Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

Septuagesima, 2014
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, Lebanon

Let us Pray:
O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Second Sunday after Easter. We hear in St. John's Gospel that Jesus said: "I am the Good Shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." The good shepherd gives his life. It is the life of Jesus Christ that is given for his sheep. We know this. We know the sacrifice that is made for us. The good shepherd has given his life for the sheep. But in a very real and profound sense, that gift continues; the life that is given is given over and over again. The life given by the good shepherd is continual. It reaches beyond the grave; it reaches to us now.

 

This past week, several of us traveled to Central America. We witnessed the work of the shepherds of Christ as they themselves give their lives to the faithful Christians they serve in very remote regions of Guatemala.

 

What does it mean to be a shepherd in this part of the world? This question was very much on my mind as we travelled through the very remote regions of northern Guatemala.

 

Our journey began as soon as we landed at the airport in Guatemala City. Bishop Rodriguez met Bishop Strawn and I at the airport and drove us to our hotel. Bishop Rodriguez speaks very little English and Bishop Strawn and I exhausted our entire Spanish vocabulary while we offered our greetings to Bishop Rodriguez. Then, we made do with hand gestures, smiles and quizzical looks.

 

During our brief car ride to the hotel, Bishop Rodriguez handed Bishop Strawn and I an itinerary. This listed our activities for the following two days. We read it over, then looked at each other in alarm. Then we laughed. Clearly, there was an error. According to the itinerary, the start time for Tuesday's activities was 4:00 a.m. We laughed again and pointed this out to Bishop Rodriguez. He studied the sheet of paper, pointed to the number four, smiled and said: “Si.” We smiled back, but our smiles were mingled with wonder and a touch of desperation. We read the itinerary again and realized that we would be expected to spend eighteen hours visiting missions, attending services, preaching and greeting hundreds of people. We also knew that we would be consuming vast amounts of food. Bishop Strawn turned to me and said: "all we can do now is pray." We nodded and calculated the short amount of time we would have to sleep before the journey began.

 

It began with a wake-up call at precisely 4:00 a.m. A knock at the door. Then, the delivery of the most delicious cappucino I had ever tasted. It may have been sleep deprivation, perhaps a touch of delirium, but that coffee was worth getting up before even the birds considered rising.

 

We were on the road at five a.m. Our first stop was to Transfiguration mission. It is the oldest mission in Bishop Rodriguez' diocese. It sits on a small hill in a village called Chumanzana. In order to get to Chumanzana, we had to drive over some of the worst roads I had ever seen. The shepherd who cared for the sheep in this village needed the kind of shock absorbers not seen in this world. Even then, we had to walk the last half mile. Chumanzana is so remote that the primary language is an ancient Mayan dialect. We had brought a translator with us. Her name was Grace, but she spoke only English and Spanish. The people of Chumanzana spoke no English and only limited Spanish. Fortunately, the parish priest at Transfiguration mission was fluent in both English and Spanish, as well as in kee CHE, the Mayan dialect. We listened to him describe the work of the church in this area of Guatemala. He also told us that he was in the process of translating the Book of Common Prayer into kee CHE. It would be the first time that our prayer book would be translated into the ancient Mayan language. The priest offered to send us a copy of the book, once completed.

 

We sat down to a meal of coffee and sweet rolls. I mentioned to the parish priest that I had never heard words spoken in the kee CHE language and asked if he would teach me to say a few words. "Which words would you like to know," he asked. "Teach me to say 'Jesus Christ'" I said. "Those are the first words I would like to learn." He told the members of the mission seated around the table what I had asked. Then he spoke the name of Jesus Christ in that ancient Mayan language. "ko hol SHEL." It took some practice, but after four tries – and some corrective feedback - those who were there nodded their heads, as if to say, "I think he'll get it." Then we all said "ko hol SHEL." Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus said "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." In the gospels, Jesus rarely identifies himself, rarely says who he is. But in this passage from John's gospel, he is strikingly clear. I am the good shepherd. And I give my life.

 

That life is God's life, given to us that we might live fully and completely, that we might know God and God's love. A love that extends beyond the grave, a love that is the very definition of all that is eternal.

 

On Tuesday, in a tiny mission in a remote village in western Guatemala, much was unfamiliar. The language was one we had never heard before. The structures were unlike anything we had seen before. The food was different. The clothing was different. But one thing were knew very clearly; one thing was very familiar to us. It was the presence of Jesus Christ, whose name, spoken in three languages, was there among us. The good shepherd, whose life is given for us all, whose love is embraced – and shared – among all who know and love him. Jesu Christo. Ko hol SHEL. Jesus Christ.

 

 

Let us pray:
Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; Grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.