Yesterday our parish was blessed with a visit by our Metropolitan (our bishop). Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta tries to visit all his communities through the year, which keeps him on the road a lot. But yesterday was our turn and it was a wonderful day.
But it is always a treat to have him with us. Why do you think that is? Besides being a gracious man, and a good preacher, there was something more fundamental to the pleasure of his visit: our shepherd was with his sheep. There is something comforting, safe, and fulfilling when this occurs. At least that’s what I experienced yesterday.
And it isn’t a mistake. There is a reason our Lord Jesus uses the analogy of shepherd and sheep and flock to describe relationships in the Body of Christ. It has to do with something deeper than mere “standard operating procedures” or “effective and productive management systems.” To be sure, we should be effective, and we should adopt productive and efficient management procedures. But that, all too often, can reduce a community to a corporation and dehumanize the whole community. Which then falls into the “black hole” of mere efficiency, rather than the deeper and more satisfying human relationships with their warmth, their deep connection, their love, and yes, even their risk of pain and disappointment. I guess the old saying “it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” has some merit.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, the Lord Jesus makes this analogy again. In John 10:9-16 the Lord says “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”
This deeper path of “shepherd and sheep” versus the all-too-often corporate model of so much of American Christianity of “chief operating officer and customers” creates a more healthy connection and actually fulfills the analogies of the Church that both the Lord and St. Paul uses throughout the New Testament. Analogies like “shepherd and sheep,” “the body of Christ,” “brothers and sisters,” “the family of God.” All those word pictures calls us to a more profound and even more risky love for one another.
But that risk, that profound truth, is meant to be just like it is: hard! It’s hard work building trust. It’s hard work assuming the best in another. It’s hard work looking past another’s faults and seeing Christ within them. It’s hard work, and it’s hard work every day!
However, look what this hard work produces. It creates a new community, a new humanity that is in the process of pressing out the radical love of God that He always shows us into the relationships we have around us.
If we start to actually believe this and live this way, this will radically transform our small attitudes and actions when we think of “Church.” And, dear one, we need this radical transformation in our lives and in our communities. And when we stumble and fail, this radical (actually this is the “normal”) attitude toward “Church” will also lead us to the gift and healing of confession where reconciliation is given to all who honestly seek it.
Today, what is your attitude toward “Church? Is it just a place to feel a little nostalgia? Is it just a place that is designed to “meet my needs?” Or is the Church not only a place you go but who you are? As you’ve heard me say many times “Go to Church” but don’t forget to always allow the truth that YOU are the Church to shape everything you think about your community. The truth is I much prefer being a “father” in a community to being merely the “preacher.” Church was meant to be more than one more appointment in your week. It was meant to be a shepherd leading his flock, and it was meant to be a flock loving it’s shepherd and each other in a mutual dependent community focused on Christ.