Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost, Year B, Sunday May 31, 2009

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

“If I go, I will send [the Advocate] to you….[and] he will lead you into all truth”.

Imagine that a new movie is coming out, with great fanfare and much publicity. We are promised amazing animation effects, exciting action, a dramatic plot, and a surprise ending. Bring on the popcorn. It would be a sure hit. Now, here’s the biggest surprise of all: the plot of this film --- could be the story of Pentecost! It’s amazing to me that with all the other Biblical stories and themes that have been represented in literature and cinema, I don’t know of any that tell the story of Pentecost.

The feast of Pentecost is as important as the other two great feasts in the Church calendar: Christmas and Easter. Those other two feasts are observed in style! At Christmas we fittingly re-enact and celebrate of the birth of the Savior of the world and God incarnate. We love to celebrate with flowers, and family dinners, as well as our most beautiful music and Christmas liturgy. We also celebrate Easter with even more beautiful music, flowers, and the drama of the liturgies of Holy Week and the Easter Vigil.

Pentecost on the other hand sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of spring graduations, Memorial Day, and just a good day to go to the beach. This is too bad, because story of Pentecost is one of the most dramatic and important stories in all of Christianity. It brings full circle the story of Jesus’ birth, ministry, passion, and resurrection. Just think – without Pentecost, there would be no celebrations of Christmas and Easter. There would be no Church. Not to mention – it’s a marvelous and miraculous story in itself.

The Pentecost story as told in the Book of Acts is an event of great dramatic action: the disciples were gathered in an upper room and were still reeling from the events of the past several weeks. They were still trying to understand what had happened and were still trying to figure out – now what?? They were probably still afraid.

Then, suddenly, a violent wind swept into the room and “filled the entire house”, and a tongue of fire rested on each one of the disciples. (What could one of the animation studios do with that!) As the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke not gibberish but in words of greatest clarity, we are told, in all the languages of the world. They were in-spired as they received the Holy Spirit. They were empowered and impassioned to walk in the way of Jesus and to tell the story of Jesus. The Holy Spirit gave them courage to overcome their fear and propelled them out of that little upper room into all corners of the known world.

In the ancient world at that time, there were many, many cults and sects and religions, and it was also enormously difficult to travel from one region to another. The chances were very small that any one of those cults would make a lasting impact. There was little chance that the words and ministry of a Jewish carpenter from the backwater town of Nazareth would resonate with people in the great intellectual centers of the age. It was highly unlikely that this new faith would prevail against the massive power of the Roman Empire and the religious authorities of the day.

There was small chance that the earliest Christians could withstand and endure the brutal persecution that they faced for nearly 300 years. Yet in 313, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. All over the world, people listened and heard the message, in their own language, and it resonated and spoke true to them. They heard the words of God’s faithfulness and compassion, and saw the fire that enflamed the believers. They heard and saw the power of the Holy Spirit working through the disciples, they saw the joy and commitment of the faithful, and they saw how Christians loved and cared for one another. They said, “Whatever this is, I want to learn more; I want what they’ve got; I want to be part of this; I want to live in love as they do.”

That was then, at the time of the first Pentecost. What about now? Where is the flame of inspiration and fire of passion for the Good News today? At a parish where I used to serve in New York, there is a stained glass window that shows the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The disciples are seated in a circle, and there is a little flame coming out of each of their heads. They look a bit like bunch of little birthday candles on a cake, with a tiny flame on top of each candle. This seems a parody of the story in Acts. Have the violent wind and flames of fire turned into tiny flickering birthday candles?

The Holy Spirit is with us today, as we celebrate the “birthday” of the Church, as we wear liturgical red, and as we prepare to receive, once again, the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reminds us to dream, to pray, to hope, and to believe that miracles are all around us and are possible and are even to be expected. The celebration of Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit isn’t just a tiny flickering candle, which could be blown out with a puff, but instead the Spirit comes to us as powerful as a forest fire that carries the miracle of God’s passion and love for us.

