Sermon – May 11, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Fourth Sunday of Easter
For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. 1 Peter 2:25
Please be seated.
I’ve been thinking about my friend, Elaine, a lot recently. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s Mother’s Day and she was like a mother to me or whether it’s because her birthday was the end of May. Elaine died nearly six years ago. She was 80 years of age.
I met Elaine during a time when my life was in considerable change. My children had both graduated from high school, so I was experiencing empty nest syndrome. My husband at the time, Fred, was also going through a major career change.
Fred had found a job with the Nature Conservancy in Topeka, Kansas and we made plans to move 1100 miles away from our family to a place neither of us had ever lived. My son, Scot, still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life and he decided to move to New Jersey, get a job, and live with some friends. My daughter, Carrie, graduated from high school, and started her first year of college at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were certainly scattered.
Before arriving in Topeka, I had discovered the church I would attend. It must have been the first or second Sunday I was there that Elaine introduced herself to me. She made it a point to greet all newcomers. She was my guide to the church and also to Topeka.
Elaine always went to lunch after church, and eventually I started going too. I learned that Elaine had four grown children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her husband had recently died and she was in the process of selling her home and moving to a smaller place. She was trying to get used to being a widow. The fellowship and activities at church were important to her.
Elaine was the best volunteer. She was on a number of boards of organizations serving people who were homeless or living in poverty. Eventually, she helped one of the organizations open a thrift shop, not only as a service to people needing help, but also to raise a little cash for the organization. She scheduled the volunteers and scheduled the pick-ups of donations. She worked at the store and counted the money, most of it in change and small bills.
In some respects, the move wasn’t so helpful for Fred and my marriage. While we both worked hard to make it work, we came to a point where we needed to separate. I was in the middle of obtaining my Master’s degree in Social Work and needed to finish, but I felt that staying in our house would be too hard for me emotionally.
Elaine had become like family to me and I told her that my husband and I were experiencing difficulties. One day I called Elaine on the phone and said I might need a place to stay for a little while. Without hesitation, she said, “You can come over now.” Elaine gave me a furnished bedroom in her home. She never asked for rent or any kind of payment. She opened her doors wide and gave me shelter.
With all of the changes in the previous 1 ½ years, I was like a sheep without a shepherd…lost…ready to go astray. I truly needed some care and love and guidance. I needed someone to care for me. I don’t know how I would have finished my degree, nor emerged from this difficult time in a healthy way without her support, generosity of spirit and Christian faith. To me, Elaine was the embodiment of much of what Christ taught about loving your neighbor and Paul’s understanding of the church as the body of Christ.
Sheep have been domesticated for nearly 10,000 years. Their defense mechanisms are few and they must rely upon the shepherd to keep them safe. Sheep have very good eyesight and they also learn to know the voice of the shepherd. Sheep are put in a sheepfold, which is a fence or wall enclosure providing protection. There is a door or gate where the sheep go in and out of the enclosure. It is a good way for the shepherd to keep the sheep safe.
Have you ever been in a place in your life where you really couldn’t take good care of yourself? A place where you needed to rely pretty heavily upon others? Then you know what it’s like to be a sheep who cannot fend for itself. It’s scary. You lose sight of the shepherd. You don’t go in the sheepfold gate. You become lost. You go astray. You can get separated from the community. You can be in great danger, or be easily led into danger.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds us, and our focus this Sunday is reminding us, that Jesus is our shepherd. We are like those defenseless sheep. We need guidance. We need direction. We need someone to care for us. Jesus says He is the shepherd. He will provide those things for us. We have His words and the teachings of the apostles passed down to us. We have the teachings of those who have lived the faith before us and those living the faith now. We have Christ’s presence each week with us in this service and in our communion and holy meal.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to rebel against this. I want to be self sufficient. I want to make it on my own. I must continually remember that I am a sheep. To be alone is to go astray. To be alone is to be in danger. To lose sight of the shepherd is to be in danger. I need Christ the shepherd and I need to be part of the shepherd’s flock.
So, return to the shepherd if you have gone astray. Stay close to the shepherd so you will know the way. For He is the guardian of the most precious you. He is the guardian of your soul.