Monday, April 18, 2016

Seven Buses: Reflections on John 10.22-30 (RCL Easter 4C, 17 April 2016)

Seven Buses

The Rev’d Christine Wilson 

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
17 April 2016

Click here to hear the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist.
Today Jesus speaks to us in the voice of the Good Shepherd,      promising to nurture and fiercely protect his flock. 

"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

It is the voice of Jesus his flock hears and knows and follows.  It is the voice of God who knows us and calls each and every one of us by name.

The gospel accounts are abundant with images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, caring for his lambs. In Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd having a hundred sheep and losing one, leaves the ninety nine to go after the one that is lost until he finds it.

I don’t know if any of you have actually met sheep, up close and personal… I am a city girl and it was not until a few years ago when I lived in Victoria a friend of mine said we have to go to Beacon Hill Park for the spring stampede to see the adorable new baby pigs, goats and lambs.

Well let me tell you it was not what I expected.. all those little animals  -- very cute yes --   but they were nothing like the images of Jesus coddling baby lambs that are depicted in the stained glass windows of the church or in the stories told at Sunday school.
They were loud, defiant, messy and …  smelly

I could then understand why in Jesus’ time being a shepherd was not exactly an exalted profession. 

If I was a shepherd and one of the sheep wandered away, I might say, you unruly, stubborn beast, if you can’t be bothered to stay with the flock, I am not chasing after you.

So why then does Jesus compare himself to a shepherd… one of the lowest forms of employment in his time and compare us, his followers, to sheep ?

Well, perhaps because life is similar to what it must be like to be sheep  -- it is loud, messy, unruly, sometimes painful, sometimes smelly  -- and many of us wander away from the flock and get lost.

And yet we are beloved by God who knows us and calls each of us by name not in spite of who we are but because of it.  Indeed God’s love for us is immeasurably larger than anything we are capable of imagining. 

Gregory Boyle, is a Jesuit priest who founded ‘Homeboy Industries”, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles.  In his book “Tattoos on the Heart”, he distills his experiences working in ghettos of the gang capital of the world into a series of parables inspired by faith.

In one of the chapters in his book Father Gregory tells the story of fifteen year old Rigo.  He writes,

“About to make his first communion at his confirmation, I ask him whether he has chosen a confirmation name.

"Don’t know, Rigo says.  My dad – not sure he ever knew the names of his kids…  he’s a heroin addict, always called me hey you.  Used to beat my ass. 

"As Rigo is speaking something kind of snaps in him – an image brings him to attention.   I think I was in fourth grade, he says, I came home in the middle of the day, cause I got into some pedo at school and he was there.   Why they send you home he asks.  And cuz my Dad always beat me, I said, If I tell you, promise you won’t hit me.  He just said, I’m your father, course I’m not gonna hit you.     So I told him.

"Rigo is caught short in the telling.  He begins to cry, and in moments he’s wailing and rocking back and forth.  I put my arm around him,      He is inconsolable.  When he is able to speak and bravely so, he says,  he didn’t hit me.  He beat me with a pipe.  With a pipe.”

When I first read this story, my heart breaking wide open for this lost lamb of Jesus, a sheep without a shepherd I was not sure I could continue.    

But I read to the end of Father Gregory’s astonishing encounter with Rigo.

“When Rigo composes himself”, Gregory writes, “I ask … and your mom?   Rigo points some distance from where we are to a tiny woman standing by the entrance.  That’s her over there.  He pauses for a beat.  She always calls me her sweet Rigo.  There is no one like her.   I’ve been locked up in jail for more than a year and half.  She comes to see me every Sunday.  You know how many buses she takes every Sunday --  just to see my sorry ass?   Quite unexpectedly Rigo sobs with the same ferocity as before.  Again it takes him some time to reclaim his breath and his ability to speak.  Then he does and gasping through his tears he says “Seven buses. She takes seven buses.  Imagine.”

Gregory writes “How then are we to imagine the expansive heart of God who takes seven buses, just to arrive at us.”

After I finished reading Rigo’s story, I found myself thinking what are we to do in response to God’s love for us that is immeasurably larger than anything we are capable of imagining.
Last week in our gospel reading, Jesus said to Simon Peter, do you love me? And when Peter answered  “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep.”  

Just as Jesus called Peter to be head of the church to care for his flock so we as Christians are called to do the same.

God is calling us to be the Good Shepherd… to care for people who are suffering, who are in pain, people who are poor in monetary terms, and poor in spirit, people who are crying out just to be known.

All of us are called to be good shepherds for each other…  to love and support each other as we continue on the journey of our lives -   our loud, messy, unruly, difficult, sometimes painful, sometimes smelly lives.

You have come to church on this good shepherd Sunday and brought offerings of food and clothing for our brothers and sisters in our neighbourhoods who are in need… and you may think that that is all you have done, but make no mistake today you are living out the gospel to love your neighbour as yourself, to be Christ the good shepherd in a world that desperately needs it. You are saying to your brothers and sisters …I care about you, I may not yet know your name but you are important, you are loved.

People often want to know what it means for me to be a Deacon of the church.  Why would I say yes to God’s call to do such difficult and often heartbreaking work.

People might ask why Linda and Ryan would choose to be confirmed today.

Why each of you here would say yes to God’s call to be Christians.

I believe the answer to all these questions is the same.

Because Jesus speaks to us in the voice of the Good Shepherd, promising to nurture and fiercely protect us – not that we will not face problems, pain or suffering -- but that when we do Jesus will be with us through all of life’s experiences, both painful and joyful, and that nothing can separate us from his love and care.

Because when we lose our way, Jesus will search endlessly for us, to bring us back into the protection of his flock.

Because God knows us and calls each of us by name.

Because in this loud, messy, unruly difficult life we are beloved by God with a heart so expansive, God will take seven buses just to arrive at us.  Amen.

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