Today we will witness such a miracle in the baptism of William Brady. There is no greater miracle than the gift of life, and today we celebrate William’s new life in Christ. Today he will become a full member of the Church and we will promise boldly and confidently, as a community, to assist his family and godparents in bringing him up in the Christian faith. And we will also re-commit ourselves in the renewal of our own baptismal vows, to turn away from evil, to turn again and again to Christ, and to love and respect the dignity of every human being.

As we celebrate and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in our midst, this is also an occasion for us as a community of faith to dream, to hope and to have patience for what is promised, for what we do not see or understand now, and for the miracles that are to come. The miracles that we receive are not necessarily what we ask for or exactly what we think we need and want right now, but in God’s own time our prayers and dreams are to be fulfilled in the powerful gift of God’s grace. The Spirit is both the powerful presence of God, and at the same time a gentle presence that will support us in times of greatest need, “with sighs too deep for words”.

Christ promised the gift of the Spirit to the disciples so that God’s presence would be with them to sustain them and guide them, and so that they could become Christ’s hands and heart in this world. As Theresa of Avila wrote: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out on Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless people now.”

We are blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we are, like the disciples, commissioned in the Spirit to follow Jesus and to walk in love, and to spread this love to everyone we meet. I know of no greater story than this.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Sunday May 24, 2009

Acts 1:15-26; Psalm 66:1-8; Romans 8:31-39; Luke 5:1-11

Preached by The Rev. John Warner

Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people. When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10b-11)

I imagine Peter with a smirk on his face when Jesus told him to let the nets down into the deep water. Jesus was not a fisherman; he was a carpenter. However, Peter, and the brothers James and John, were fishermen. They had fished all night and, even with their skill as fishermen, caught nothing. However, Peter had already witnessed the miraculous when Jesus healed his mother-in-law; therefore, he lowered the net. When those present struggled to lift the nets, they discover that the netting was full of fish. Peter, previously doubting the power of God working through Jesus, felt unworthy to be in Christ’s presence and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” After calming Peter, Jesus called Peter to join him in his divine mission—to become fishers of people.

Peter, an illiterate day laborer, was called by Jesus to become the foundation of the church. And Jesus has called others in our Christian tradition to erect the walls, install the altar and pews and to top it off with a roof. On this feast day, we are celebrating the life and ministry of one such individual—our patron saint, St. Augustine of Canterbury.

St. Augustine, who took the name of St. Augustine of Hippo, was a 6th century Benedictine monk who became the 1st Archbishop of Canterbury and the founder of the English Church. St. Augustine’s journey to England began shortly after Pope Gregory received a rumor that a great numbers of pagans in Britain led by King Æthelberht were ready to convert to Christianity if only preachers could be sent to instruct them in the faith. Pope Gregory chose Augustine for the task. Augustine wasn’t very charismatic but he was a good organizer and he understood his Christian mission. Augustine wasn’t the only missionary chosen for the journey. Pope Gregory designated Augustine as the spokesman of a company of forty monks comprising men knowledgeable in Roman law and liturgy, scribes, masons, architects and builders. Boarding grain ships, the missionaries traveled to Gaul (present day France) for letters of support from the royalty and clergy and then onto Kent in Britain.

The task that laid ahead for Augustine and the other missionaries was daunting. The other monks hearing that “the English cut the throats of those regarded as enemies, hung them upside-down so that the blood drained out and then drank it” asked Augustine to return to Rome and request that the missionaries return home. Augustine reluctantly did as requested but Gregory refused to rescind the mission sending him back with letters encouraging the monks to persevere. Contrary to the practice of previous papal authority, Gregory instructed Augustine that pagan temples not be destroyed but to consecrate them and build altars.

When Augustine and the others arrived in Kent, Æthelberht realizing that they came in peace allowed the missionaries to settle and preach in his capital of Canterbury and to begin their mission of conversion. Shortly after King Æthelberht was baptized and became a Christian, ten thousand converts sought baptism.

