Sermon for May 11, 2014 || Easter 4A, Good Shepherd Sunday|| Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2: 19-25; John 10: 1-10|| The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
A timeless story from the wisdom tradition:
A young novice pursuing a life of holiness found himself at a difficult place in his journey with God. Feeling lost and adrift, he sought counsel from the abbot of his community.
“Father,” the distraught young man confessed, “my heart is troubled and my will divided. I long to do what is right; I long to please the Lord; I long to love others as Christ calls me to love. Yet I fear I have within me both a lion and a lamb, each struggling for possession of my soul, and I know not what to do…”
At this the wise old abbot raised his ageing eyes from the book that lay open before him. He gazed compassionately at the troubled young man sitting opposite him and said very gently but firmly, “Brother, feed the lamb.”
Feed the lamb. Feed the lamb that knows and follows the life-giving voice of the Good Shepherd; the voice that says, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.” Feed the lamb and starve the lion—the lion who, like the thief in this morning’s gospel, Jesus says comes, “only to steal and kill and destroy.”
Feed the lamb and starve the lion. Not an easy thing to do (if you’ll pardon me mixing my metaphors) in a “dog eat dog” world. Not an easy thing to do in an economy that sometimes encourages feeding the lion and starving the lamb just to break even, much less get ahead. Not an easy thing to do in a culture that “lionizes” workaholics, wealth, and worldly possessions. Not an easy thing to do even for an earnest young novice seeking a life of holiness devoted to God.
So cue “Good Shepherd Sunday” and some of the most instructive passages of scripture in the New Testament. Passages we’ve read and re-read, and with which we may be overly familiar, but passages that are absolutely chock-full of wisdom inviting us to a closer look. Wisdom with which we might stop the madness, regain perspective, and hear clearly the voice of he who came not just so that we might have life, but that we might have it abundantly, expansively, whole-heartedly and joyfully!
According to our scriptures this morning, we feed the lamb by choosing a lifestyle that feeds the lamb—by devoting ourselves, like the earliest Christians, to the apostles teaching and fellowship; to the breaking of bread; and to the prayers—what one writer characterizes as, “the essential acts of Christian life.” Bible study. Fellowship. Meals together. Prayer.
We feed the lamb by learning to recognize the voice of the Shepherd…a voice that is always loving, even when corrective. A voice we can trust when it beckons us to follow; a voice we best obey when it bids us rest. We feed the lamb by spending time with this Shepherd who longs to revive our souls, to free us from fear, to guide us and protect us– and bless us generously… abundantly…with goodness, mercy, and never-failing love all the days of our lives.
We feed the lamb by praying for those who hurt us, by turning the other cheek, by hanging out with the flock. After all, a lamb’s very survival depends on its life in community.
We feed the lamb by feeding our souls instead of our egos; by focusing on the positive instead of the negative; by noticing all that we have, and not what we lack; by engaging in what poet Mary Oliver calls “this one precious life” mindfully and intentionally– rather than mindlessly, over-hurriedly, distractedly.
We feed the lamb by unplugging from the cyber-world, making time for Sabbath rest, sharing uplifting stories, cultivating glad and generous hearts, performing anonymous acts of kindness, and breathing deeply, slowly, here and now.
And finally, we feed the lamb by not feeding the lion. By not grasping and striving and shopping and spending and endlessly wanting the latest, the newest, the best of everything. By not consuming others to promote ourselves. By resisting the voices of all who would rob us of life. By breaking our addiction to more. By taking seriously what is inscribed on every dollar we spend, that it is in God we trust. It is in the Good Shepherd we trust. Because it is in following Him who knows us each by name and loves us beyond our wildest imagining that we receive this incredible life and receive it abundantly.
The Lord loves us and cares for us,
that’s all we need to know.
He insists that we pause in the midst of life,
and shows us the peace and beauty of Sabbath time.
He gives new life to our souls,
and guides us towards wise choices
which reflect His love.
Even when distressed by death-dealing forces,
we have no fear of evil;
Because you, Lord, are with us;
Your protection and your guidance comfort and console us.
You provide for us so generously,
even the blind can see;
You’ve blessed us so abundantly,
it is truly overwhelming.
We are so grateful, Lord, for your constant goodness and mercy,
May we live in your presence forever!