Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday. "I am the good shepherd" the Gospel of John tells us. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." John 10:11.
Long ago, or at least what seems like long ago, I wrote about a different type of shepherd. Actually it was more of a "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter my sheep" type of thing. (Jeremiah 23) I remember so many Good Shepherd Sundays in the past where I sat in the congregation feeling as though I did not belong, wondering why I continued to subject myself to the misery of sermons that seemed hell-bent on casting me aside if not totally out.
Life is so different today. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, surrounded by the Glory of God and clergy who I do believe love all of us, basking in the success of a fun-filled parish event, it was easy to hear the words of the Gospel.
I actually attended two services yesterday. I often do simply because there is a commitment to work in one and the other is a choice I make. The first sermon was preached by our new provost, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman. As I sat listening to this man that I had watched from so far away when I was in Fort Worth, I was filled with a sense of righteousness – an understanding of how unjust was the condition of my life in church before I came here. The difference shows between those hired to do a job and those who do it because they love it. I am not afraid of being cast aside, tossed out or left alone to fend for myself. I know that there are people to whom I can turn.
The second service sermon had two bishops in it – the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, the tenth bishop of Missouri and a major reason why we even came to St. Louis in the first place and the Rt. Rev Greg Rickel, the eighth bishop of Olympia. Bishop Rickel was here as the guest preacher for the 117th Flower Sunday of the Diocese of Missouri. He is also a presenter for Climate Project. Debbie, Tucker and I met him two years ago when he was the rector of St. James in Austin TX. We were there near the time of our anniversary and he was the very first clergy to give us a blessing. It surprised me how emotional that moment was and he holds a special place in my heart for that.
One of the points that Bishop Rickel made that stuck with me was the idea that shepherds do not lead – most often they follow behind. My first thought was that shepherds herd; that is, they direct. Yet thinking on it some, rather than "herding" my thoughts turned to the idea that they follow behind the sheep so that they can tend to any straggler. I know that this is the actuality of "herding" however, it is more than that. From behind, they can more easily see those who are struggling to keep up, those who wander off a bit or those who just head in a totally different direction. It is a sense of watching and protecting rather than just directing. Many can direct; fewer care to watch and protect.
I have found a "safe" place here in the Diocese of Missouri. For me, this is a place that I know there are certain people who care about the direction my life is heading. Not only do they care but they nurture me. And to what good? Why do they do this? Simply because they believe that it is the Holy Spirit working in me, in them, in this place. And they seek to follow the Good Shepherd by imitation.