After Augustine’s consecration as the first Archbishop of the English, he began to lay the foundation for the Church of England. Additional missionaries were sent from Rome to support Augustine and to bring sacred vessels, vestments, relics and books. When Augustine died he had been Archbishop of Canterbury for seven years and he left a Christian legacy that has had a lasting impact on England. He introduced systems of written learning and systems of building, construction and architecture. He brought a faith and culture which included Latin liturgy and scriptures and the sacraments of redemption. His tomb in St. Augustine’s Abbey is inscribed with this epitaph:

Here lies the Lord Augustine, First Archbishop of Canterbury, who formerly sent hither by the blessed Gregory, Bishop of the city of Rome, and by God’s assistance, supported with miracles, reduced King Æthelberht and his Nation from the worship of idols to the faith of Christ and having ended the days of his office in peace, died on the 26th day of May in the reign of the same King.

So can the life of St. Augustine teach us anything that might be useful in our ministry efforts? I believe so and I would like to take a moment to talk about three teaching points.

First, Jesus does not require any prerequisite skills when calling you into a Christian mission; he only asks for your faithful service. Augustine was not a historical luminary; he was an ordinary man who just happened to be Pope Gregory’s emissary. Pope Gregory knew him as an effective monastery administrator and one who when asked to embark on this mission responded, “Send me.”

Second, any ministry requires a variety of gifts; therefore, a community needs to respond to the calling. The 6th century mission to Britain required a variety of skills—architecture, building, liturgical, diplomatic, etc., as well as administrative. The important contribution that we can make is to bring whatever gifts we do possess to bear on the problem—not necessarily as individuals but as a community.

Finally, a call to a ministry sanctioned by God does not mean that our efforts will be without risk or problem-free. Augustine and his company travelled approximately 1000 miles over ocean and land to reach his destination in Britain. The Great Plague had recently ended after killing 30-60% of the population and was still on the missionaries’ minds. Augustine also feared whether the monks would be greeted as friend or as foe by Æthelberht. However, Pope Gregory directed him to remain steadfast in his mission indicating that God would be present during their travels. Just as God is always present in our ministries.

When we are baptized, we are reborn into Christian service. The call to ministry is not a choice that we can decide to do or not to do. It is true that we have a responsibility to ourselves; however, we also have a responsibility to others. It is that responsibility to others that gives our lives meaning. It is what makes us “fishers of people.” Amen.


Bowden, John Encyclopedia of Christianity, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Green, Michael A. St. Augustine of Canterbury, Janus Publishing Company, 1997.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Easter 6, Year B, Sunday May 17, 2009

Acts 11:19-30; Psa 33:1-8, 18-22; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:9-17

Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

In 1911, a book was published about Native American Indians and their culture and their languages. The author of this book asserted that Eskimos use lots of different words to describe “snow” and this made sense because they live in a snowy, cold climate and snow is an important part of their lives and culture. It seemed logical that they would need to be able to describe snow in many different ways.

This idea took hold, and the number of supposed Eskimo words for snow began to grow in the popular imagination. In 1940, the number of Eskimo words for snow was reported as seven. In the 1970s this grew to 50, and by 1984, a reputable newspaper quoted the number of Eskimo words for snow to be 100.

It was a nice idea, but it’s not true. Eskimo languages have no more words for snow than we have in English. We do have quite a few words for snow in English: sleet, slush, flurry, flake, powder, and so on. Each of these words brings to mind a different experience of that cold, white stuff.

The English language is enormously rich in describing so many things and experiences and I have read that English has a larger vocabulary than any other language. Language is so critical in self-expression and communication, and even in helping us to define our experiences. Given all this, it seems odd to me that we have so few words in English for “love”. We can speak of the love of a parent for a child, and in the next moment say that we love ice cream or the movies. We often have to use an adjective to describe the kind of love we mean: puppy love, passionate love, steadfast love, devoted love, tough love, brotherly love, and so on.

