theunfamiliarname

Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

Homily for Easter 4A

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2014 at 2:02 am

On reflection it struck me

that I’ve been short-changing you on the “jokes” front lately. During the week I found

the self-described

“number one source of sheep related puns on the internet”, so here we go.

 

Now, a shepherd likes a quiet night.

When none of the sheep

need to be ushered back into the paddock.

At night, no ewes is good ewes.

 

If one does escape,

the shepherd will go and bring it back.

When it’s dark, that’s known as re-ewe-nighting.

Being so dark, some have suggested

re-ewe-nighting-lighting,

by using more rural lamb posts.

 

A “lamb post”, of course,

could be thought of in rambassadorial terms,

a sheep sent to the Ewe Ian (UN).

“Ian” is a very unusual name to give to a ewe, but still…

Sheep who have the opportunity to travel,

as North Otago’s history will attest,

prefer to do so by sea.

And of course,

they like to make sure everything is absolutely sheep shape.

 

I’ve got them all here, “The Wolf of Wool St”,

“Sheep of fools”, “woolly jumpers”,

“The Shaun Identity”

they start to get pretty weak after that.

 

You’ve made it this far, no doubt, by shear determination.

 

Well, the fourth Sunday in Easter each year

presents us with sheepy imagery.

This year, we have a glimpse of Jesus as Shepherd,

and by virtue of that,

the ancient image that we are somehow sheep-like.

But also that unique image of Jesus as the Gate.

 

Throughout John’s Gospel,

Jesus makes a series of profound “I am” statements.

The whole “I am” idea itself

points us back to the burning bush,

and Moses being told God’s name, “I am who I am”.

But Jesus chooses to reveal who he is to us

in these statements:

I am the living water

I am the bread of life

I am the Resurrection and the life, and others.

But this morning “I am the gate for the sheep.”

I don’t know about you, but the idea of a gate

doesn’t quite have the same poetry or profundity

as some of the other “I am” statements Jesus makes.

 

We know about gates.

They’re functional.

A bit rusty sometimes.

Some take more effort to shift or to shut

than they rightly deserve.

 

But Jesus isn’t comparing himself

to a farm gate as we know it,

he’s talking to farming people

who know about a different scale of stock to us,

where you know each one of the animals, by name,

and by names more meaningful than “Mint Sauce”.

Where the flock and the shepherd were an odd sort of family.

And the shepherd was, quite literally, the gate.

 

At night, when the flock was gathered up,

it was pastured somewhere safe,

where wolves and thieves couldn’t pick them off.

And the shepherd made his bed across the entrance,

so if you wanted to get out or some sort of predator

wanted to get in, the shepherd would know about it.

That’s the image Jesus uses.

“I am the gate for the sheep”.

 

Protection. Knowledge. Care.      If we’re sheep,

and that’s the image the Bible uses for us, often,

we are offered a place where we can be safe,

and if we stray or if predators come near,

we’re told that Jesus

is in that place of encounter or danger with us.

 

God in Jesus our Shepherd is with us in all these things.

Beside still waters,

in the valley of the shadow of death,

in the presence of our foes,

in Christ Jesus, God is there. The gate.

Making it meaningful, making it bearable, making it holy.

 

Illuminating all of it with resurrection light.

 

Like last week on the road to Emmaus,

Jesus is alongside us.

When all seems dark and done-with,

Jesus opens the gate of glory.

We are an Easter people.

We are standing in resurrection light today,

but in a very real sense

we’re still dealing with the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Jesus the Shepherd, the Gate

is there to make sure nothing fearful interrupts

our going out and our coming in.

 

There’s nothing unreliable or mis-hanging about this gate,

and we can trust for ourselves

and for those we place in God’s hands

that the pathway to God’s eternity

and the gate to God’s glory and light and love

is held open for us by the Saviour who has journeyed through all pain and passion to declare emphatically

that God-is-with-us, Emmanuel,

and that as he lives, we shall too.

 

The sheep of his flock, the people of his pasture.

Life, and in abundance. Today, and into eternity.

Easter 2A

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2014 at 10:41 pm

These things did Thomas count as real:
the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone,
the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.

