Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 15 Sermon (4th Easter)

The Greek mathematician Euclid devised the theorems and principles that are the foundations of modern geometry. His biographer Proclus records a story that when Euclid was a young teacher, he was employed as tutor in the royal household. King Ptolemy I, who ruled Greece three centuries before Jesus, complained about the difficulty of the theorems that Euclid expected him to grasp. The king insisted that there must be an easier way to approach the subject. The great mathematician gently rebuked the king: "Sire, there is no royal road to geometry."

It is also true of our discipleship, that there is no royal road to follow, but a gate, a sheepfold and a shepherd who calls us each by name. And just as the King had a hard time following what the young Euclid was teaching, so the disciples did with Jesus and his teaching. We are told:
“Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Do we understand? Gate, sheep, shepherd, or would it be easier to deal with modern geometry? “I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus said. Jesus is direct. I am the one who will let you through, who rescues his sheep, brings them safely into his sheepfold.
“Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”
The good shepherd brings safety, brings life, brings pasture. The other path leads to destruction. Jesus uses the thief in contrast to himself, the gate who saves us, as a reminder of the things out there that can pull us away, steal us from what Jesus offers, kill our soul and destroy who we are. Often it is our pursuit of power, or wealth, or control or something outside of us that we think we need that makes us lose out on the life that Jesus can give us.
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Abundant life is in the sheepfold. The gate into the sheepfold is not something we can buy, earn or get from here. It is what God offers to us through Jesus. It is gift. But we do have to respond to his voice, to his call, to walk through that gate…
I think of a story from St. Anthony's Church in San Francisco that has served meals to people in need for many, many years. Over the doorway to its dining room the church has posted a sign bearing the inscription: Caritate Dei. One day a young mechanic, just released from jail and new to St. Anthony's, entered the door and sat down for a meal. A woman was busy cleaning the adjoining table. "When do we get on our knees and do the chores, lady?" he asked. "You don't," she replied.

"Then when's the sermon comin'?" he inquired. "Aren't any," she said. "How 'bout the lecture on life?" "Not here," she said. The man was suspicious. "Then what's the gimmick?" The woman pointed to the inscription over the door. He squinted at the sign. "What's it mean, lady?" "Out of love for God," she said with a smile, and moved on to another table.
That woman cleaning knows what abundant life is. And now the mechanic does too. The abundant life is the love which God has so wonderful given to us, a love we return to God and a love we share with one another. For the abundant life is not just a stop on our journey, it is the journey, the journey of walking through the gate that Jesus opens for all of us, and knowing that Jesus does this out of love for us. Jesus the Good Shepherd will guide his sheep, by his voice. What does this sound like?

I think of a poem by Christopher Marlow, called The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, and as you hear a portion of his poem, consider that the passionate shepherd is our Good Shepherd Jesus who woos our beloved souls in whom he delights, calling us to live with him…

COME live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dales and fields,
Or woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,
And see the shepherds feed their flocks
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.

Today and throughout all our length of days, may we hear the voice of the shepherd, and walk through the gate, for we know his goodness never fails; O Good Shepherd, may we sing your praise and live out of your love forever. Amen.

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