Today’s readings focus on “love”, and the poverty of the English language requires that the same over-used word, “love”, be used throughout. In these readings the 1st Epistle of John uses the word “love” 26 times and in our reading from the Gospel of John the word “love” appears 9 times. These readings were originally written in Greek, and in that language there are at least three different words for love: “eros” for passionate love, “phileo” for loving friendship, and “agape” for divine love. The word “agape” or “divine love” is used throughout these readings.

In this Gospel reading, Jesus gives us a commandment, to love one another with “agape” or divine love. It’s a commandment, not a request or suggestion. It’s a commandment that stands alongside the two great commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) It’s not easy to do most of the time. It’s not only hard to love one another with divine love, but Jesus (as usual) raises the bar. We are to love one another even more than that; we are to love each other just as much and as well as he loved us.

How did Jesus love? He had compassion for the crowd who came to him to learn and be healed, even when he was tired and really wanted a rest by himself. He said to the disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” because they had been so busy and had hardly had time even to eat. When they got to the deserted place, they discovered that the crowd had followed them into the desert. And Jesus “had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”, and he taught them and fed all of them and they were satisfied before he sent them away. Jesus had compassion and took care of the people, putting aside his own needs, like a mother who will stay up late into the night, even if she is very tired, to comfort and feed and care for a fussy child.

How else did Jesus love? He was a teacher and healer who gave guidance for life not just for that moment. His teachings continue to inspire and help and challenge us after 2,000 years. The teachings of Jesus are like those of best teachers who teach their students to have self-confidence and to think things out for themselves rather than just giving them the answers to pass a test. The best teachers prepare their students for life.

How else did Jesus love? Every passage in the Gospels tells us something of the love of Jesus, especially the stories of his Passion and death on the cross. He knowingly and willingly gave his life for us and for the life of the world. This kind of self-giving and self-sacrificing love may be the core and the essence of divine love.

This love is like the love of a young boy who was asked if he would be willing to give a kidney to save his brother’s life. His family told him that he would be “put to sleep” so that they could take out one of his kidneys and then give it to his brother. The boy thought hard about this and then agreed to do it. What the doctors and his family didn’t realize was that he thought he would have to die to give his brother life. Some months earlier, the elderly family dog had been “put to sleep”, and had not come home again. It was only after the successful operation and his recovery that he told his parents that he had thought he would be “put to sleep” like the dog and not survive. He had accepted that he would give his life to save his brother.

God’s love is more complete, more lasting, and more constant and faithful than we can possibly imagine. The only way we can even come close to comprehending God’s love is to compare and to cherish the best experiences we have of love in our lives, and know that God’s love is even more than this. Divine love never loses hope; divine love never dims; divine love never grows impatient.

Jesus asks and commands us to love one another as he has loved us. This is the mark of a truly great teacher, who gives us a great challenge with the confidence that we will continue to strive to reach it, and maybe sometimes we will even come close. Jesus calls to Peter, “Do you love me?” when they meet on the beach after his resurrection. Peter answers, “You know that I like you”. And Jesus asks again and again, “Do you love me”? The rest of Peter’s life provides the answer to Jesus’ question.

Jesus asks us also: “Do you love me?” We can show that love in our care and attention and respect and compassion for one another, and for the least of God’s creation. It’s such a simple commandment, and it’s not easy to do. How do we learn to do this? Jesus says, “abide in my love”. We can practice living in God’s presence; walking in love; growing in community; practicing kindness and forgiveness; learning patience; letting God’s presence in our lives draw us into a peace where there is no fear but only hope and joy and all the blessings that God has prepared for each one of us. There is no greater love than this.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Easter 5, Year B, Sunday May 10, 2009

Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 3:14-24; John 14:15-21

Preached by The Rev. Lynn Anderson

During the weeks after Easter, we hear many of the words of the Pastoral teachings of Jesus that he shared in the upper room discourse before his passion. Jesus helps his followers understand what loving him means. My understanding of the passages for today has grown considerably by consulting the work of Eugene H Peterson in The Message which I quote extensively. The Message is a reading bible, certainly not meant to replace the excellent study bibles that are available. For me, the real value in the different translations is to “hear the scripture in another voice.” That is particularly helpful with the most familiar passages.

