A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Preached at The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist, Salem, NJ
Psalm 23; John 10:1-10
I was in a Target some years ago, in the greeting card section. I could hear in the row behind me a child having a meltdown. Do you know what a mean? I’m sure this child was beautiful and angelic most of the time, but he was pitching a fit. “Waaaaaaaah!” He was on the floor, kicking and screaming. I couldn’t see what was happening, but I could hear him and his mother loud and clear.
“Jeremy! What are you doing?” I could hear the mother speaking in a very calm and rational voice. “Jeremy! Jeremy!” I assumed she was from the school of child behavior that tried to reason with children, helping them calm down and giving them the chance to make a behavioral choice on their own.
“Jeremy!” she said. “What are you doing?”
This voice came from the floor, loud enough for all the shoppers in Target to hear, “I’m making a BAD choice!!!”
Everyone around me laughed. I wanted to put on my collar, walk into the next aisle, and tell the mother, “Take Jeremy home! He’s winning…”
I might have also told her that she and Jeremy would be a sermon illustration one day…
Today is what is called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The Sundays right after Easter have a tradition all their own. The Sunday immediately after Easter tells us the story of “Doubting Thomas”. The next one, the story of Peter after the resurrection. This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, features readings about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Do we have any shepherds here this morning?
I don’t think of shepherds these days as just those who deal with flocks of sheep, but also herders of cows, corallers of horses, trainers of dogs, herders of cats, police who try to direct traffic, teachers of teenagers, and herders of toddlers! Jeremy’s mother was a shepherd, whether she knew it or not.
Shepherds are those in our society who try to guide others. If you haven’t noticed people don’t always follow instructions well. Not just Jeremy, but adults too. We resist guidance. “Don’t tell ME what to do!”
There are other shepherds in our culture. We don’t always make this immediate connection, but other cultures do.
Years ago, at my parish in Virginia, we hosted a group visiting from our Sister Parish in Guatemala. They happened to be visiting on this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter. In case you didn’t notice from the readings, this Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. All of the readings and hymns, usually, make reference to the Good Shepherd, who is…Jesus!
I was so excited when our visitors from San Andres, Itzapa, were visiting. Instead of a sermon, I asked them to respond to the idea of a “Good Shepherd” from their cultural context. I was expecting them to describe the sheep they herded in the lovely hill country of Guatemala. I was also hoping to get some good sermon illustrations from them.
A few of them came forward to share their response to the readings. They spoke in glowing terms of priests and bishops who had played very important roles in their lives, those who had guided them through difficult times. They never once mentioned sheep! I was disappointed. A little bit later I looked up the Spanish word for shepherd – guess what it is, “Pastor!”
It’s the same word in Spanish, “Pastor” and “shepherd” are both “Pastor”!
That’s where I got my sermon illustration. Jesus speaks of the “good shepherd”. Psalm 23 calls God our “shepherd”. Shepherds don’t just herd sheep. Shepherds are the leaders of our local congregations.
This morning you are engaging in part of the process when you will call a new shepherd to St. John’s. It is as if you have hung a sign on the front of the church – Shepherd Wanted.
The diocese has ensured you won’t have to go through this process alone. Canon Alvarez is here this morning to meet with you as you take the next step in this process.
Of course, you want a good shepherd. But finding that person will take prayer and will take time to consider what God’s will is for St. John’s.
Sometimes, shepherds have perfect congregations to lead. All the members of a parish are perfect, their children are perfect, there are NO problems. But for the rest of us, reality is much more complicated. People don’t always make things easy. Sometimes people are like Jeremy, throwing a fit on the floor of Target. Sometimes people decide to make bad choices, no matter how it affects the pastor or the rest of the parish.
God is good. God will bring you someone who can work with the people of this parish, no matter how many people decide to misbehave. This pastor will be able to give everyone the attention and love they need, no matter what.
Don’t rush the process! Trust the path that is here before you. Trust the way of discernment. The Lord is our shepherd. The Lord has brought wonderful priests here before, and the Lord will bring the right shepherd to St. John’s. Amen.