Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

The Second Sunday after Easter, 2012

The Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Anglican Church, Lebanon, New Hampshire

 

 

Let us pray: Almighty God, who showest to them that are in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness; Grant unto all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's Religion, that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

Today is, of course, Good Shepherd Sunday. The gospel reading for today is a meditation on the qualities of the Good Shepherd. It is also a lesson for those of us who seek to be good shepherds for God's people. Being a good shepherd is a challenging task, but we are called to be nothing less. Jesus is our model; He gives His life for the sheep he loves and protects.

 

This past week, the church consecrated a new bishop. It is the bishop's task to be the shepherd, to shepherd a diocese, protecting the people in his care from all spiritual harm; giving of his life for their care, nurturance and protection. I have no doubt that Bishop John Vaughan has the precise qualities necessary to be a good shepherd to his people. I knew this well before his consecration. But then, last Thursday, I travelled to his parish outside Orlando, Florida. I was a witness to the way he cares for his flock. I observed him teach and present the faith in ways that people can understand it and apply it in their lives. And I was witness to their love and appreciation for him. There is not one soul in that parish that is not loved and cared for by their rector and, now, their bishop. This is as it must be in God's church. No soul in any parish should wonder if they are loved and cared for by their priest. And in St. Patrick's Church in Florida, there is no doubt whatsoever.

 

This ability to love and care for God's people is the most important quality a priest must possess. Greater than all knowledge of theology, more important than a detailed knowledge of the Bible, more necessary than even a comprehension of the fine points of liturgy, this is the necessary quality. A man of God must have that rare ability to know and love God and to demonstrate that love in his life and work among the people of his parish and diocese. It is crucial. And it is how we screen men for the service of God's church.

 

After leaving St. Patrick's Church early on Friday morning, I was driven to the airport in Orlando. There, I engaged in the time-honored airplane game. We all know the routine: check bags, get boarding passes, walk to the gate, sit, wait. We must be efficient to win at this game and I have learned how to empty pockets, remove shoes and whip off the pectoral cross in record time. I enjoy myself at the baggage check-in, where I am sometimes asked if I am carrying a firearm in my gun case. "It is a bishop's crozier," I tell them. And no one has ever opened the case to verify it. But after accomplishing all this, it is time for the gate. On Friday morning, I sat down in one of the few remaining seats at gate A 104. A family of five was seated across from me. The three children seemed to range in age from eight to twelve. They had obviously been to Disney World and wore the residue of their trip. Mickey Mouse was very much in evidence. But the Dad wore a Boston Red Sox cap and I felt an immediate kinship with him. I opened my book. It was Elaine Pagels' new book Called "Revelations." It is all about...well, you know what it's about. I began to read about John of Patmos and how his view of Christianity differed from that of St. Paul. Nothing surprising here, but it was good to review the material. Though I tried to focus on the book, I heard snatches of conversation from the family across from me. There were discussions about food and about the game the children were talking about playing. I was vaguely aware that food choices were being discussed and that the mother set off to locate the appropriate food at some restaurant. A game board was opened. Children began playing. I am not sure what game was being played, but it may have been that standard called "Chutes and Ladders." There were noises of excitement. Then, inevitably, there were shouts of anger and tears. The youngest child, a boy, picked up the game board and held it menacingly above the head of an older sister. Then, I heard another inevitable sound: "Dad, he's hitting me." Reading was no longer possible. I put the book away and decided that coffee might be a good idea. I whispered a silent prayer: "please let them sit far away from me on the plane." I expected to hear a standard lecture from the father. But he surprised me. "Ok, children," he said. "Time for a campfire." Curiously enough, the children got very quiet. They moved to a place where they sat on the floor in a semi-circle in front of their father. They were very still for a moment, then their father began to talk to them about the game. Did they want to play? They nodded. Yes, they did want to play. Did they know what was important about the game? They said: "winning." The father said they were right and explained that winning meant that everyone had a good time. 'When someone wins," he said, "you congratulate them. "When someone loses, you tell them 'better luck next time'" The children nodded their understanding. Then they practiced saying "congratulations" and "better luck next time." I couldn't believe what I was watching. I had never seen this campfire routine before, but I liked it a lot. The kids started their game again. They got pretty good at it, too. They congratulated each other, expressed concern when someone lost and seemed to have a great time.

 

I looked at the father. Red Sox fans are tops, I thought. I caught his eye and said: "You have great pastoral skills." "Thanks, Father," he said. "You suppose there's anything we can do for the Red Sox?" We decided that there is always next year.

 

The mother returned with the food. She looked at the kids playing quietly – and cooperatively. She gave her husband one of those rare and highly prized "attaboy" looks. They bumped knuckles in the way only those under thirty-five know how to do. My favorite Red Sox fan looked over at me and said: "He thinks I have great pastoral skills." The man's wife looked horrified for a moment. Then laughed. "Here's your tuna," she said. It was lunchtime.

 

The Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Yes, he will protect them with his life. But he also gives his life to them by his word and example. You can see the good shepherd because of how he loves and nurtures each sheep. As different as they may be, they are cared for.

 

On this particular day, we are reminded once again of Jesus, the good shepherd of us all, who teaches us, who heals us, and who ultimately gives His life for us in so many ways. That we may truly live.

 

 

Let us pray: O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.