Sunday, May 3, 2020

Easter 4 Sermon Online

Loving Shepherd, you know our names; you care for us. When we face darkness and death, walk beside us. When we hunger for your love, fill us with your presence. When we are fearful, feed us at your table. May we dwell in the house of goodness and mercy all the days of our lives. Amen. (Mary Petrina Boyd)

Jesus calls us; o'er the tumult
of our life's wild, restless sea,
day by day his clear voice soundeth,
saying, "Christian, follow me"

(Text of Hymn 549 - Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-95), alt.)

This was in our Presiding Bishop’s Word to the Church regarding the rubric of love during the COVID-19 pandemic. (If you haven’t read it, I commend it to you as a faithful witness for us in the midst of our pandemic, you can watch him or read a transcript.)

He opens his letter with that hymn text and it got me thinking about Jesus as the Good Shepherd that we heard in today’s Gospel of John.

Jesus calls us, as a shepherd calls his sheep. He calls us over the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea. Now our lives may seem a bit more sedate lately because so many of us are staying at home, venturing out only for the essentials, but this virus has caused great uproar, mayhem in our lives and world. So many healthcare workers and essential workers have tasted that tumult and put their lives at risk for us.

Shortages of PPE supplies, scarcity of meat & other grocery items. We have seen body bags piled up, coffins lined up in funeral homes, nursing homes and prisons ravaged by the disease. The tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea is all around us.

And through it all, Jesus continues to call us to follow him. To follow his way of love, as our PB puts it.

Jesus said, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
The shepherd goes ahead of them to protect the sheep. The shepherd goes ahead so that those who follow, know the path is set for them. They hear his voice and follow.

So it is for us. Through our prayers, our reading of Scripture, our service to others, we come to see where Jesus leads us, we hear Jesus talking to us. We follow, knowing Jesus is there to be with us, in our homes, in our hospitals, and every place in between.

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world's golden store;
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, "Christian, love me more."

How do we love Jesus more?

So much in life tempts us to love stuff from the world’s golden store. But as we know, none of this will give us real comfort. It is love. Love of God. Love of our neighbors (family and friends and strangers) as we love ourselves that is the true meaning for our lives. I think the pandemic is beginning to have us really think about what matters to us.

It is those relationships and that love. Shared with everyone that is key to loving Jesus more in the people around us.

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
"Christian, love me more than these."

Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd but he is also the Gate.

Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
We follow his voice and he is the gate that protects his flock, from wandering off, from predators. It is Jesus who still protects us, through his words, through the Spirit. If we are willing to listen.

And we do this, because it is in following Jesus that we will find eternal life and in our lives now, we will find abundant life. And maybe this pandemic has something for us to learn about what is most important for that abundant life.

Columnist Yvonne Abraham, writing in The Boston Globe [March 25, 2020], wonders if this Easter could be the beginning of something extraordinary:

“What would the world be like if the things that have become so important to us during this pandemic remained so? How would our lives look, if our values and priorities were frozen, right here? If we were always as kind to each other, and as worried about the world, as we are today?

“We would do just about everything differently.

“We would pay teachers (blessings be upon them!) as much as hedge-funders.

“Our hands would always be so clean, we could eat off them.

“We would have more respect, and money, for low-wage workers who deliver our basic needs: grocery store clerks and others who work to bring food to our tables; drivers who keep bringing packages to the doors of the luckiest among us; trash haulers and maintenance workers and janitors and others who put themselves at risk to protect us.

“We would really see the folks who work in restaurants, most of them for lousy money, and insist that they earn wages that match their dignity.

“We would leave bigger tips . . .

“We would spend less money on things that serve no purpose except to signal status, care less about impressing strangers, make more of what we have last. We would waste less, period . . .

“We would spend more time with our family and friends, and be more keenly aware of our massive good fortune to have them, especially the older ones. We would hug longer, and linger in each other’s presence . . .

“We would love our neighbor. Yep, even that one.

“We would work together to make those who are alone feel less so . . .

“We would be more grateful for all we have, and more outraged at what others do not.

“We would — will — be happier on the other side of this.

“If we remember . . . ”

In the most difficult challenges of our lives — COVID-19 included — Christ the Good Shepherd speaks amid the turmoil and fear. If we listen with open hearts, we can hear Christ speaking in those small acts of kindness, forgiveness and justice that eventually get us beyond those obstacles. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the “gate,” the entry way, for us to God, the passage through which we step from the tumultuous world to the reality of abundance of God’s love.

May we learn the lessons of love, compassion, hope and justice that these demanding days are teaching us, resolving to bring our new appreciation into all our days to come.

Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.


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