Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Flock, One Shepherd: Unity not Uniformity (Easter 4B 26 April 2015)

RCL Easter 4B
26 April 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         Over the past several months I have been in conversations where the topic of retirement has been raised.  For me there is a degree of uncertainty given the changes in law, in our Diocese and in the day-to-day realities of parish ministry.  Depending on how these change combine at any given time, I could retire in three years or four years or five years or eight years or --- never!
         After one of these conversations I found myself pondering the dreaded ‘L’ word --- ‘Legacy’.  When the time comes and I leave full-time paid ministry, what will I look back on with a degree of joy and satisfaction?  Many things have come to mind, but four remain relatively high on the list:
         i)  Working for the restoration of the diaconate as a full and equal ministry in the life of the Anglican churches in North America;
         ii)  Being on the faculty of the first theological college in North America to offer an accredited Master of Divinity for people serving in aboriginal communities that seeks to respect aboriginal cultures and ways of learning;      
         iii)  Serving the cause of the full and visible unity of the Christian Church by participating in the process that has brought the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada into full communion; and
         iv)  Trying to help the Church receive gay and lesbian Christian as full and equal disciples.
         When I look at this list, I realize that the last two have been received differently in the wider world.  Full communion between Anglicans and Lutherans has generally been greeted with enthusiasm although there are a few nay-sayers.  The same cannot be said of my participation in the struggle for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians.  Some people I know have laid the responsibility for the current divisions between Anglicans squarely at my feet and the feet of those who share my views.  ‘You have scattered the sheep,’ some have said.
         So, what are we to make of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel?  In all of the events that have occurred during my life and during my time as an ordained minister of the Church, have we followed the way of the good shepherd or the way of the hired hand?  Have we gathered the sheep into ‘one flock’ or scattered them hither and yon?  These questions are never far from my mind.  Yet, there is one more that is perhaps even more important.  What does Jesus mean when he says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”? (John 10.16)
         There have been many answers given by Christian teachers and preachers to this question.  I won’t try to catalogue them for you.  But I will give you my own ‘take’ on the question.
         For whatever reason, human beings seem to have a built-in temptation to divide the world into two categories:  people who are like ‘us’ and people who are not --- the ‘others’.  This temptation causes us frequent discomfort as we navigate the currents of our lives, especially when we come face to face with someone who is ‘different’ from ‘us’.  Through the prophet Micah, God has given us some guidelines for how to navigate such turbulent waters.  (Micah 6.8)
         i)  Do justice:  Treat everyone with dignity and respect because everyone has been made in the image of God.
         ii)  Love kindness:  Care for every creature, human and non-human, with compassion.
         iii)  Walk humbly with God:  Dare to look for God even in those who differ from us the most and to believe that God is act work in them just as surely as God is at work in us.
         And, as if these guidelines were not enough, God sent, in the fullness of time, Jesus of Nazareth in whom the Word of God, God’s very creative purpose, walks among us.  In his life and teaching Jesus bears witness to God’s vision of the unity of all creation.  In his letter to the Galatians Paul of Tarsus gives a clear summary of this vision:  “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3.27-28)
         What Jesus and his disciple Paul have taught us is this:  Our differences, though real, are not silos that are meant to keep the ‘other’ out and ourselves secure.  They are signs of the wonder of God’s creation.  Just as each facet of a cut diamond reflects the light and deepens the stone’s splendour, so too does the diversity of humanity tell the wonder of God.
         Unity, as God has envisaged it and the Scriptures teach us, is not a uniformity based upon conformity to a single facet of the diamond that is creation.  Unity arises when, like the Good Shepherd, we gather people into community, into communion with one another.  Just as God gives God’s very self to us in the eucharist, so do we give one another our very selves, the richness of our identity, when we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God amidst the wondrous variety of creation.
         But unity does come at a price.  Moving beyond tolerance of the ‘other’ into respect for the ‘other’ is not easy.  Respect requires us to believe that the ‘other’ has an insight, a gift, a perspective on being human that we lack but need in order to become more fully human ourselves.  Unity may mean living with uncertainty as we struggle together to discern how we inch closer to God’s future.  And, from my own experience, working for unity means risking the disapproval of one’s own community, even one’s own family.

         For the sake of the unity of all people Jesus chose to lay down his life.  For our unity God raised Jesus from the dead so that we might know the fullness of life.  May we, using the gifts God has given each of us, become shepherds who gather God’s scattered and divided sheep together.  There will be one flock, one shepherd, and some of the flock will be white, yellow, black and brown and all colours in between.  Some of the flock will want to drink from the same spring as the others and some will be more picky.  But only together will the flock know the One in whose image they have been created and into whose future they are being led.

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