Presiding bishop preaches in Durham, North Carolina

June 17, 2013

El Buen Pastor, Durham, NC
Diocese of North Carolina
16 June 2013

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Has anyone here ever worked as a shepherd, or known someone who did?  My husband and I kept goats for a long time, but never sheep.  We did get to know a shepherd one summer in Nevada.  We never actually saw him, but we did see the messages he carved on trees as he followed the sheep:  Antonio Hidalgo, peruano, borreguero, con muchos cojones y poco dinero.[1]

This congregation is named for a shepherd, the one who is shepherd of us all, and indeed of all humanity.  We’ve seen lots of pictures of him in clean white robes with a shining lamb on his shoulders.  The actual work of a shepherd is a lot dirtier and bloodier than that.  It’s hard and dangerous work, and sometimes even boring.  That image of a good shepherd is even older than Jesus.  It’s older than David, who was also a shepherd like our Peruvian friend, both of them poets who left their mark on the world.

David was a shepherd boy with a lot of older brothers who seemed like much better possibilities to be king after Saul.  But Samuel chose the youngest, still out in the wilderness tending the sheep.  David is famous for taking on the big bully in the neighborhood with only his slingshot.  He certainly had courage – and not much money – at that stage in his life.

Yet when David became king of Israel, it seems power went to his head.  He walked out on his balcony one day and saw a beautiful woman taking a bath in her garden.  He seduces her and then sends her husband the soldier off to the front lines to be killed.  Then he married Bathsheba.  We never get to hear whether she thought that was a good idea or not.  It was an act of royal power – or the act of a bully, like Goliath.

Nathan the prophet comes to visit and challenges King David for acting like a wolf instead of a shepherd.  David begins to remember who he is and what his vocation is supposed to be.  He recognizes the evil he’s done and repents.  That is the beginning of healing – turning in the right direction, toward a holier relationship with God and neighbor.  Nathan is the one acting as shepherd here, leading the king back into healthy pasture.

The psalm we read remembers an image of God as shepherd, as one who guides people in the right ways.  It’s speaking to God as a shepherd:

8 You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.” [2]

Some shepherds can guide their sheepdogs with their eyes, directing them to move the sheep in one direction or another.  A shepherd who knows the sheep very well might do it directly, and an effective shepherd can certainly keep the sheep nearby without tying them up.

The gospel story is also about the work of shepherds.  The Pharisee who invites Jesus to dinner hasn’t done a very good job of shepherding, however.  He hasn’t offered his guest any water for washing, or oil for anointing, or even a hospitable greeting.  But a wandering sheep comes to the table and does the shepherd’s job.  She is simply a woman of the city – a sinner, like every other sheep in town – and she comes to tend a weary lamb.  Her tears rain down on Jesus’ feet, and she uses her hair for a towel, like the wool of a sheep.  She brings balm for Jesus’ head – the Greek word is the same as the one for myrrh, used for anointing dead bodies.  She has washed and dried and anointed the lamb of God.  She has already done this act of shepherding when Jesus tells her that her wandering, her sin, has been set right.  She is on the right path again.  And then he tells her to go in peace.

The other guests grumble at Jesus for “sending her sins away.”  Somehow they seem to think people ought to stay in their place – especially a place they can judge as sinful.  But the good shepherd is always working to get people turned around and on the right road.  He sends the woman away – to take the road to the reign of God, to the heart of God, the road home.  Jesus’ early followers actually called their new community “the road” or ”the way” in the same way that Exodus is about the road out of slavery.  The Jesus road leads home.

The next thing we hear is that Jesus is on the road again as well, telling people about the good news of the kingdom of God – another way of talking about that healed world, at home and at peace in God.  Jesus has quite a flock with him on the road – 12 apostles, women who’ve been healed, and other women who are supporting the whole group.  These women are feeding and sheltering and shepherding the whole group.  The word that’s used in Greek says it is diaconal ministry.

Several of you were present yesterday when the church called a new shepherd.  Her name is Anne, and she is a new bishop in your midst, who will assist in this shepherding work.  You will find that, like Bishop Curry and Bishop Marble, she is very clear that she is one of the sheep as well.

We’re all sheep, and we’re all meant to be shepherds as well.  This flock of sheep travels the Jesus road together, and we share the serving ministry. This kind of shepherding is what good parents offer their children – and today we celebrate the shepherding work of all the fathers among us.  What you’re doing at el Centro Comunitario MOAR[3] is shepherding – and you’re doing it as you gather the community here on summer nights to eat and play soccer on the grass together.  You’re gathering a Jesus flock as you teach children and feed hungry people and teach and learn in both English and Spanish and computer languages.

We have the same good shepherd, who invites us all to share the shepherding work.  The psalmist – maybe David – gives us an image of what it’s like to know God as our shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long[4].

Jesus tells us to shepherd others.  We are sheep of his fold, and we are shepherds for others – forgiving as we have been forgiven, washing feet and anointing, and feeding the hungry with good things.  It doesn’t require riches, only the courage of a loving heart, a heart that knows its home is with the great good shepherd of us all.  Like the woman of the city who bathed Jesus’ feet, we, too are sent out in peace, restored to the right road, gathering others with us on the same journey.  Go in peace, and be a shepherd – a good shepherd.

[1] Antonio Hidalgo, Peruvian, shepherd, with plenty of guts but no money.

[2] Ps 32:8-10

[3] Community Center Monsignor Oscar Anulfo Romero

[4] Psalm 23