May 6, 2019
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #780]
The readings for May 12, 2019, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, are as follows:
Last Friday, May 3, I was honored and humbled to have been asked to deliver the invocation at the Stark County Bar Association's American Citizenship Committee's 27th Annual Naturalization Ceremony at Canton Central Catholic High School. Twenty-six men and women from 16 different countries, after many hours in long lines, countless numbers of interviews, fingerprinting, thousands of dollars on attorney and processing fees, and seemingly endless waiting, finally took their oath and became citizens of the United States.
The ceremony was long, extended by an interminable number of speeches by every elected official in Stark County - or so it seemed.
A few of the speakers expressed pride at being children or grandchildren of immigrants themselves (as are most of us). They encouraged their listeners to keep alive, in some form or another, the culture and traditions of their country of origin, because diversity is what makes this a great nation.
As I listened to these numerous public officials congratulate the new citizens and tell them what a great nation this is, my mind couldn't help but drift to thoughts of the current political climate and the blistering messages we hear almost daily which contradict the idealized welcome these newly naturalized people and their families were receiving.
In the first two verses of the second reading for this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we get a glimpse of what life will be like in heaven as we read:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
"Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
I contrast this scriptural scene with the heightened emphasis on the enforcement of the United States' immigration laws, the increasing instances of attacks on houses of worship, and ask myself, "How are we going to live together in heaven, if we can't even live together on earth?"
This coming Sunday is the fourth Sunday of Easter, which is commonly known as "Good Shepherd Sunday." In three of the readings assigned for today there is a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. We will read, hear, and sing, in some version or another, Psalm 23, the best known of all psalms, which is also known as the Good Shepherd psalm.
The shepherd that we worship today, that we hold up as a symbol of holiness, was actually a disgraceful symbol in Jesus' day. The shepherd was a lowly symbol of
those who are discounted in a world of power and prestige. For Jesus to refer to himself as the Good Shepherd then would be the equivalent of him appearing today and saying to us, "I am the good migrant worker."
Many of us would be scandalized. Who if any of us would believe in a migrant worker as the Messiah? Who if any of us would want to follow such an unheralded person and call him teacher, or rabbi? Who if any of us would pay attention to someone from whom we would have so few expectations and for whom we would have so little regard?
Yet this is the symbol that Jesus presents to us. He is a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He is the one that we worship every Sunday when we enter the doors of our churches.
As this Sunday's reading from Revelation indicates, the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb that was slain - he is both shepherd and sheep. "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd," the reading says.
But we can't compartmentalize worship and separate it from the life we live outside of our church walls.
The multitude that is gathered before the throne of God is made up of worshipers from, "All nations, tribes and peoples and languages." All are invited to respond to the grace of God and join in worship and none should be prevented.
We worship because God has broken down every barrier that stands before us and has given the gift of Jesus Christ, the lamb who is our shepherd, so that we might stand in righteousness before the throne of God.
We cannot remain comfortable within our walls as long as people are being singled out for the color of their skin, the accent with which they speak, or the faith which they practice.
The purpose of our worship is to strengthen us so that we may go out and transform the world, to show the unbelievers the goal and future of a life in Christ. He is the Good Shepherd, or to put it in more modern terms, the good migrant worker. It is He who transforms our vision, who laid down his life for us, whose blood set us free to be people of God.
This Sunday, May 12, I will be with the people of God at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Tallmadge, as they celebrate their 60th anniversary.
This Easter season and always, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of God's eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good, that we may do God's will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in God's sight.
+Bishop Abraham Allende