Good Shepherd Sunday

By the Rev Adolfo Moronta (8 am)

Intro: God as the shepherd and we as the sheep represents one of the Bible’s more beautiful images. Today Jesus brings us back to the Good Shepherd saying: “My sheep hear my voice.” Furthermore, todays readings from Acts reminds us that Faith is a central part of our day today lives and that we should be open to reach out to others in all circumstances.

Good morning brothers and sisters in Christ!

Today, like every Sunday, God through his words, gives us a message of hope and encouragement that he is and will remain by our side – always.

Today we are celebrating the feast of the Good Shepherd. God as the shepherd and we as the sheep represents one of the Bible’s more beautiful images, and it was one that was easily understood by the people of biblical Israel. As people who do not live around agriculture, we do not know as much about shepherds. The shepherd is responsible for his flock. In reality, being a shepherd is a very arduous job. Shepherds must live with, care for and lead their sheep. They must fend of attacks of wild animals. And leading sheep might mean knocking them in line from time to time. That is why a shepherd has a staff.

We like to use the image of a good shepherd and think of Jesus voice lovingly calling to his sheep—or even calling to us. A good shepherd does not walk behind the flock beating them with a stick to keep them moving. He walks in front of them, seeking out a safe path to food, water and shelter. The sheep gently follow him, because they recognize his voice, and they trust him.

I wonder if Jesus wanted to conjure up an image of him lovingly call his followers or if he really thought he need to take his staff to knock them into line on occasion. Did he think of them as foolish and just like sheep, in need of a lot of care and guidance?

Now, the shepherd and sheep metaphor has its limitations. Truth be known, sheep are not the smartest animals and they will blindly follow. They are also easily spooked and have been known to follow their leader almost anywhere, including off a cliff. However, if they are caroled and trained they can move together and be moved effectively.

Unlike sheep, we have intelligence and we make choices, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Make no mistake about it, following Jesus is a choice that we have to make daily in our lives. Nonetheless, I still think the image of the shepherd illuminate the reality that we must make the choice to follow. Like the shepherd, Jesus is always there if we seek him out. When we face difficult problems or a personal or family crisis, the presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd reassures us that we are not abandoned, that Jesus is supporting and holding us up.

I think this image of the good shepherd is why Psalm 23 is probably the most well- known and often read in the Bible. There’s the image again — “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. I’m led to green pastures and still waters; my soul is restored. I’m comforted even in the face of danger or death. Then, there is the ultimate blessing – a life of righteousness and – in the end – a table is prepared for me to dwell forever with God. What is required of us sheep? – Faith.

Faith is central to our reading from Acts this morning about the disciple Peter and a woman named Tabitha. Now Tabitha was not just a follower of Christ, she also made an enormous impact on her community, always doing kind things for others and helping the poor by making coats and garments. In this story from Acts, Tabitha died but Peter came to her deathbed and brought her back to life. When the news of her rising became known, we are told that “many now believed in the Lord.”

This lesson is very special to me. Since my mother’s name is Tabitha and, like her namesake in the Bible, my mother is a devoted follower of Jesus. Two years ago my mother began to gradually loose her voice. Despite my pleas and those of my brothers, my mother resisted going to the doctor believing she would soon be her old self again. (little did she know that she was wrong). When she finally did seek medical advice, a biopsy revealed she had cancer in her vocal chords.

On hearing that news, I was terrified. I never cried as I much as I did on that day. For me, cancer was equal to a death sentence especially since my mother’s sister had died of the same illness. In front of my mother I remained strong, but the reality was that I was crying inside.

My mother was given two choices. One was to have her voice box and vocal chords removed and never speak again. My mother chose the other option which was treatment with radiation. My mother told the doctor “you do your job so that my father will give me my voice back.” The doctor asked is your father a doctor and she responded my father is more than a doctor he is God!

Just as Peter prayed for Tabitha, all three of my congregations prayed for my mother and I celebrated the Eucharist on her behalf. The reading tells us that Tabitha stood up and life came back into her through the power of faith and prayer, and that is exactly what happened a year later to my mother.

After the radiation sessions were over, the doctor examined my mother and declared her cancer free. In that moment, she fell on her knees and said “the Lord has fulfilled his promise to me.” Not only she was healed but also her voice was eventually fully restored.

Now the skeptic might attribute my mother’s recovery solely to science and medicine. I would certainly agree that we can be thankful for the technology and fine doctors who treated my mother. But we would be missing so much if we do not acknowledge God’s hand in all this.

During our time of trial, my mother and family chose the same path, we cried out to the Lord for help and at the same time we were putting her in the hands of the best possible doctors we could find in New York. The doctors told my mother that she was not going to be able to speak again but now she is talking more than ever since she is sharing with everyone the miracle Jesus – in his infinite mercy – did in her life.

At one time or another, each one of us here is going to walk through that valley of the shadow of death either for ourselves, a friend, or loved one. We can face it alone or we can face it with God. Only with God are we guaranteed, in the words of the psalm, “goodness and mercy … all the days of our lives”, and no matter the ultimate outcome – that we will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Our faith will make this possible.

Jesus in the scriptures says: “I will be with you every day until the end of the time”. This means you are not alone; we are not alone. No matter what you’re going through God will make you victorious. Faith is necessary to achieve all things. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul says: “Faith is what makes real the things we hope for” and “without faith, it is impossible to please God”. Thus, you have the power in your hands to change any situation through prayer, through believing and trusting in the almighty.

This is a theology you can literally bet your life on. But I believe there are simple ways we can manifest our faith in our daily lives. We should continually ask ourselves and others: what can I do? How can I help? How can I make someone happy? How can I help change in a positive way someone’s life or situation? What can the Lord do through me?

In today’s gospel, Jesus brings us back to the Good Shepherd saying: “My sheep hear my voice” Today Jesus’s voice is saying it’s time to reach out to others. It was through Peter’s words of faith that a miracle happened in Tabitha’s life. This shows us the power of words. Words like “I love you”, “you are beautiful”, “you are important to me”, “I believe in you” always bring out the best in us.

What a tragedy and a missed opportunity if we fail to express our love and faith to those around us. Don’t wait until it is too late. Take a minute and think of the last time you told your spouse, child, friend or relative that you loved them and expressed how much they meant to you? Such feelings need to be spoken often and meaningfully.

As we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, let us pray to the Lord that we may be His good sheep, listening attentively to His voice, and following His example of self-giving love. Jesus our Shepherd is the Way, Truth and Life. He is the one who goes after the lost sheep leaving the ninety-nine to bring it back to the fold.  God our Father is the true Good Shepherd. He is present everywhere watching over all creatures! His care is for everyone and his Love has no limit.  He watches over each of his children with equal care! All that he desires is that we go to him, in Christ, in order that we too might be one with him.

 

To God be the glory now and forever.