Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sheep Without A Shepherd: A World in Search of Direction

Sheep Without A Shepherd: A World in Search of Direction


Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 107

Reading 1: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD.
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the LORD.

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
as king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

Reading 2: Ephesians 2:13-18
Brothers and sisters:
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, he who made both one
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,
abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims,
that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace,
and might reconcile both with God,
in one body, through the cross,
putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught. 
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” 
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat. 
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. 
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. 
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Our readings today are all connected by the theme of guidance and direction for our lives. Last we took up the walking stick of Christ—our guide for the journey. This week we continue down that path—seeking the right way to go. Who is our guide today?

Guidance is hard, because sometimes you have to ask for help. I am so glad we have the GPS systems today, because I get lost when I am out on business trips so often without one. Learned at West Point, “an officer is never lost. He may be temporarily misoriented.” I remember a few years later, when I was leading an infantry rifle company through the jungles of Panama in jungle school, that in spite of my map and my compass, I got 135 people lost. And the company CO was in the chopper above me, and he was decidedly NOT a West Pointer, and he said (and I have to clean this up a bit), “Bauer, where are you?” And I said, “Sir, I’m temporarily misoriented.” And he said, in that clear back woods Kentucky voice, “Bauer, you are not misoriented, you are lost.” Say it, you are lost. Now yell it so everyone around you knows…..and I’m yelling, “Sir, I’m lost.” That was humiliating.
We need guidance, don’t we?

“I just do what feels good.” OK, you are your own guide. How is that working out? Most of us, if we admit it at times we don’t like to talk about at parties, we can’t even live up to our own standards.

Jeremiah 10:23 says, “I know O Lord, it is not in man who lives to direct his steps.”
We have tried it on our own, and we have failed. That’s what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. We get guidance, we get some sense of limit and boundary, and we decide that God is not a good guide. We lose faith that God loves us and wants what is best for us.

Jeremiah speaks as a prophet, a forth-teller of God, in what God thinks of false guides, false shepherds

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD
.

Each of us is responsible before God for our behavior, but those who have been assigned to care for the people of God, the shepherds who have been asked to guide the sheep, have a heavy burden when the sheep are scattered and driven away due to the actions, or lack of action, by the shepherds. God chastises the shepherds “who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away.”

Not something like “oh, they mean well”, but woe to them. But it’s so hard to tell who the misleading ones are….they have nice suits and slick hair and they know how to talk about JEEEZus. In and of themselves, religious leaders can and have and do lead people astray. Some of them have Bibles, some have other ancient books, and some have only their own overblown sense of their own authority.

We need better religious guides. Because religious guides can be wrong. This is what happened in the Reformation. People reacted to bad religious guides and abusive money-hungry churches, and they wrongly decided that THEY alone were better guides, that they could interpret the scriptures on their own, without any history or handed on church tradition, teachings that were 1500 years old, as if there was never a church before they walked into town. They picked up the scriptures, they read them as they felt they were led, and they formed new churches, different churches, Protestant churches. OK, but along the way they become misguided, as they formed church after church after church because people look at the scriptures without any history, without any guidance, or animated only by one aspect of teaching—and they go astray.

“Rick, are you saying that the Protestant churches have gone astray?” “Aren’t we all well-meaning, and everyone is basically good, and any church that has a cross on the top of the building must be okay, right?”

Listen to me, mark my words. I would be a misguiding religious leader, a bad shepherd, if I told you that you should just follow some religious leader. They can lead you astray. And in America today we have over 33,000 different denominations, a result of people not being able to agree, people having no tradition going back to the apostles—read the scriptures, the early church was bound together by oral/preached tradition as well as the word of God, and the teaching office of the church—the Magisterium—expressed when Jesus said, “you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church….and I will give you the keys to the kingdom….and what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” We need the scriptures, we need the traditions of the church expressed form the words of Jesus to the words of the apostles through their successors, otherwise we’ll go off with the Bible—or even without it—and end of splitting and dividing and splitting and dividing and spitting and dividing—and hurting and misleading the faith of so many people in the process. Look at our own city. One man is in an immoral relationship as a pastor of a major church in town, New Life, and he leaves that church, no sense of closure, of discipline, of repentance to the flock, no guidance from the apostles or from any authority, and then that misguided pastor goes off and forms another church, and another group splits off, and on and on and on….

What happened to the very early tradition, embodies in the creed which we will pray in just a few moments, something that took shape even as the scriptures were taking shape, as a tradition of the church, of the church as “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic”? It’s gone today. Just going into a church building with a cross or a nice band doesn’t mean you’re going to be guided well. We need a church that is one—not split into tens of thousands of groups—holy, where there are standards, that there is discipline, that there is a call to purity in spite of the culture—and even some churches—saying something else, catholic—not some regional or city isolated group, but tied into a worldwide movement that goes back to the very days of Jesus—that is apostolic—that reflects there teachings and the traditions of the apostles and their successors.

You want religious guidance? That’s what we need today.

Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
I am against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. 


God’s reaction? Opposition. I oppose that. God is not for religion for its own sake, some sort of ecumenical Vitamix that whirls a lot of do-goodisms together—try to be a nice person. And people say “well, I try not to hurt anybody.” This is not guidance; that only scatters the sheep. The sheep start thinking that guidance isn’t that important, that we can be our own guides. We confuse democracy with spiritual guidance, and we seek out those people who tell us what we want to hear.  