Jesus says, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

He says in the gospel today, “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. If you love me, you will keep my command. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!

I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.

The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.

When we receive the Spirit of Truth we will come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.

The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.

How simple is that. Receive the Spirit of Truth and we will be in life, in God and then all we have to do is love others as we have been loved.

I sat in a coffee shop early one Sunday afternoon visiting with a friend. The tables were pushed too close together and many of those in the shop were not in fellowship but were instead communing with their laptop computers. At one table sat six people, 5 of whom were on their cell phones. At the table closest to me were two couples sitting together obviously still in their “church clothes”. I could not help but overhear parts of the conversation of the two women who were sitting closest to me. One woman said, “That boy can’t sit still for 10 seconds and his mother seems not to even notice his squirming.” “I know,” said the other, and did you see what she had on this morning? I just don’t understand what she must be thinking. Since her husband left, things have certainly changed” Seemed to me that this was less than the best example of Christian love. Why don’t we get it?

When I was a child, the rules of the house were abundantly clear. They were pretty easy to remember but you never had a chance to forget. Keep your room clean, make your bed, clean up any mess you make, do the household chores assigned to you without complaining early and completely, don’t touch anything that belonged to anyone else without permission, and treat others as you would like to be treated. This was all pretty clear and actually not very time consuming or hard. This sounds like a plan that would make six people living together go smoother. But I didn’t get it. There was constant discussion about what a clean room looked like and way too much wiggle room about how I would like to be treated. In addition, I was more attracted to the erector set and hockey game that my brothers had than I was my doll house. I was not always a selfless example of love and respect in that situation. I didn’t always get it. It was very simple but very hard.

The lesson from I John this morning tells us how we will know when we are on the right track. The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally – named Son Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us; by the Spirit he gave us.

What a wonderful thought. Practicing real love is the way to stop self-criticism. This brings us back to getting around to loving ourselves. Think of the most critical and self centered people you know, the ones who are never happy about anything and usually find the energy to share that and pray about what it might be like if they knew real love of themselves and for others.

Mother Teresa said in her book No Greater Love “Spread love wherever you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” Sometimes all that need mean is to smile. Perhaps we can try the Quaker practice of “holding someone in the light” by visualizing that person in the circle of God’s love and presence. But whatever the Spirit of Truth leads you to do, remember to let your face know that you love the Lord.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Easter 4, Year B, Sunday May 3, 2009

Acts 4:23-37; Psa 23; 1 John 3:1-8; John 10:11-16

Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

The hired hand runs away… [but] the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Easter, is sometimes called “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The readings are always from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, and in these readings we hear Jesus identify himself as the “Good Shepherd”, in contrast to the “hired hand” who is out for himself and who runs away at the first sign of danger. This allegory would have been very familiar to Jesus’ listeners in the ancient world since they were much more familiar with the care of farm animals than most of us probably are.

I’ve only had two experiences of sheep, and they were rather distant ones at that. My first sheep-experience was in Wales on a vacation in the spring. We were driving through the countryside, and the lambs had just been born. The grow-up sheep were walking around and grazing, but the baby lambs were just little white, fluffy balls lying on the grass. They were really cute, but the grown up sheep wouldn’t let us get close to them.

