Today’s scripture summarizes the central image in one of our most beloved Psalms: the 23rd Psalm. That’s no accident: the authors of Christian scripture often reflect prophecies or personas found in Jewish scripture or the “Old Testament.” Today we hear the imagery of the 23rd being spun into the image of Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd.’
As a hospital chaplain, I’ve learned this image of Jesus and the 23rd Psalm continue to be popular metaphors for people working through loss and death. Religion may be declining in popularity but people still know the words of the 23rd Psalm and the vision of Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd’ continues to resonate and comfort people.
So it is no surprise that most of the times we have talked about Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd’ we’ve focused on the powerful image of Jesus as the one who cares for us lost sheep.
But today we need to take a different perspective; today we need to focus on our part in this metaphorical relationship; we need to consider what it means to be sheep of His flock. We need to consider what makes us feel this community is our flock and what we need to do in our daily lives to reflect this metaphor out into the world.
For some who think they are Christian, the question of which flock to join boil down to which church presents a set of beliefs which seem to guarantee admission to heaven. They argue what is important to believe the ‘right’ things.
We disagree: we believe living an authentic spiritual life following Jesus centers more on what you do than what you say you believe.
We believe actions matter more than words.
We believe how we live our lives – and how we fashion our community here at St. Cyprian’s – defines the kind of Christian each of us wants to become as well as the kind of flock we wish to create each Sunday in this sacred and safe space.
In choosing this path we are walking the trail blazed by the earliest followers of Jesus the Christ. Admission to their small communities was conditioned on seeing signs of Christian belief reflected in the candidate’s life. For them, what counted was the way people lived their lives. And I suggest this is a path we should follow as well.
Today, rather than focus on the warm and reassuring metaphor of the Good Shepherd, we need to wrestle with what it means to be a flock belonging to Jesus; we need to consider how we can as a community live out our calling to be a Christian community. What does that mean here at the corner of Turk & Lyon?
First, we have to be willing to say we are a Christian community. Many people hear that and assume we agree with televangelists and politicians who proclaim themselves as Christian while demonizing others who are a different color or religion or sexual orientation or class or educational level. In the time of Trump it can be hard to come out as Christian. But we need to do it if we are to ever rescue Jesus from those who misuse scripture to build up their own cable TV show, congregation, or political campaign.
We can do this by keeping Jesus at the center or our life together: by studying the Gospel together; saying the prayers together; singing the songs together; doing the work together; and loving one another. Individually, each of us can create a spiritual life that carries us through the week so that God’s love shines through our life into the world.
Second, we have to welcome people to our community without regard to any of the distinctions people draw to separate God’s children from one another. St. Cyprian’s must be a community where everyone is welcome, whether they are gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual or straight; of color or white; sure of their theology or questioning whether God exists. We are not called to judge one another; we are called to love one another.
Third we can maintain a strong commitment to each other. We can celebrate each other’s successes and comfort each other in times of affliction. We can spend time talking with each other after services. We can, as a group and as individuals, help reduce the level of loneliness and isolation that wells up in modern life.
Fourth, we can discern and develop our shared destiny as St. Cyprian’s. We can revisit our plans from the process of searching for a new Vicar. We can revise them to reflect current needs and inspirations. And we can work together through this process to make the Kingdom of God come a little closer to this corner of NOPA.
If we do this, then when people are searching for a real sense of community, when they are looking for a sense of belonging to their own flock, we can be their antidote to loneliness and isolation which stems from living in a digital age in 21st Century San Francisco. Think about what kind of flock you want us to be and share your thought and hopes and dreams with this Assembly of God’s children.
Let us pray,
Shepherd of all,
by laying down your life for your flock you reveal your love for all.
Lead us from the place of death to the place of abundant life,
that guided by your care for us, we may rightly offer our lives in love for you and our neighbors. May God’s people say: Amen.