And even if we are in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, do we approach the guidance of Jesus as if it were the Golden Corral—Best Buffet in the USA? I like this love, I like this giving to the poor, but I’m not into prayer, and I really don’t have to be in attendance with the body of Christ when we gather together each week, do I? I can just come during Christmas and Easter, right? Man, I don’t want the church to get next to me, either. Start talking about my personal life, what I do with my time, what I do with my girlfriend, how I yell at my wife or my employees….that’s a private matter between me and God, and the church or its leaders have no right to talk about this stuff. “Just stick to the Lilies of the Field, Rick.”

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the LORD.

God will deal with misguided and misguiding religious leaders. And another thing God is interested in? God wants us to increase and multiply. He wants his flock to go into all the world and make disciples. That is our mission, our purpose—and we are going to be talking a lot about that. “And none shall be missing.”

We have some exciting plans that we will be sharing with you in the weeks to come about ways that we can be those good shepherds, those who seek and save those who are wandering off, that they can find the Way—Christ—the truth—Christ—and the life—Christ.

The Responsorial Psalm today speaks of God as our Shepherd….he leads us to nourishment, his rod and staff (for protection and for guidance), and even if we find ourselves in death’s shadow—in the land of Mordor—we need not fear the evil around us.

When Jesus was alive, the shepherd could name each sheep and each one knew his voice by heart, much like the family dog knows your voice. Good shepherds would search and search for one lost sheep. Or if one was turned absurdly on its back, unable to roll over again because of its full fleece, the shepherd would take his “crook,” and using the big curve on one end would easily maneuver that sheep back onto its feet. If there was real danger, as for instance if wolves were ready to pounce, the shepherd would take out his “staff,” a pole-like weapon, and deal with the predators.

And it is so easy to give way to fear these days. The courts, the culture, the breakdown of morality, the drugs and violence, addiction all around us, and others openly selling those very things that would destroy us and our families. Oh, we are terrified of a world when people slay each other in the name of their God, when our soldiers are slain before our very eyes, when our brothers and sisters are slain in churches because of their color of their skin…we need a good shepherd, for it seems that our world is taking on that shadow of bleakest death—parts of children sold by Planned Parenthood—where is the planning and guidance for parenthood there? They are blind guides, and we need a good shepherd to keep us on the way. Someone not to keep us from a world of evil, but one who will prepare a banquet for us in the very presence of all this misguided hatred and brutality.

And that is what we have in a few moments—and it is a banquet—guidance for the journey, viaticum in the presence of our enemies, and to drink that cup that overflows with grace where we previously found only hatred and bitterness, of love where there was loss, and hope where there was only despair. Oh, and we have a good shepherd, who is so good he laid down his life for we sheep.

And we close with our gospel today. Mark records

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Jesus saw all the crowds—he knew that they did not find guidance anywhere else but in Him—and he was moved by their lostness, he was moved by how they were stumbling and blinded and could not find their way home….
Look at Jesus’ heart here—he was moved.

He had compassion—to feel the same—to be alongside. He wasn’t just sitting at home and watching the news and complaining about how bad the world was. Yes, there was evil in the world, but it is because people have the wrong guides. They trust in themselves, they trust in misguided religions, they trust in politics and political leaders. Do not put your trust in these false guides.

We are surrounded by many voices. There’s rarely a moment within our waking lives that someone or something isn’t calling out to us and, even in our sleep, dreams and nightmares ask for our attention.  And each voice has its own particular cadence and message. Some voices invite us in, promising us life if we do this or that or buy a certain product or idea; others threaten us. Some voices beckon us towards hated, bitterness, and anger, while others challenge is towards love, graciousness, and forgiveness. Some voices tell us that they are playful and humorous, not to be taken seriously, even as others trumpet that they are urgent and weighty, the voice of non-negotiable truth, God’s voice.

Jesus tells us that he alone is the Good Shepherd, and his own will hear his voice and come to him, in the midst of all these other voices. Let us always listen—and listen with a desire to obey—speak Lord, your servant hears”—the voice of the Good Shepherd. And remember these things about the voice of the Good Shepherd, the voice of God, that many times His voice comes to us in ways that are paradoxical:

  • The voice of God is recognized both in whispers and in soft tones, even as it is recognized in thunder and in storm.
  • The voice of God is recognized wherever one sees life, joy, health, color, and humor, even as it is recognized wherever one sees dying, suffering, conscriptive poverty, and a beaten-down spirit.
  • The voice of God is recognized in what calls us to what’s higher, sets us apart, and invites us to holiness, even as it is recognized in what calls us to humility, submergence into humanity, and in that which refuses to denigrate our humanity.
  • The voice of God is recognized in what appears in our lives as “foreign,” as other, as “stranger,” as “those lost, like sheep without a Shepherd”, even as it is recognized in the voice that beckons us home.
  • The voice of God is the one that most challenges and stretches us, even as it is the only voice that ultimately soothes and comforts us.
  • The voice of God enters our lives as the greatest of all powers, even as it forever lies in vulnerability, like a helpless baby in the straw of a Bethlehem manger.
  • The voice of God is always heard in privileged way in the poor, even as it beckons us through the voice of the artist, the poet, and the pure of heart.
  • The voice of God always invites us to live beyond all fear, even as it inspires holy fear.
  • The voice of is heard inside the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as it invites us never to deny the complexities of our world and our own lives.
  • The voice of God is always heard wherever there is genuine enjoyment and gratitude, even as it asks us to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and freely relinquish all the things of this world that hold us so tightly.