The vision of his skeptic mind
was keen enough to make him blind
to any unexpected act
too large for his small world of fact.

His reasoned certainties denied
that one could live when one had died,
until his fingers read like Braille
the markings of the spear and nail.

May we, O God, by grace believe
And thus the risen Christ receive,
whose raw, imprinted palms reach out –
and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

Words by US poet and Professor Thomas Troeger.

 

His namesake – Thomas, Doubting Thomas,

is with us every Low Sunday.

He claims a space for us and those moments

when we wonder if last Sunday really happened.

When it seems just too hard to believe,

to set aside the perverse, reliable, comfort of hurt

or sheer rock solid refusal

to trust what someone else is saying.

Thomas missed the boat last week,

absent when the Risen Lord appeared that evening,

suddenly there in the midst of gathered, frightened disciples,

themselves apparently unconvinced

by Mary Magdalene’s testimony and Easter morning encounter.

Thomas missed that moment, and wasn’t going to have

a bar of this belief in something he could not touch.

Not even willing to engage in any sort of meaning

beyond the tactile, flesh and blood of reality.

Perhaps a bit like the slightly joyless – it seemed to me –

woman I heard interviewed on the radio this week,

who writes books for children

debunking fairytales from a scientific perspective.

Now it’s a week later, for Thomas and for us,

the first day of the week,

and now also the mystical eighth day,

the Lord’s Day, the day of new creation, new life.

Thomas is there this time when Jesus stands in the disciples’ midst. And Jesus takes him at his word.

Touch, he says. See. Reach out.

Do not doubt but believe.

And it turns out Thomas doesn’t need to touch.

Not in a literal sense.

He needs to know.

To know for himself.

To let go of the narrative he’s drawn over Jesus’ last days:

You might remember that he says to the disciples

that in going to Lazarus at Bethany, they will die with him.

 

And now Thomas needs to write a new chapter

to the story of death and darkness,

the fate he was so sure was theirs.

The world as he saw it has indeed died.

And a new life, new possibilities

replace the implacable rock of doubt and death.

 

From this moment of recognition,

of faith and belief reborn,

comes the most profound and complete statement

of trusting faith we have in all the Gospels,

words that from Thomas,

the outsider to news of the Resurrection,

become the testimony of the whole Church:

“My Lord and my God!”

How often do we stand with Thomas,

imagining our story’s stuck?

Our new beginnings over with?

Too hurt, or grief-stricken or tired or intransigent

to let things be different.

To believe Good News.

To change, to let go of the safety of a well-nursed doubt,

or a past slight, or the harsh judgement of self and sin.

 

James K. Baxter writes of his own journey,

Love is the answer to the dark voices

Of the demons that trouble us when youth has gone,

Saying, “You fool, you have had your day

And wasted it.” The spirit of a spring morning

When the wind moves gently over the grass

Is enough to tell us that the stone at the door of the tomb

has been lifted.

 

Alleluia. Adonai.

 

It seems to me that Thomas takes a week

to roll the rock of all of that away

from his understanding of the tomb.

It seems of profound importance too

that Jesus knows Thomas’ need to come to terms

with what has been so wounded and so broken on the cross.

What was such weakness is now glorious victory.

What was shattered is remade and redemptive.

Now transformed, the wounds of love on Jesus’

hands and side are not denied by Jesus’ resurrection.

They are real, and they are what a God

who chooses to be one with us,

to wear our flesh and blood, carries

in Christ risen from the dead

as emblems of that love, its cost, and of its triumph.

 

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities worldwide

for people with intellectual disabilities, writes:

Jesus invites each one of us, through Thomas,
to touch not only his wounds,
but those wounds in others and in ourselves,
wounds that can make us hate others and ourselves
and can be a sign of separation and division.
These wounds will be transformed into a sign of forgiveness
through the love of Jesus
and will bring people together in love.
These wounds reveal that we need each other.
These wounds become the place of mutual compassion,
of indwelling and of thanksgiving.

We, too, will show our wounds
when we are with him in the kingdom,
revealing our brokenness
and the healing power of Jesus.