Saturday, May 2, 2020


The fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday.
I am honestly surprised Good Shepherd Sunday
     has survived the waves of liturgical reform
     that have abolished countless metaphors
                 in which anyone might lead someone else.
We recoil against any image that might suggest 
     we should obey anything other than our own whims.

I have spent decades defending this day
     from indignant Episcopalians who insist 
                  they are not sheep
                 and will not tolerate being treated as such.
Something in a human being rebels 
     against the suggestion
     we might need a shepherd.
But then something in a sheep also rebels 
     against the suggestion they might need a shepherd.

Like human beings, 
     sheep are a thoughtless and errant species
     inclined to wander willy nilly and get themselves 
                 into trouble.
Granted, we are more articulate and smell better,
     but we do share with sheep the tendency to go astray
     and the same certainty that 
     we do not need a shepherd.
We have that much in common.

As modern Americans, we don’t like the notion
     of someone telling us what to do – even if it’s Jesus.
Our American psalm, the feci viam meam, will probably 
     be in our next prayer book.
The psalmist is Frank Sinatra.
In English it’s, “I did it my way.”

So I wonder if there is anything in the lessons 
     for Good Shepherd Sunday
     that we might be willing to hear.
I hope so, because often our society reminds me 
      of a lot of lost sheep
     ambling about the desert going bah bah bah 
     to the tune of  “I did it my way.”

When we read a Scripture lesson,
     it’s important to put it in the context of the whole Bible,
     and especially in the context of the Biblical book
                 where the text is found.
For example, the Good Shepherd lesson 
     is in the Gospel According to John.

In John, Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd
     who knows his sheep, cares for them, 
     calls them by name.
But where is he doing that from? 
Where’s his command center?
Is he sitting on a cloud watching us and saying “turn left,
     no a little to right”?
Or has he delegated this job to ecclesiastical authorities
     like priests and bishops?

No in John Jesus prays that he may dwell inside us –
     “that I may dwell in you and you in me,” he said.
Jesus abides in the depths of our being.
St. Paul says,
     “Have the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
So if we are looking for the Good Shepherd, 
     where are we to look?

After the Ascension, the disciples were staring at the sky,
     looking for Jesus, but the angels said,
    “You’re looking the wrong direction.”
People have been looking at preachers, gurus, 
      and so called saints for generations 
      hoping to see Jesus.
I can’t tell you how many times somebody has said 
      of their priest, “I just can’t see Jesus in him.”

That’s because they’re looking the wrong direction.
They are looking outward -- when to find Jesus,
     we have to look inward;
     to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd
                 we have to listen inward.

You see we are not each like an individual sheep.
We are each like a whole herd of sheep.
Inside each of us, there isn’t one will, one personality.
There’s a whole herd in there.

In Hemann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, the protagonist
was half bourgoise businessman and half wild beast.
Bob Dylan sang,
“I’m just like Ann Frank and Indiana Jones,
and them British bad boys the Rolling Stones . . . 
I drive fast cars and eat fast foods.
I contain multitudes.”
Psychanalysts say we are each made up
     of a whole congregation of sub-personalities.

At work, we are one person 
     with one set of thoughts, feelings, attitudes.
At home we turn into somebody else.
Out with our friends, we think, feel, and act differently.
And those different parts of ourselves 
        don’t always get along.
The different parts of us are apt to wander off
in different directions.
Sometimes the ambitious worker takes over 
      and we ignore our family.
Sometimes we get so ensnared in our family dramas
     we don’t allow ourselves space to have any friends.

Sometimes we may get taken over by a part 
       that likes to feel sorry for itself.
Sometimes, a righteous judge part of us grabs control
     and goes after either other people 
     or other parts of ourselves.
There’s a whole herd of personalities in there,
     each of them capable of wandering off 
     on one fool path or another.
That happens to me every single day.
But there’s somebody else in there too.
There’s a part we might call “the Good Shepherd.”
That part just stands back and watches over 
     the whole flock, caring for them,
                 knowing each one by name,
                 calling them back together.

Another metaphor might be to say 
     that we have a spiritual gyroscope
     to keep us right side up and headed the right direction.
We have a lot of parts of ourselves that get agitated
     over one thing or another.
Parts of us are inclined to go off on a tear.
And that’s ok. Those parts of us are not bad.
Without them, we’d be pretty boring 
       and our lives would be pretty bland.

But they are apt to wander right off a cliff
     if we don’t check in with another part 
                 – the Christ within us, the Good Shepherd.
This Shepherd, this Christ, 
                 is always serene, objective, wise, curious,
                 sometimes amused, 
                 and perfectly compassionate.
He understands all the wild and crazy parts of us.
He doesn’t judge them or condemn them,
     even when they judge and condemn each other.

He just calls them by name 
         and nudges them back on the path.
He makes sure they all get fed and watered,
     and he keeps them away from the predators.
That’s why it’s so important to listen,
     so important to stop and pay attention          
     from time to time to the serene center of our souls.

We need to feel what we feel, think what we think,
     but then we need to step back and check in 
     with the Good Shepherd before we act.

Can you see how different this is 
        from the Proverb of the 1970’s?
Remember that one: “Go with your gut.”
Don’t do that.
Your gut is one of the sheep.
That’s where we keep our fear and loathing,
     our regressive impulses, our unmitigated selfishness.

Don’t go with your gut.
Listen to the Shepherd.
Be still and look at your situation 
     through the eyes of wisdom,
     the eyes of mercy, the eyes of Christ.

That isn’t being docile.
It isn’t being timid or indecisive.
It’s wisdom. It’s spiritual balance.
If you are looking for Jesus, look inside yourself.
John says that’s where you’ll find him.
And he’ll speak softly, not harsh words of judgment,
     but calm words of guidance,
     “leading us beside the still waters,
                 restoring our souls.”