Good Shepherd Sunday

So much is promised today, this Good Shepherd Sunday:
every image, every metaphor,
every action, we hear in scripture today is a promise of life.

Peter raises Dorcas from the dead.
The Psalm proclaims God as our loving shepherd,
tending and caring, leading, and feeding,
accompanying us through the valley of the shadow of death.
Jesus speaks to his flock assuring them that those who know him
hear his voice, and that he himself dwells in God’s presence.
And in Revelation, in a magnificent hymn of praise to Christ,
we’re called by the angels singing to God
to come and gather with them round the throne,
to honor, love, praise, and live close in the shelter
in under that big tent, that canopy of God’s peace.

All the language of this day circles around
the promise of God’s presence in our lives,
no matter what;
not even death can divide us from
the life-giving power of God’s love.

What a week to hear these promises.
If there was ever a Sunday we needed to hear
the promises of God, this is one of those Sundays.

I don’t need to recount for you here,
on this beautiful morning by the sea,
all those events. I am sure that you
have been thinking about them as much
as I have.

And my most reverent best guess
about all of us, since you are a compassionate people,
is that our hearts have been with those
who were hurt, and with families who lost loved ones.
Our hearts may be with people close to us
who were near the events in Boston,
or who are still close to them.
Several members of our community work in Boston;
some in the city hospitals.
This week was difficult and painful for them, for all of us.

We come, then, this morning,
to gather round the Word, and the Table,
with whatever we bring today,
questions, hopes, grief, anger,
wonder, doubt, faith:
whatever it is,
we bring it.
We come to open ourselves to God,
with all that we carry, and to let go,
if only for an hour,
into holy rest, into Sabbath peace,
to remember the shelter of God’s presence always covers us.
We come to listen to the words of prophets and seers,
poets, and disciples, who love God so profoundly,
to listen to Jesus himself,
who is for us both Good Shepherd and Lamb of God.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…
No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

A few years ago, I preached on this Sunday, this Good Shepherd
Sunday about Lamb power, to borrow Barbara Rossing’s expression
—that is the power of Christ
to transform our world, not through violence, or anger,
or force, or domination, or tanks, or rifles, or bombs or handguns,
but through the inexorable, relentless tenderness of God’s
unbelievable, unbounded almighty love.

Lamb power—dear friends is what we saw this week,
when people came running to help,
instead of running away from danger.
They ran into it to offer help to everyone who was hurt.
Lamb power: the power of mercy and love,
when nurses and doctors work round the clock,
to save lives, when hundreds of people turn out to give blood,
when thousands of dollars are raised in a day to help
the medical costs for so many people in the One Fund.
That’s Lamb power.
Lamb power, too, happens when we return goodness for evil.
We saw saints everywhere this week, helping each other, regardless of
creed or color, or any other of the strange dividing walls we put up between us.
Mother Theresa said every act of love is an act of peacemaking.
And that is an answer to terror.

Some of us may have been in the city on Friday,
or know friends or relatives in Boston, Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge,
Watertown, Newton, all those people
who were asked to shelter-in-place.
Sometime on Friday, Bishop Mark Hanson,
our Presiding Bishop of the ELCA
sent a video out on the ELCA website.
He spoke of the first night of Easter,
when the disciples were gathered behind
locked doors, because they, too, were afraid.
And he reminded us, that it was exactly there,
in that room behind a locked door that Jesus came
to his disciples with the gift of peace.

Even in the midst of all these events,
Easter is still true, and the Lamb of God
does come and lead like a Good Shepherd
with gifts of peace, truth, and mercy.
Those disciples experienced then, on that Easter night,
and we experience now, the joyful exchange:
Our Lord brings peace, into our fear,
Our Lord brings comfort, into our sorrows,
Our Lord brings hope, into our despair.

There is a shelter greater than any shelter,
a shelter into which we are called.
The angels sing about it this morning
in our lesson from Revelation.

They speak of those who have come through the great ordeal,
who have come through great tribulation.
They speak of gathering in a multitude no one can count,
from every nation, tribe, language and peoples,
a multitude standing before the throne,
singing praises to the Lamb.

Here, John of Patmos writes,
they sing because they are free.
They are forgiven.
They are covered with mercy,
washed in love, washed in springs
of the waters of life.
Here the Lamb on the throne
will shelter them, he writes.
We live in the shelter of that almighty love,
an unending love.

We were asked this week,
to shelter-in-place,
for safety’s sake.
But the truth is, dear friends,
our true shelter is the Lamb of God,
who is the Good Shepherd.
We can shelter-in-place in the presence of God
and trust that in some wonderful mysterious,
astonishing way, we, too, are
gathered with angels round the throne,
whereever we are, in whatever circumstance.
We can shelter-in-place round the throne
and holy hope, holy praise goes with us:
Christ goes with us, that’s the promise.
Take shelter with him, now and always.
Come out from behind closed doors, out from behind fear,
into an Easter morning of hope and peace.

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