old friend's good counsel) root themselves in many ways to our perception of what it was like to be an early Christ-follower from the time of the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It was, from the text we read, "the good old days" when we held all things in common with each other, when our schedules allowed us to gather in the Lord's name at a moment's notice and when we were able, nearly without hard effort or strain, to live life fully, prayerfully and with ecstatic thanksgiving each and every day.
To read this early account, the folks gathered in the name of Jesus were astounding, and truly amazing in their accomplishment to actually be the kind of beloved community we all imagine is more than a little just out of reach for us today.
I have numbers of neighbors, some members of my flock and others I abide with in life, who tells me again and again how nourishing the life of Christ is, and how much they love their Church...and how much they get from being in Church...who also lament that they just don't have the time, the talent, the energy to be more present and/or more active. Even those who are active struggle mightily with feeling drawn down and burned out, even as they drink deep from the well of faith. Falling short, they feel guilt, sorrow, shame. Even succeeding, they can too often wind up feeling exhausted and hollow. They might feed others with abandon, but in doing so, they have forgotten to take part in the feast themselves. Or, they might wind up lamenting simpler times before involvement...when just showing up was enough...and want to go back.
The downside of that struggle to resolve the tension between the ideal and the real is that we can't go back to simpler times. We can't dial back to a Golden Age of Christianity. Why? 1) because we can't turn back time, though we might be able to turn back a clock...and 2) (ready for this?) there was no golden age. Really.
Jesus knew these truths, and tried to imbue in the budding community around him an awareness that while the Kingdom is so near as to be within us, we can't just wish or hope it into being. It takes a willingness to embrace a daily renewal of self in context with community, while we hold dear the high calling of Christ to work for justice and peace while respecting and loving all.
Being a follower of Jesus is trans-formative, and it means joy and hope and life and real, deep joy.
It also means disruption and displacement...because it is a way of life that won't fit into a small compartment in our calendars and to do lists. Service in Christ happens on God's terms and in God's time. Sometimes that elides with our expectations of God...often times it does not.
I had someone in my office earlier today who was seeking counsel. "I am sorry to bother you," he said. "I know that you are busy." Yes, I am busy. Thursday is a busy day around here. Sunday bulletins need to be edited and produced. The weekly newsletter needs to be written and sent. This blog needs to be composed, edited and posted. I had meetings with my wardens, and then a lunch meeting with the diocesan liturgy coordinator and a warden to discuss our bishop's visit later this month. Next week, I am on retreat. Before I go on retreat, I have to go by the hardware and garden center for supplies to finish a big planting project at home. I have to be ready to teach a class tonight. Emails and phone calls have to be answered. I am busy...and yet.....
...and yet I cannot imagine not making time for anyone who needs to know the support and care of a pastoral moment. Why? Not because I will, but because God's will from time to time chooses this humble and imperfect vessel as the right tool for the right task. Why? Because "not my will, but thy will be done."
It would be great to feel great about all that, yes? Truth is that I, like you, struggle daily to let God work through me. It is not always convenient, or pleasant, or easy. Sometimes it takes more out of me than I feel I can manage. Sometimes I even resent the draw down on my time that God asks of me. I would rather, at times, NOT be the one in charge, in care, in authority, invested with the Gospel as baptized, or as confirmed...or even as ordained.
But I am. But...you are.
And we are NOT alone in that. Jesus tells us clearly that we are two things at once as his followers. We are his sheep, and thus as members of that flock we are under his protection and we know his care and love. We are also his shepherds....for there are other sheep out there that need care, summoning, protection and preservation. We are both at once...and sometimes that is confusing as crosswinds and sometimes that is as easy as a calm breath.
Our task is to allow the reality of life to go on about us while keeping a mindful connection to why we are here...we are here to be beloved of God and to ensure that others know that they, too, are beloved of God. The challenge is to find the right pace to walk, the right gesture to make in any given moment. And THAT is why Acts 2 is so important. It showcases the first efforts (failures AND successes) of the early Church to be just that to each other, to God and to all who found their way to them.
May God give us the grace and strength we need to be both good sheep and good shepherds in the right time and in the right way to each other...even as Jesus himself is both the Lamb of God AND the Good Shepherd.