As I drove to work on Friday it was a day just like any other, it was overcast, and the sun was up, though barely. While crossing the Coolidge Bridge, I saw a bright glow peeking out from behind some clouds and as the road began to turn the light moved from my right to directly in front of me, and after the next bend, it moved off to my left, and eventually ahead of me again. It was like we were playing peekaboo and then it hit me, the light was sedentary, I was the one moving. I immediately likened the light to that of Christ, and as soon as I got to work, I snapped a picture so I wouldn’t forget, and the ironic thing is that because of where I work and the position of the sun at 6:45 in the morning the dim ball of light fell right behind the congregational church’s steeple.
The theme this morning is sheep and shepherds, which I like because I very much identify with my British heritage. Here’s the thing though, sheep are peaceful and courageous creatures, they eat, sleep, poop, and hang out together without fear or worry. If a predator does come along, they will huddle together for protection or run away, hoping for the best. Why then does Jesus liken his followers to sheep? Does he think we are bunch of wusses? (which is a word I have not used since I was like 12). Why not call us goats? Goats are not docile, and they will kick your butt if you mess with them. It sounds like Jesus wants us to be weak, doesn’t it? It is a logical and very human conclusion based on the behavior of sheep, but it is the wrong conclusion.
All week I have been thinking about the fact that I needed to write this sermon, I was not thinking about what to write, just that I needed to do it and I was frankly quite worried that I wouldn’t have time because my week was extremely busy and the time slots, I usually set aside for writing were taken up with other things that I had little power to change. Playing peekaboo with a glowing ball reminded me that even in our busiest and darkest hours, even when we are worried that there isn’t enough time for everything, the truth is that there is always enough time for the things that are important. It’s not that I suddenly had extra time to finish everything I felt I needed to get done, because I didn’t and the things, which are just things, are still not done; but it doesn’t matter, what matters is that I encountered the divine and experienced a thin moment, a moment when Gods presence in the world, which like the sun, is constant and palpable to me.
Sheep have developed a natural affinity for each other, they instinctively stick together for protection. When one finds water, they all find water; when one finds the tasty grass, they all find the tasty grass; when danger is sensed they huddle together knowing that predators are less likely to attack a group than an individual; when it is cold, they huddle together to keep one another warm. Their herd mentality is not a weakness, it is a strength. They are a community that is committed to one another, which is the point. Jesus has called us to be his sheep, his community of believers and he, meaning his teachings, is the gate.
The teachings of Christ Jesus have two purposes, first they draw us closer to God and second, they draw us closer to one another. They are the glue that holds us together and the closer we get to one another the more deeply we will experience God because God is found in our relationships with each other and our sense of community, not in some mystical place called heaven.
Community is the entire point of the Anglican tradition, which is us. We developed the Book of Common Prayer because we believe it is important that every member of the community be able to participate in the liturgy, so when we pray together and sing together, we are united as a community through our mutual love for God singing and praying as one voice. We are like the sheep huddled together for warmth and protection.
The 23rd psalm speaks of the Lord as our shepherd and if we stick with the image of us being a flock of sheep that makes sense. A shepherd leads their flock to the clean water and the greenest grass, they take steps to protect their flock from danger; the shepherd is someone that can be trusted and relied on. They are also very active; shepherds do not sit in the grass all day looking for four leaf clovers while their sheep eat; they tend to the needs of their flock. God tends to our needs constantly; we just don’t pay attention.
On Friday morning God gave me exactly what I needed. God gave me a sign, a reminder that they are my shepherd. The glow of the sun from behind a cloud made me think of God, and as I began to think of God, I thought about what God is to me and as soon as I got to my desk that morning, I wrote the first two paragraphs of this sermon, and it was at that point that I knew everything would be fine. I still didn’t know how I would complete everything on my list, but I also knew that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because the tasks I was worrying about are just tasks, which doesn’t mean they’re not important and it doesn’t mean that I will just ignore them, what it means is that I can’t let the tasks of life interfere with my sense of community because when I do I become isolated and lonely, which is dangerous for me because I can spiral out of control with worry. Worry that I am not good enough or that I am a failure because the little boxes on my list have not been checked off.
Seeing a beautiful, natural wonder reminded me of God, which caused me to slow down. Slowing down allowed me to catch my breath and think about what is truly important and wonderful about my life and that slowness, even though it was only ten minutes, was enough to keep me going. The sun that morning was my God, my shepherd calling my name so that I would stop running towards the cliff. The reason I heard the call is because of this (gesture to the church building) and what we do here. It is my association with this community and the things that we do together that feed my faith and allows me to recognize the voice of my shepherd calling my name. I am sure that I am not alone in believing that it is what we do together that shapes our faith and as we enter the holy silence, I invite you to reflect on whether you can hear your shepherd when they call. Can you think of a time you heard them? Or a time you think you missed their it?