Fourth Sunday of Easter
Today is one of those days when I would like to preach on a theme – instead of a lesson or a gospel story. Because today is our feast of name.
The Church of the Good Shepherd – our community – derives its name from a celebration day in this most celebratory of seasons - the Great Fifty Days of Easter - and today’s designation is Good Shepherd Sunday.
We opened the service gathering ourselves – collecting ourselves – by asking God to help us hear the voice of the good shepherd who calls us each by name (by name!) and follow where he leads.
We heard a story of one of the earliest communities in Christianity – before it was even Christianity – just a group of people following the Way - the way of small gatherings, small communities, coming together to remember, break bread, share, bless and eat.
This morning’s we hear how this community came together to grieve. Using their voices to weep and wail because someone they loved - someone who gave so much - who sewed and created and shared her gifts to clothe and care for her community - pants and tunics and what was worn and needed.
Peter uses his voice to answer their prayers - Tabitha, get up. And so, she does.
We hear another good shepherd story of voices joining together -but this time in praise. And it is more than a story - it is a revelation. And I have to tell you that I almost wanted to preach a sermon that was a 101 on the Book of Revelation – because it is so erroneously interpreted in our culture.
So just some basic facts – it is the book of Revelation – singular, not plural. It is apocalyptic – not because it reveals a destructive way that the world will end – but because apocalyptic means – unveiling, revealing – like when Jacob sees the ladder and the angels descending - or when Daniel has a vision - or when Paul shares some of what has been revealed to him - or when the curtain of the temple is torn in two when Christ has died on the cross - and there is some out of time awareness that through Christ and with Christ and in Christ - all is and will be one.
It's a revelation a vision of one man – John the Divine. Not John of John’s gospel but John the Divine – who used his voice to speak out. He spoke out in the tradition of Jesus against the ways of the Roman Empire - he spoke out against their misuse and corruption of power - and that landed him on the island of Patmos which was in essence a prison - off the coast of Turkey - so his voice could no longer be heard stirring up the people.
And yet, his voice continues to be heard. We read a letter he wrote seven churches who were struggling to survive. These were small communities who were being persecuted - were suffering and were scared.
John’s revelation, his letter is not meant to scare them, it is meant to comfort. Just as the image around our altar is meant to comfort us. The power of the Lamb is what we gather round for our voices of prayer and praise.
Yes the empire, John writes and portrays as an angry beast has all the power now - but that will not be what wins in the end - the Lamb of God the one who came to take away the sin of the world - that which separates us from the love of God will triumph.
The Lamb of God who walked in the way of love – will gather everyone – every tribe of every people of every nation – and the first will be last and the last will be first. As they will surround their God and sing their praise.
And when John sees and hears this vision, in the midst of this unveiling, he asks - who are all these people crying out in a loud voice? These are the ones who struggled, these are the ones who endured, these are the ones who have come through a great ordeal.
They put their faith in God and now they will hunger no more, thirst no more - for they have heard the voice of the shepherd who has guided them to the waters of life.
And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Sorrow and pain shall be no more.
In a way, a good way, one could say that John’s revelation is a communal and cosmic vision of all the same glorious good news of the very personal almost private prayer that is Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd – therefore I shall not want. Oh, if only that were true. This psalm is the psalm for when we want so much. It’s a psalm for when we do not have a community around us – or even if we do – whatever it is we are going through, we feel profoundly alone.
It is not a prayer of “we” – it very clearly is I. Though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I shall fear no evil - for you are with me. Your rod, your staff they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies – and even then my cup runneth over.
This prayer is personal.
What I noted, and find somewhat faithfully fascinating on this day of praying to listen and hear the voice of the good shepherd so that I may follow where it leads – that in Psalm 23 – the following is reversed.
After we hear that God is with us guiding us - beside still waters and right pastures - we say - God’s goodness and mercy shall follow me - all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.
What is in front of you this week? What decisions will you be making? What appointments will you be keeping? What responsibilities will you be fulfilling?
What longings do you have this week? What isn’t as you want it to be? What challenges or difficulties are before you?
What isn’t fair? What makes you angry – or furious, even?
What breaks your heart? If you dig deeper than the anger, righteous indignation – even if you are right – where is the valley of sadness that you do not want to go?
These are the places where the voice of God – the good shepherd – both calling out and listening for you. To know the voice of God is not to be given a road map or an answer key – it is to enter into each and every day – and each and every one of these situations of revealing – knowing that God is behind us, beside us and in front of us all at once.
And yes, sometimes it takes work to hear that voice. Sometimes we have to get quite. Sometimes we have to listen to voices we do not want to hear – because the truth being shared is painful. But God is always surrounding us – encouraging us from behind – and calling us to move forward.
Encouraging us to find our God-given voice created out of goodness and mercy – so that we may partner in making a way for that goodness and mercy to be revealed.