Flocking to the Good Shepherd

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Lisa Carter and I have been working with a friend of Rusty Ingley’s to create a new web site for the church that will be easier to maintain and better designed for display on multiple platforms, like desktop computers, laptops, and smart phones. Making a good, first impression for someone looking at this new web site has been our first priority. We had to ask ourselves: what do people want to see and what do we want to show them right off the bat? We decided that giving them our service times, our address and telephone number, a map to locate us, an image of our church, and a statement of our mission should be combined in a pleasing way for anyone who visits us in cyberspace.

We played around with where and how to display our statement of mission. For now, it will be superimposed on an image of the front exterior of our church.

Our mission statement was revised several years ago by the vestry at its annual planning meeting. It reads: “Flocking to Jesus through acts of service, worship, education, evangelism and pastoral care is our mission.” We deliberately chose the verbal noun, “Flocking”, to reflect the fact that we are the Church of the Good Shepherd. We wanted to reinforce our identity as sheep of the Good Shepherd who are flocking to him in a variety of ways, and in so doing, to invite and encourage others by our own example, through our acts of service in the community, our corporate worship, our educational programs, our sharing the good news of Christ with others and our care for one another, to help them begin to flock to Jesus too.

When John Motis told me that 53 infants, toddlers and young children came forward on Easter to receive a blessing, in addition to all our other children and teenagers who came forward to receive Holy Communion, I was heartened that a whole new generation of lambs was already beginning to flock to Jesus, that Jesus was keeping his promise to us this morning, that we might have life, and have it abundantly. We will baptize Lincoln Mosley today, Cooper McWhorter in two weeks, and Phillip Foti in three weeks, even as we give thanks for the safe delivery of McKinley Williams last Thursday and anticipate the births of two other children and the baptisms of three other infants. Our nursery is overflowing. We may have to find a larger sheepfold for all of them, as well as at least one more good shepherd to attend to all of them.

At the end of our [second] service this morning, Jesus will keep his promise of abundant life in another Babs Franck chancel drama, which I am confident will have the cup of your soul overflowing with laughter and praise to God in celebration of Jesus’ victory over death and the removal of Thomas’ doubts about the resurrection in our season of Easter joy.

In his letter to those who are newly baptized, the apostle Peter reminds them and us that flocking to Jesus will, at times, require that we follow the example of Jesus’ own suffering at the hands of those who may misuse their authority over us by forgiving them and not allowing their injustices or subtle slights to get the better of us.

In Peter’s day, that meant that a slave might have to rise above the unfair treatment of his master, or a Roman soldier’s or government official’s abuse of power and persecution of them for their faith. In our country today, it may mean being socially, politically or economically marginalized, ostracized or penalized for our faith. While it may be politically incorrect to disparage or mistreat a whole host of other minorities in our society, Christians are often the lone exception. Whether they are conscious of their motivation or not, it’s almost as if they want to test us to see if our faith is for real. In other countries, being a Christian may mean surrendering our very lives and not just enduring the demeaning of our faith and dignity.

I believe the only way we can suffer in this way is out of the abundance of grace that we have first received from Jesus through our baptism and the subsequent grace we find in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers, the kind of devoted flocking to Jesus that was characteristic of those first 3000 Christians in Jerusalem and every subsequent congregation like ours since then.

Psalm 23 describes the abundant life we find when we flock to Jesus. We follow him along pathways that lead to green pastures and refreshing waters that nourish and quench our deepest hungers and thirsts, that also lead us back week after week to the safety and security of this, his sheepfold, where he prepares a table for us, anoints us with his Spirit, and fills us to overflowing, and, if and when the time comes, to know his reassuring presence with us through the valley and shadow of death, and not just at the end of our physical lives, but through every form of suffering and loss we may endure, even at the hands of those who may misuse their authority over us, following the example of our Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us at the hands of sinful men.

Nothing brings more glory to God or attracts others to flock to Jesus than our willingness to suffer in witness to him, as legend has it that Peter did in being crucified upside down, and as every other apostle did in one way or another, so sure were they that not even death would or could separate them from the green pastures and still waters of God’s grace with the power to revive not only their souls but their very bodies from death. That kind of unassailable confidence is what everyone is looking for.

The reason that Paul commands the flocks that he had gathered through the preaching of the gospel in cities throughout the Roman empire to pray for all those in authority was to minimize the occasions when this would be necessary, that they might exercise their authority in the fear of the Lord and, in so doing, promote peace, justice and the common good as well as protecting themselves from the subsequent judgment of God and of Christ.

We can and should give thanks that one of our own brothers, Adam Putnam, has been flocking to Jesus even as he now seeks to shepherd the citizens of this state as our next governor. Let us pray that every person who seeks or exercises authority over others make acknowledge and honor the higher authority of the Good Shepherd, who is the author of life, a life that overflows with a grace that enables us to rise above every sin and even death itself and in so doing, to extend the boundaries of his sheepfold to include the hearts, minds and lives of those who subsequently flock to him through of our own example. AMEN.