My first up-close-encounter with Jesus was the mosaic that hung above the drinking fountain at the Lutheran Day School I attended from first grade on. Every time I stopped to get a drink – between kick ball games or turns at the jump rope – there he was: looming above me surrounded by fluffy sheep with a lucky lamb in his arms, gazing down with a patient, loving look on his blue-eyed face. Jesus the Good Shepherd. [I don't have a picture of it but this one is close!]
I remember that mosaic every year when “Good Shepherd Sunday” rolls around … the Sunday in our lectionary cycle when our lessons focus on sheep and shepherds as icons of who God is for us and who we’re called to be for each other.
It is the Sunday when we hear the familiar words of perhaps-the-most-memorized and beloved passage in all of scripture: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
And it is the Sunday when we hear in the collect of the day -- the prayer that begins our worship -- not just the job description of Jesus as shepherd but our marching orders as sheep: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads ...
Follow where he leads.
A few years ago I was in Memphis and I was able to squeeze in a visit to the Civil Rights Museum – a moving and inspiring tribute to those who dared to dream of a nation where liberty and justice for all truly meant all. At the entrance to the museum is a striking sculpture of a spiral of human figures reaching high into the sky, each one standing on the shoulders of another – paying tribute to all those who have gone before and continue to support us as we carry on the struggle toward equality for all in this nation of ours.
Our brother +Gene Robinson has spoken of this very sculpture as an icon for the work we are about in the church and in the world as we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. This morning I remember one of those shepherds: Bishop John Krumm.
A former bishop of Southern Ohio, John Krumm retired here in the Diocese of Los Angeles and was active until his death in 1995. I’ll never forget when Bishop George Barrett – another giant of justice – climbed into the pulpit to begin his homily at Bishop Krumm’s funeral.
“John Krumm was never disillusioned by the church,” he said, stabbing his boney finger into the air for emphasis, “because John Krumm never had any ILLUSIONS about the church!”
And then went on to recount how he had served the church he loved ably and prophetically for nearly 60 years in ordained ministry during times of extraordinary change and challenge. And that’s the church I grew up in. It was a time when the sheep were scattered and the church was both paralyzed AND polarized over the last great schism that was going to split the church, destroy the Anglican Communion and (I think I’m right on this) destroy western civilization as we know it: the ordination of women.
John Krumm was in the forefront of that struggle – so my first awareness of him was as one of the list of those my Aunt Gretchen used to mutter about over Sunday dinner if -- in spite of my mother’s best efforts to steer the conversation elsewhere -- it ended up on church politics.
My Aunt Gretchen died with the “Save the 1928 prayer book” bumper sticker on her car and when I ran into her best friend Pat Reiman at a diocesan event after her death and my ordination, Pat said, “Gretchen would have been so proud … or at least I’d like to think she’d have come around by now.”
And I think she would have – come around by now – because one thing for sure: she’d have kept coming around. She wouldn’t have let anything drive her away from the church: even the church itself which sometimes seems to spend more time getting in its own way than it does getting on with it’s mission and ministry – when it gets so busy fussing that it forgets its foundation.
Which brings to mind the first hymn I ever memorized – all five verses!
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is his new creation by water and the word
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride
With his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.
“The Church’s One Foundation” is not any particular creed or doctrine or theology or agreement on who should be ordained to what … nope “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ our Lord.”
That’s the message I internalized as a junior choir member and it’s the message that has sustained me and sustains me still.
Bill Moyers describes it as the historic conflict between the religion of the priests and the religion of the prophets … of the tension between the religion about Jesus and the religion of Jesus.
“It was in the name of Jesus that a Methodist ship caulker named Edward Rogers crusaded across New England for an eight-hour workday. It was in the name of Jesus that Dorothy Day marched alongside autoworkers in Michigan, brewery workers in New York, and marble cutters in Vermont. It was in the name of Jesus that E.B. McKinney and Owen Whitfield stood against a Mississippi oligarchy that held sharecroppers in servitude. And it was in the name of Jesus that Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to march with sanitation workers who were asking only for a living wage.”
This is what it is to follow Jesus. This is both receiving and becoming the bread of life in and for the world. This is high calling we have been given as 21st century disciples of the Jesus who is still known to us in the breaking of the bread.
It is in the name of Jesus that the Sacred Resistance Movement has called us into the streets over these last weeks and months. For the Women's March in downtown Los Angeles and for subversive liturgies in our own Pasadena civic center. For Earth Day and the March for Science and for the May Day Workers' March.
It is in the name of Jesus our rector and others were arrested in acts of civil disobedience during Holy Week -- protesting the targeting and deportation of our immigrant neighbors. To stand with refugees and with Planned Parenthood and with LGBTQ youth.
And it is in the name of Jesus that we are mobilizing to oppose the legislation that would dismantle our healthcare system, strip millions of American of their health insurance and end protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
When we listen to the lesson from Acts appointed for this Sunday I wonder how it is possible for a preacher to hear those words of what it means to be the church -- to give to all because of their need ... not because of their ability to pay ... or co-pay ... how is it possible to hear that passage read on Sunday and not talk about what happened in Washington on Thursday.
As sheep whose job description is to follow Jesus, where Jesus is at this very moment is where the least, the lost and the marginalized are.
That sheep in Jesus' arms in the mosaic over the water fountain? In my imagination this morning that sheep is the 100th sheep ... the one Jesus left the other 99 to go get.
The one with the pre-existing condition.
The one who didn't have all the paperwork filled out.
The one who is still waiting for the immigration hearing in order to make his or her case.
The one who came out and was thrown out by his family and is living on the streets ... and Jesus comes and puts him over his shoulders and says "You are mine."
That is the Jesus we follow. That is the church we are called to be. A church whose one foundation is not a doctrine, a dogma or even a 501(c)(3) .. but whose foundation is Jesus Christ, our Lord ... the good shepherd of ALL the sheep.
Here's what our rector -- Mike Kinman -- had to say about what it is to follow Jesus in our day as Rogers and Day and King did in theirs:
"In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God. All things came into being through the Word."
The ultimate pre-existing condition is God, God who creates, redeems and sustains.
God who challenges and heals. God who breaks chains and obliterates binaries. The ultimate pre-existing condition is God.
No law can cast out this pre-existing condition.
No bill can stop God's healing power.
And God uses us -- all of us. Our hands, hearts, minds, and voices.
God uses all of us to be healers to each other.
So absolutely, let us flood the Senate switchboards.
Let us kill this abomination of a bill before it can strip health care from millions of people when we should be adding it to millions more.
But let us not fear.
Instead, let us commit to making sure no one among us goes without care.
Commit to caring ourselves for those abandoned by a government that is supposed to be by the people and for the people.
Commit to letting the pre-existing condition that is God flourish in all of us, flow through us.
If we put love first. If we let God love the world through us. There is enough."
The church OF Jesus is the church of enough.
And it is the church we need never be disillusioned by -- even as we pray for it to become all God would have us make it be.
Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her warThe sheep of other folds will all be gathered in together. There will be one flock and one shepherd. And the kingdom will have come on earth as it is in heaven – and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen. .
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore
Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blessed
And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.