May 12, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Acts 13, 14, 43-52 + Psalm 100 + Revelation 7, 9, 14-17 + John 10, 27-30
The story is told about two people asked to recite the 23rd Psalm for a congregation. One was a professional Shakespearean actor but a non-believer who stood up and delivered the verses. Using just the right tone of voice, the right inflection, pausing in just the right places and emphasizing just perfectly the right phrases, he left the congregation spell-bound. It was magnificent. Then, an ordinary member of the congregation stood up. He mispronounced some of the words. He stumbled through the images using the same tone of voice all the way with emphasis and pauses in the wrong places. He sat down feeling embarrassed, but he had one thing going for him. He spoke from his heart. Later someone from the congregation approached him and said: “You did a wonderful job.” The man said: “I thought the actor did a wonderful job.” The other man said: “Believe me, one thing was very clear. The actor knows Psalm 23. You know the Shepherd.
We should never forget that King David who wrote that Psalm which clearly was inspirational to Jesus did not say, “The Lord is a Shepherd” even though he is. He also did not say, “The Lord is The Shepherd” even though that is the truth. You know what King David wrote, say it, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” That one word makes all the difference in the world, and it makes all the difference in the world to come. It is that one little two-letter word that affirms, establishes, and bears witness to a relationship that is personal, intimate, and unique. Outside of that relationship, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nothing to be.
The focus of these verses today is not the Shepherd. It is the sheep. Comforting as the image of the Shepherd might be, these verses are about us, about those who have heard and who listen to the voice of the Shepherd. In this noisy world where there are competing and conflicting voices, the sheep must know which voice holds the promise of unconditional love, the promise of freedom from death, and holds the hope of life everlasting. Those other voices are loud and attractive. There is a voice of power and prestige, a voice of privilege and wealth, a voice of pleasure, of sexual liberty, the voice that says “I am first.” “I am the best.” “I deserve whatever I want.” “It’s my right to do whatever I please or have whatever I want.” There is no end to those voices. You know them as well as I do. Yet, those voices have nothing to offer that lasts, and in following those voices we would always be vulnerable from outside. Only one voice can make the promise that we shall never perish, and the protection promised by that voice does not come from force, fear, guns, or walls. It comes from what the Shepherd has to offer, a relationship with the Father like his own. “The Father and I are one.”
The Shepherd invites us to know him and to enter into the very intimacy and oneness he shares with the Father. It is an invitation to be touched by the divine, to be created again in the image of the one who loves. The only way for this to happen is for us to listen to his voice spoken in the Word and desire with all our hearts to know him, to love him, and to serve him as the Shepherd knows, loves, and serves his father in obedience and sacrifice. Let it always be known to anyone who would observe us that in this church, in this faith, in the communion of the altar, we are one with each other, one with the Son, and one with the Father through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit which is the very breath that breathed life into us and called us each by name.