My second experience of sheep was in the north of Iran. I had gone with my family to a very small village near the Caspian Sea, and we stayed in a country house. We were far away from any roads or anything modern, and it was incredibly quiet. I’m not sure I have ever been anywhere outdoors that was so quiet, with no ambient sound at all. We walked in the surrounding hills, and saw sheep grazing on the next hill. The only sound we did hear was a “chk, chk” – which turned out to be the sound of the sheep pulling grass from the ground as they grazed.

I don’t know much about sheep, except that they seem to be quite defenseless. They are herded by sheep dogs and shepherds, and can’t take care of themselves. Sheep are also rather dumb. Although they look cute and cuddly from a distance, but we might feel not altogether flattered that we are being compared to a flock of sheep.

It’s true that like sheep, we are sometimes a bit wooly headed. We don’t always make the best choices between a good shepherd and a hired hand. We’ve all heard the stories about the lady who answered the phone and gave her social security number to the “nice” man who claimed to be from her insurance office, or the man who answered an email that he could help someone get millions of dollars out of Nigeria if he would just give them his bank account number.

Whom should we believe? Whom should we trust? It seems obvious that we should not follow a hired hand, who is primarily out for himself and who runs away at the first sign of danger. The question is – how do we know?

Some years ago I was volunteering as a chaplain in a terminal care hospital, and I went to visit an elderly man. He was from Italy, and I told him that I spoke just a very little Italian, mostly on the level of “buon giorno”. Well, that was all he needed to hear, and he started to tell me his life story in a torrent of Italian. I could hardly understand anything that he said. I think he said that he had served in WW II, had married and had children, but there was much, much more that I didn’t catch. So I just made appreciative noises now and then, and an occasional “bene, bene”, and he just kept on talking.

It seemed so important to him to tell his story, in his own way, and especially in his own language. I think on one level he knew that I wasn’t understanding very much, but I had given him an opening in which to talk. It seemed to me that my presence was a catalyst to get the story started, and that he was really conversing with God. Still, this elderly man trusted me with his story, and I held it as a sacred exchange that was really intended for God.

This was often my experience as a chaplain that people who were in a hospital and facing a critical illness were often able and even anxious to open up to me almost immediately and to tell me their most intimate thoughts and stories. If I had just walked in off the street, just as myself, this would never have happened, but I came to them as a chaplain (not even ordained or a sister back then). As we introduced ourselves to each other, Jesus came into our midst. In his sacred presence, our conversation became sacred and all that we said was held in a sacred space and time.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd”. Jesus is the one who leads his sheep to green pastures to graze. He leads the sheep not to running streams but to “still” waters so that the sheep can drink easily. Jesus isn’t like the hired hand who has no deep commitment to the flock. Jesus stays with the flock, even in the valley of darkness and danger. Jesus is the shepherd who cares not only for his own flock of sheep, but also wants to bring all others into his fold as well.

There are many images in painting and sculpture of the Good Shepherd. One of my favorites is a statue of Jesus holding a lamb over his shoulders and patting the head of another sheep who is standing at his feet, looking up adoringly at him. If we knew nothing more of the story of Jesus except this statue, we could assume that this bond of love between him and his “fold” was something extraordinary, based on complete trust and care and love. We might wonder and ponder what would be the basis for such adoration and trust.

The disciples knew Jesus and trusted him so completely that they laid down their wealth and none were in need who shared their faith. They trusted so completely that some were willing to die for their faith in the one who had died for them. They trusted him completely, because he is the one who is completely faithful to us all.

Whom should we believe? Whom should we trust? Why settle for a hired hand? As we move forward in our parish life, with our search for a new rector, and with our plans to become financially self-sustaining, we can trust above all in Christ Jesus to be with us every step of the way.

Why settle for anyone less than the one who is always faithful, always compassionate, always present and always true. Who else should we follow but Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the one who gave up his life to death on the cross and rose again in victory over fear and the shadow of death. He is the gate to true life because he has laid down his life for us and for the life of the whole world. Who else should we follow but Jesus who shows us the way and leads us always in the way of compassionate care for one another and into the light of eternal life.