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Sunday April 21, 2002
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Mead

A Safe and Nurturing Pasture

I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday because of the tradition of having one of the Gospels read in which Jesus speaks of us as his sheep and himself as the Good Shepherd. He contrasts his ministry with those of leaders whom he calls thieves and robbers whose purpose is to devour, to kill or to destroy.

There have been “wolves” in every generation, before Jesus and after him, but the horrific scandals currently rocking our Roman Catholic brethren over sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy are now in all our minds. All clergy and all the churches are judged and put on notice by the revelation of this terrible betrayal of trust. This is a warning from the Lord to do everything we can to be vigilant against such sin and crime among all our “shepherds,” clergy and lay leaders as well.

The great majority of clergy in every church, including the Roman Church, are conscientious ministers of God, but we must all see to it that we are diligent to keep the charge that has been given to us as a sacred trust at our ordinations.

The Good Shepherd gospel readings are from John, but in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus speaks directly to this issue of pastoral care, for both children and adults in the church. I want to read it at some length.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [or stumble], it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin [or stumbling blocks]! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (See Matthew 18:1ff; Mark 9:42ff; Luke 17:1ff)

The Good Shepherd wonderfully exercises his ministry among his sheep by being himself the Lamb of God. That means he is gentle, innocent, pure, loving and trusting, like the little child he placed in the disciples’ midst to show what it means to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus identifies with that child.

The Lamb of God who is our Good Shepherd is childlike. He is not childish. The child should draw from us all that is true, good, honorable, kind, gentle, virtuous and of good report. When not only the leaders, but also the members of the flock, follow this pattern, then the Church truly resembles the Body of Christ and shows herself to be his Bride, the nurturing Mother of the faithful, both children and adults.

Jesus said he is the door of the sheepfold. This church is supposed to be a sheepfold, where the flock of God go in and out and find “pasture.” Among the sheep are not only vulnerable children, but adults who believe and need care as well. These all are the “little ones” Jesus speaks of. I was struck by the words of a priest friend of mine preaching on this Sunday to his suburban congregation almost twenty years ago:

“We’re all fine and healthy, right? Wrong. We all live rich, purposeful, satisfying lives, free from heartache and alienation and sorrow, right? Wrong. We’re not like those city churches full of lonely, isolated strangers who don’t know their neighbor, right? Wrong. Look at the statistics. Half this parish is made of the single, the widowed, the divorced. And those who are married and have families: they all live in what the Prayer Book calls ‘havens of blessing and of peace,’ right? You answer the question! “We’re a mess: some of us all of the time; all of us some of the time. Which makes us just like every other congregation…” (Edward Garrigan, Comfortable Words, pp. 66-67.)

Sounds like a big city church to me. In any case, that describes all of us, doesn’t it?

Dearly beloved, you hear me say it over and over, but it bears constant repeating. Through the door of Saint Thomas come multitudes every week that comprise our great wider aggregation of attendees. Within that great aggregation, it is our mission to invite people into our active, participating congregation.

I usually say this at Every Member Canvass time, when we invite people to take the significant step of pledging to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School. But today we need to define the inner life of that congregation into which we want to draw people.

The church must be a safe and secure place for Christ’s “little ones” of all ages. The little ones who enter through the door come in all shapes and sizes. If they are to find the pasture spoken of by Jesus, then his shepherds must teach his doctrine, administer his discipline, and uphold his worship: “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The Good Shepherd’s pasture should be a safe and nuturing place, a place where sinners are welcomed while sin is resisted! Christ forgave sinners; he did not acquiesce in their sins. In a word, the Church is in Christ’s business of redemption, and the peace and joy of that good work must be tasted and seen in the life of the flock. With God’s help this grace will shine in every corner of Saint Thomas Church and Choir School.

The role of the clergy in fostering the life of this congregation is obvious, which is why, frail as we are, we try our best to be the Lord’s subordinate good shepherds. Like all disciples, we ourselves are being “ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven” by Christ. Our shepherding involves comforting others with the same comfort we receive from Jesus Christ, of loving the flock just as we have been loved by Jesus. In this ministry, we enlist (actually, God calls) all the rest of you, to exercise throughout the congregation the ministry of peace, love and reconciliation.

Let this ministry start at the door, and go to the pews, the altar, the parish house, the Choir School, the Sunday school, the Soup Kitchen, and all our activities. I mean let Christ be everywhere in this sheepfold, the sinless Lamb of God who truly is the Good Shepherd of the flock. Let the devil be opposed and the wolf turned away: “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered!” Yea, rather may Christ arise within our inmost thoughts, be seen on our faces, heard in the tone of our voices, expressed in our words, and seen in all that we do. Saint Thomas Church and Choir School belongs to Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, to whom we will give account, beginning in this life and finishing in the world to come.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.