17 Apr 2016
“‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.’” (John 10:28) In the name …
I think a lot of you know that I drive a lime-green Ford Fiesta, and even if you didn’t maybe you know that the Fiesta is a pretty small car. The Fiesta has had a recall because of a glitch in its transmission. I’ve been waiting since December for the part to arrive in Greenfield because there has been such a back log due to the fact that so many cars needed repair, but this past Wednesday they finally fit me in. Greenfield Ford was very nice about it all and they set me up with a rental vehicle while my car was in their shop, but there was another complication. I guess the airbags in a bunch of Hondas and Toyotas have also led to a huge number of recalls for them too. This has meant that the rental agencies have been struggling to keep up with demand. So while my Fiesta was in the garage, they sent me home in a gargantuan Ford F150 pick-up truck, with a Tennessee license plate no less. If you remember last Sunday’s sermon, I was making fun of the fact that Tennessee had named the Bible their official state book along with some sniper rifle as their official state rifle. I felt silly driving in that truck blasting my Classical music. Scrawny priest in his collar driving around in that big rig – people must have been laughing. I couldn’t wait to get my Fiesta back.
That I felt silly driving that gigantic truck, however, has absolutely nothing to do with someone else loving their truck, and maybe even thinking that driving around in a little, lime green car would be silly for them. What feels comfortable for one person isn’t necessarily true for the other. What appeals to you may not appeal to me, and vice-versa. But this in no way or manner has to imply that one person’s choice is better or worse than the other person’s. Now this may be a trivial example of little cars and big trucks, but it can play out in the same way for more significant choices, as well. Preference does not have to be zero-sum game where my preference denies yours. Different preferences can stand side-by-side and even compliment each other.
And that’s how I would like to approach this morning’s Gospel of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. On this Third Sunday after Easter every year, we read one segment of this beautiful passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus tells us that there is one shepherd and one flock regardless of diffences. In today’s reading we hear that the Good Shepherd leads us and gives us “eternal life,” and that “No one can take them out of my hand.” In other words, it is the will of Jesus that we be saved, even if that had to mean dying on the cross and then resurrecting and coming back to us. What more could we dare ask of Him? What more could He do? Yesterday one of the teachings of Bp. Hodur that I highlighted was this very thought. In the 1914 Confession of Faith of our church, we say collectively: “I believe in immortality and everlasting happiness in eternity, in the union with God of all people, races and ages, because I believe in the divine power of love, mercy and justice, and for nothing else do I yearn, but that it may be to me according to my faith.” Our hope of universal salvation is not based principally upon individual merit. It is based on the nature of our God and of a Saviour who chooses to call Himself the Good Shepherd of us all.
With this in mind, try to imagine the scene presented to us this morning from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul has been sent out by the risen Jesus to preach the gospel all over the Roman Empire. As was his custom, he first visits the local synagogue to share with them the message of Jesus. He then branches out to the entire community of whichever city he visits. No one is excluded from the invitation to believe. And then the selection ends with the words: “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (13:52) Their joy is based on the fact that they are recognized, appreciated and welcomed into the arms of the Good Shepherd. Too many religions professed a God so holy that He was scary. Such gods were locked into temple-fortresses to protect the ordinary people from actually coming into contact with God. When the earliest church preached instead of Jesus the Good Shepherd, of a God who sought out contact with the people He loved, of a God rather than fearful who would sacrifice Himself because of His unconditional love for everybody, they believed with joy.
Exclusion was not part of the earliest Christian vocabulary. Remember that Jesus accepted the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sick and the broken, the poor and the grieving. Remember that He extended the invitation to follow Him as well to the rich and the connected. He invited women and children to come close. And then the resurrected Jesus ordered His church to do the same everywhere to everyone. This is that “divine power” that we hope-in as National Catholics.
Tomorrow we celebrate Patriots Day and the fight that began in Lexington and Concord in 1775 for the idea that every person counts. On Friday we observe Earth Day and the message that for as varied as we humans are, we are tasked with the responsibility of being stewards of the same, small planet that we all share. Tie this together with the Gospel message of the Good Shepherd who cares for everyone, and we can see that our sacred duty as church, as nation, as human beings on this same small blue dot of a planet is to welcome not exclude, to fight and work for community among all sorts of people and against the rush to divide, separate and deport because of differences, and then just maybe we will have found the ingredients to bring together faith and joy. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo