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Archive for April, 2012

Shepherding

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Psalm 23:1

We don’t see many shepherds here in the United States, at least not in New England!  So to hear that God/Jesus is the shepherd who guides us, loves us, walks with us, protects us, cares for us, etc. needs some shepherding image to help us understand the impact of that kind of nurturing.

One of the most obvious shepherding images is with our parents, as long as they have been good parents and not abusive, unloving, or absent.  Parents who love their children in healthy ways are willing to give their life for their child and try to protect that child from anything or anyone who might harm him or her.  Good parents do the very best they can for their children, including disciplining them, teaching them right from wrong, listening to them, providing for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  We have to concede that, as human beings, our parents – all of them – made mistakes or didn’t “do the job” perfectly.  But then, they ARE human, and the DID try.

The only perfect shepherd is God.  Of course, there are many who might disagree with me because their experience of God has been less than wonderful.  So many want proof in some “Harry Potter magic” type of way, but the image of God as a shepherd is earthy, tangible, and of the common things of our world.  That is where we need to look for God.

Another image of the shepherd is pastors, teachers, and leaders in the church.  Obviously, they also are human beings with their own flaws and foibles, and many have seriously damaged the emotional and spiritual state of others.  Too often, ego gets in the way, and power struggles catch innocent bystanders who are just trying to be faithful in the crossfire.  Jesus as the good shepherd provides us with a confident, yet humble attitude where the well-being of the flock is what is most important.

In the John passage, it is clear that there is a strong bond and loving connection between the shepherd and the sheep.  In a church, the same kind of bonding can happen when the leader is confident in his or her relationship with God, humble enough to point to God (not self), and loving toward their congregation members.  When the welfare of the congregation and their spiritual health is a priority, good things happen, and God is clearly visible and at work through the ministry of that church.

It’s an interesting reflection!  When we claim, “The Lord is my shepherd” are we willing to follow?  Are we willing to listen?  Are we willing to take direction and guidance?  The Shepherd knows what is best for us and has our best interests at heart.  The Shepherd knows us by name, loves us enough to die for us.  What a wonderful Savior we have in the Good Shepherd!  Amen?  Amen!

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Sharing Joy

“You are witnesses of these things.”  Luke 24:48

     This is already the third Sunday after Easter, and we continue to read the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in the scriptures.  Sunday’s reading is Luke 24:36-48, and the reading just before it is the story of the Road to Emmaus.  Both appearances were surprises to those who encountered the risen Christ, and both ended with great joy.

In the Road to Emmaus story, Jesus suddenly appears walking with two disciples, and they don’t recognize him.  He seems to not know about the events concerning his death, and they tell him what happened and how devastated they were.  As he answered, he opened their minds and taught them the scriptures and how the prophetic teachings were being fulfilled.  When they broke bread together, they finally recognized him, and he vanished.

Hurrying back to Jerusalem, they start telling the rest of the disciples about their experience, and Jesus is suddenly standing there with them.  They could hardly believe it, and he spent time proving to them that he was flesh and bone, including eating something.  He needed to convince them that he wasn’t a ghost but a real body that had been raised from the dead.

Followers of Jesus needed to be sure of what they saw.  They needed to be convinced so they would not have doubts about sharing their experience with others.  They had to be convinced AND convincing.  Apparently it worked!  Look at the thousands of followers who believed and shared their experience of Jesus with others!

As time passed, the “eye witnesses” died off, and there seemed to be only stories to share, but if that’s really all it was, then I suspect the Christian religion would have died out long ago.  Stories help people to know more about Jesus, but there still needs to be some kind of personal relationship with him.  In order to be a witness to others, we need to have Christ in our hearts.  With the so-called “invisible” God and equally invisible Son and Holy Spirit, people today are far more skeptical than even the disciples in our scripture passage.

So how do we share the joy of knowing and loving Christ with others?  Maybe we struggle to hang onto faith ourselves, or maybe they are just too resistant to heaing the “good news” of God’s love in Christ.  It’s a hard thing to witness to someone who doesn’t want to hear what we have to say.

It seems to me that our actions often speak volumes before we ever say a word.  St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel to all the world; use words if necessary.”  There are times when we need to speak and when we will have the opportunity to share our words.  Those are valuable and inspiring.  But sometimes we witness through our lives in the way we treat others, in the words we choose to say, in the overall way we live our lives.  People can see when we are kind, compassionate, tolerant, caring and loving.

We are witnesses as we grow in our own faith journeys, as we seek a closer relationship with God, and as we live our faith in the world.  Faith is a verb, not a noun!  Let us live it so all will see Christ in us!

Doubting

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  John 20:29b

     The scripture for this coming Sunday is often read following Easter, and it is about one of the disciples named Thomas.  Interestingly, because Thomas demanded proof that Jesus was really raised from the dead, he has commonly been nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.”  I think this is unfair to him, and it also gives us the wrong impression about doubt that comes naturally to us in our journeys of faith.

Thomas wasn’t the only one who wanted proof.  Earlier in the John 20 passage, Jesus appeared to the other disciples and showed them his hands and side so they would believe it was really him.  Throughout scripture we find people asking for proof, and who can blame them.  In our 21st century mindset, we need to have everything proven to us.  We rationalize that there is a reason for everything, and I have often heard that used as a way of “explaining” unusual events in our lives or things that happen to us that we can’t figure out.  Someone will say, “There’s a reason for everything.”

That always makes me a little uncomfortable.  Why does there have to be an explanation?  The mystery of God is truly that – a mystery.  We can’t explain God’s actions.  There are times in our lives that we can’t explain what happens to us.  The “why’s” are often left unanswered.  I joke with our Bible study group that I have a list of questions I want to ask when I get to heaven, and the list keeps getting longer and longer.  But I also believe that, by the time I get there, that list won’t matter anymore.

Doubt comes when we can’t explain – at least to our own satisfaction – the actions or lack of actions by God.  I’m not sure we are supposed to be able to explain them.  Faith is acceptance and trust that God knows what is best for us and continually guides us that direction.  Needing proof is a “throw-down.”  Do we really think that God will accept the throw down and provide proof?  Well, it certainly can happen, but not because of our challenge to God.

I think doubting, as frightening as it can be, is good for us.  The challenge of doubt is that we have to work through what it is that’s “bugging” us.  It forces us to figure out what we do believe, and we come out stronger on the other end for having gone through the process of dealing with the doubt.  When we give up trying to explain everything and let go, trusting that God DOES exist and is trustworthy, we have moved to a new place in our relationship with God and on our faith journeys.

There is a story about a person who hated to see a caterpillar struggle to emerge from its cocoon, so that person snipped off the end of the cocoon.  When the caterpillar came out, it wasn’t able to fly because it was in the struggle of getting out of the cocoon that the wings of the newly born butterfly were strengthened so it COULD fly.  Often the easy way isn’t always the best way.  Our struggling through doubt can strengthen us and help us to fly – metamorphosis!

The next time we begin to doubt, it might be good to just go with the flow.  Ask ourselves questions that will help us work through the questioning, and trust that God won’t abandon us in the process, even if we abandon God!  That’s the promise we have forever – God is with us; God loves us; and God will not abandon us.  Thanks be to God!

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