Shepherd Me, O God

Psalm 23 – God, the Good Shepherd (Weldon)

With one voice we proclaimed the well-known Psalm of the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd leads us to green pastures and cool waters.
Even through Death Valley we are led, therefore we need not fear.
Shepherd us, O God, beyond our wants, beyond our fears from death into life!

John 10: 22-30 – Jesus, the Good Shepherd

For the first three Sunday of Easter we encountered the Risen Christ.
For the remaining Sundays of Easter we go back with Jesus before dying and rising.
In a teaching in John’s gospel Jesus gives us the image of the Good Shepherd.
Cheryl already shared the Good Shepherd image from John 10 with us.
Jesus said, I am the good shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me, just as God knows me and I know God.
I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15).

The Iowa farm, where I grew up, was a small typical farm of half-century ago. We raised corn, oats, and hay to feed cows, pigs, sheep, turkeys, chickens.We had a few sheep year around and added hundreds more in the fall. These sheep became fat eating the corn left on the ground after the field was picked.

The good thing about sheep was that they were docile and dumb animals. Sheep were easy to care for, unlike pigs and turkeys that were mean and smelly. The bad thing about sheep was that they were docile and dumb. A friend calls sheep dull and ditzy animals.

They would come obediently when called and follow willingly. Pigs and turkeys never did anything you wanted them too. And did I mention pigs and turkeys are mean and smelly? On the farm we didn’t wander around open hills with staff and sling tending sheep. Sheep! I have not been fond of Jesus’ image for followers. Being docile and dumb or dull and ditzy is not very inspiring. Good Shepherd, yes! But who wants to be sheep?

In 1987, Marg and found ourselves in Palestine riding a bus from Galilee to Jericho. There on the hillsides along the Jordan River were shepherds tending their flocks. It reawakened for me Jesus’ claim about sheep and shepherd. This spiritual geography of the Palestinian hillsides changed my imagination. For solidarity and survival sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow. Sheep do not live long in fear or wandering far from the fold. To live long as sheep means hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. To live well as sheep means following the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd’s voice comes from deep care and attention. The Good Shepherd’s voice calls forth deep listening and trust.

We listen in scripture and Spirit – in deep discernment – to the Shepherd’s voice. Discernment is distinguishing the Good Shepherd’s voice from all other voices. Many voices call for our attention — even “good” voices call us. But it doesn’t mean it is the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Our charism (call/gift) of spiritual discernment is at the heart of our recreated life. Our charisms are the gifts God gives us for the ministries God sets before us. The Good Shepherd calls us to deep listening and trusting this voice above all voices.

Shepherd us, O God, beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life!

Revelation 7:9-17 – Salvation belongs to our God (Weldon)

In John’s Revelation is another sheep image: the Lamb of God.

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white,

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

In this week of tragedy in Boston and Baghdad, Texas and elsewhere we are compelled as a discerning community to deep listening trust to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and stand before the throne of the Lamb of God.

Shepherd us, O God, beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life!

Acts 9:36-43 – The Raising of Tabitha: Ministry in Community (Amy)

Ivoni Richter Reimer says about the reawakening of Tabitha:

“It requires human cooperation.  The two messengers who brought Peter, the widows who witnessed for Tabitha, Peter, who says the powerful words to Tabitha.  All of them together are the outstretched hands of God.  All of them together are agents of the miracle.  Each of them is indispensable to the whole relationship.”

Like the miracle of Saul’s conversion this wonder of reawakening happens in context of community.  A community like ours.  And like Katherine Jamison Pitts from PNMC coming into our community to minister in a particular way a few weeks ago, Peter comes to that church community, speak a discerning word into their midst.

Tabitha is in a community.  She is one of many like her but perhaps she prominent in her role.  She is a disciple – the only time that word is used in canon for explicitly for a woman.  And Tabitha was “dedicated to good deeds and charitable acts.”  That brief sentence encapsulates host of possibilities of an active ministry: visiting sick, sheltering strangers, providing for the poor, consoling those in sorrow, participating in weddings and burials.

The widows that gather to mourn Tabitha are her witnesses.  They were her colleagues in ministry and community of support for each other.  They show Peter examples of her work by way of clothing she has made, tanglible signs of all her good works.  I remember memorializing Carole Marnet in that way: displaying the things she had quilted and made as a sign of who she was as a woman of faith and beloved in our community.

This is a real miracle of enlivening a woman who has died.  It is also symbolically important: renewal for Tabitha makes renewal, life-giving action possible for this fresh church.  A new quality of power is giving in the midst of the ‘old’ world – the church is a renewal of the faith of these Jewish believers.

The story is left unfinished in some ways.  We the readers hear that good news spread in region, but of Tabitha herself and that community, we are left to write the ending in hope and faith.  The Spirit has done something good and this will continue to be a discerning community.  The reader can imagine the ways in which their work. grew and spread along with the good news in Joppa and the surrounding region.

Reviving Tabitha makes it possible for the church in Joppa to continue listening for the voice of the Shepherd in their community – and the voice of the shepherd calling others not in the flock to become more and more a part of it.

Shepherd us, O God, beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.