Homily – 4th Sunday of Easter

It would seem that we should attempt as often as possible to connect the happenings of our week with the Scriptures offered to us on Sunday and throughout the week. In that vein, here goes:

1) As you all know, I have been struggling to get my body back into balance.  The most interesting and probably remarkable thing about this sojourn with pain has been coming to terms with what chronic pain is and even more so, on a positive note, how well my body has dealt with the scoliosis that I apparently have had since I was 12.

2) I have of late been reading some autobiographical material by Maya Angelou. She writes well—in a very engaging way. I find myself understanding so much more clearly through her words, what it is like to be judged negatively for something one can’t do anything about, the color of your skin, or that you are a woman, or that you are old, or because of whom you love.

3) A friend sent this story: A person stopped for the yellow light, the person who was tailgating furiously honked because they missed their chance to get through the intersection.  Still in mid-rant, the person heard a tap on the window. The officer ordered the person to exit the car with hands up, was ultimately taken to the station, searched, finger-printed, photographed and placed in a holding cell.  After a couple of hours, a police officer escorted the would-be criminal back to the booking desk and the arresting officer who said, “I am very sorry for the mistake, but I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, and giving the person in front of you the finger. I noticed the “What Would Jesus Do?” bumper sticker, the “Choose Life” license plate holder, “Follow Me To Sunday School” bumper sticker and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk, so naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.

People are watching!

4) I have been troubled as I have considered those who have died by lethal injection in Arkansas during the month of April. I think we were all upset by the rush to accomplish these deaths “before the drugs to ‘do the deed’ ran out!”

5)  A final story comes from Jimmy Kimmel, a comedian on late night TV.  He and his wife recently had a son. As the baby was being checked over after birth, it was discovered that he had a rare defect with a heart valve that required emergency surgery if he was to live. Kimmel spoke with great emotion as he shared the fear and anxiety that he and his wife went through in their son’s early moments of life—it is a concern that all of us can understand.  After letting his audience know that their son was all right now, he shifted gears, putting out an impassioned and emotional plea to the legislators in Washington debating over the Affordable Care Act telling them that no parent should have to decide if they can afford to save their child—we all understand that regardless of political affiliation!

So, how do all of these seemingly different examples bring clarity to today’s Scriptures?  Looking in just a cursory way over today’s readings; we are aware that Peter and the others continue to passionately tell the story of Jesus, who he was, what he did and because of the Spirit working through them, more are added to their number every day.  Peter makes it clear in the 2nd reading that to be baptized in Jesus, the Christ means that we must follow in his footsteps no matter the cost.   Our hope is renewed in John’s Gospel where we hear Jesus’ words, “I came that you might have life and have it to the full.” It would seem that doing the right thing is what brings fullness.

Friends, I believe that in each example I cited: from my personal struggles with pain  to Maya Angelou’s experiences of racism, to the struggle in this country to work toward rehabilitating rather than exacting punishment for crime, to sharing the goods of this land of the people, by the people, and for the people, all of it fits because Jesus through his life asked us to be our best—to walk into life with eyes wide open, hearts big and generous, understanding and merciful!

This weekend we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday.  Two of our readings, plus our music speak of this pastoral image that calls to mind a peaceful country scene of sheep being watched over and protected by a loyal herdsperson—a shepherd.

The 23rd psalm has been a beloved piece of scripture over the years—many people know it by heart for having prayed it so many times.  One aspect of this beloved psalm that is generally picked up on by most people who love it is the individual care given to each sheep and by transference, to each of us as the beloved of our God.  We sang of this individualized care and concern in the psalm response:  “Shepherd me, O God.”

And beyond this individualized care; we must hear in this psalm that the Good Shepherd doesn’t act so out of simply, passing, emotional sentiment, but because it is the right thing to do.  All the cited examples speak to this issue, from personal health to public health, to treating all people, as the beloved of God.

Continuing the theme and idea of the shepherd watching over the flock, it is important for us 21st Century hearers to understand how the 1st Century hearers of Jesus’ words would have taken them.  Large sheepfolds were generally constructed outside of town and several flocks would be kept in one sheepfold.  Someone would be hired to look after the sheep.  There was one gate to enter the enclosure. Those who would be about the good—the welfare of the flock, entered through the gate. Anyone else, a thief, would sneak in another way.  When the owner of a particular flock came to retrieve their sheep, the owner would call their sheep in a distinctive way that only they would recognize, and come. Many shepherds knew their sheep as individuals and called them by name.  It is this same kind of care and attention that each of us is promised by our God and that Jesus had in mind when he said, “I came that you might have life and have it to the full.”

There is great comfort in knowing that we are loved and cared for by such a God—such a love gives us the courage— the strength then, to go out and love generously in return—to give back in righteousness what we have so generously been given.  Part of this giving back is in striving to be our best selves.  This is what Peter is about in the 1st reading from Acts.  He is calling for a change of heart from his people even though he knows what the demands on them will be in becoming their best selves:  They will be misunderstood at times, there will be insults, but there will be the peace that comes, deep within, from knowing they have spoken the truth, stood alongside the misused and abused, even if they are in the minority.

Jesus continually spoke up for the misused, abused, and persecuted ones in his midst—he had to suffer as a result of his boldness, his truth-telling and we can expect no less.  Suffering will be a part of our lives as Christians if we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps and of all the ways we can suffer in this life, it is hardest when we are called to suffer for having done nothing wrong—as was the case with Jesus, but for  having done the right thing.  But we must always remember and never forget that Jesus has shown us the way,

It is Jesus’ spirit that rings through the examples in my life this week—you can add your own.  Jesus will draw us close and call us to be more through all that comes into our existence. We can either live out the Scriptures, following in Jesus’ footsteps or we can let the selfishness of healthcare for some, but not for all continue.  We can continue to take the easy answer of executing people rather than doing the hard work of rehabilitating them.  We can proclaim our Christianity with bumper stickers, or with deeds—the choice is ours.

Each of us friends is called to do our part—to live a life of service—a life that speaks truth no matter what—a life that will not allow one more person to be abused, put down, thought less of.  We need to let love rule the day—not power, not anger, nor hatred.  Let love be our guide.  Jesus showed us this and what better way to praise and honor him, in this Easter Season then to live likewise. Let us begin to see each other as God sees us and loves us.