Sheep Need a Shepherd…

[Sermon given at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Piney Parish, Waldorf, MD – July 22, 2018]

Relief efforts still are underway in Hawaii more than two months after the Kilauea volcano began erupting, and people interested in helping the cause are taking inspiration from a boy and his coin jar.

Since May 5, the lava flows have destroyed more than 700 homes, sent dangerous toxins into the air and displaced a community of about 1,500 people on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Episcopal congregation of St. James’ Church, though not directly affected by the volcano, has joined in the relief efforts by collecting items from a list of needed supplies, such as bottled water, diapers and toothbrushes.

Enter 7-year-old Jonah Eggleston.

The boy’s family often attends the beach-side service held by St. James’ every Saturday evening. After one of the services in late spring, the Rev. David Stout, rector of St. James’, was loading relief supplies into his vehicle, Jonah came up to Fr. David and asked him to help with the items he was donating – every item on the church’s list.

Soon the full story of Jonah’s “giving jar” was revealed. His grandparents had given him the jar at Christmas with more than $200 in loose change. They said he could keep the dimes, but the other coins had to be set aside for times when he found people in need.
After the Kilauea eruption, the congregation had included in its newsletter a list of nearly 20 items needed for the relief efforts. Jonah’s mother showed him the list, thinking he would just pick one to buy, but instead he spent about $50 from the coin jar to buy all of them.

“I certainly am taken by this little one’s witness of grace and generosity,” Fr. David told Episcopal News Service. “It’s inspired us as a congregation, and I hope it inspires others.”

Fr. David shared the story of Jonah’s donation with the congregation, and in response he received a text message from another parishioner, who had been moved to contribute in a big way: “$5,000 headed your way to help Island families.”

Jonah now puts 10 percent of his allowance into the “giving jar,” and his story is clearly paying dividends for the people affected by the volcano.

Jonah’s mother said, “We are so touched that Jonah inspired so many people. It is such a wonderful reminder to us all that anyone – regardless of who we are, where we are or how old we are – can make a difference, and that even the smallest act has the potential to create huge positive momentum.”

[Excerpt from story by David Paulsen, editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service]

——

In our Gospel reading this morning, we find Jesus and the apostles gathered together and they were telling Jesus “all they had done.”

Imagine the scene.

Think about a time in your life where perhaps your children or grandchildren are telling you “all about it”, whatever it may be. Think about their enthusiasm and the excitement in their voices about what was fun or what they accomplished.

I cannot help but imagine this scene with Jesus and the apostles in that same light.

First one tells of an experience and he is so proud of the moment.

Then another is reminded of an experience and can’t wait to tell his story.

And on it goes.

A few weeks ago, there was a similar scene with high-school aged teens from my intern parish that were in Tennessee working with the Appalachian Service Project. Each morning, they would load materials and tools in the cars and vans and go off to work on the home of those less fortunate. And, each night, after they had returned to the makeshift dormitory in an elementary school, they would sit in the cafeteria sharing their experiences.

One group built a wheelchair ramp and shared the pictures from their phones. Another group was installing insulation on a home… more pictures. And a third group was installing sheetrock and re-roofing a home.

The stories the kids shared;
• bumps and bruises from pounding their hand instead of a nail
• love and pride of doing good work and sharing the love of Christ
• sore muscles
• high humidity
• hot temperatures
• rain showers every afternoon

The good parts and the bad parts, it made no difference in the way that they shared. In fact, it was likely very much like what Jesus was hearing from the apostles. Enthusiasm, excitement and that really good kind of fatigue that only comes with accomplishment.

Can’t you just picture it? Jesus and the apostles sitting there and many talking all at once? And, Jesus had to say to them, “Whoa guys, slow down! Sounds like y’all need to go away and rest.”

So, they go away in a boat to be by themselves. But it didn’t work out like they had planned, did it? When they arrived, there was a great crowd and Jesus has compassion for them; “for they were like sheep without a shepherd;” and he began to teach.

If you look at the text citations, you will notice that we skip over verses 35-52. If you were to read that text you would find the story of the fishes and loaves and the feeding of the five thousand. You would also find the story of Jesus walking on the water out to the boat with the apostles.
It seems somewhat odd to me that these stories are not included. It is okay though. First, we heard these stories last year. And, it allows us to more closely examine the things we can learn without the shadow of these other powerful events in Jesus’ life.

I mention them because they have context. Remember, they are supposed to be going away to rest, to be on retreat. It is when they arrive, they instead minister to and feed the five thousand. After they have finished there, and Jesus dismisses the crowd, he sends the disciples to land at Gennesaret and there is another crowd.

Seemingly, there is no rest. There is no retreat.

More crowds gather and bring the sick to be healed. Wherever Jesus went, more sick to heal, more people to teach… “that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak…” and be healed.

Our story today includes:
No fishes and loaves.
No walking on water.
And, no rest.

——

The world is a wild place right now. While the events are different, notice the likeness of the speed of what we must process and do and how close it is to what it was like for Jesus and the apostles.

We go to work and before we get home, there is another mass shooting somewhere, children are still separated from their families and people still go to bed hungry and some have no bed to sleep in.

You walk out in the morning to get your paper, or if you are like me, turn on the television and open the Washington Post app on my iPad; and you hold your breath to see what has happened overnight.

With social media so pervasive in our society, Twitter and Facebook keeps everything stirred up.

We have our families and our relationships that take effort, energy and time. Most of us have jobs. Many of my retired friends tell me they are busier retired than they ever were when they were working.

Our lives are not any different in structure and ‘busy-ness’ than what we find in today’s lesson about Jesus and the apostles.

But in this Gospel story, there is a charge, something we are called to. We find it carefully disguised in two phrases.

The first one is this:
“for they were like sheep without a shepherd”

And the second:
“that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak”

Let’s take these one by one.

——

“for they were like sheep without a shepherd”

Maybe we can’t solve the world problems. But right here, in our own backyard, there are sheep without a shepherd and we are called to be the shepherd. Let me explain.
The word shepherd, used a verb, is defined as “to guide or direct in a particular direction.”

In our Baptismal Vows, we promised to…
…proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
…seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself

By living into these words that we repeat, we become shepherds. We become living, breathing, real-life-on-earth examples for the sheep to follow. It is not always easy. And we do not always succeed. But for God’s grace though, we get to keep on trying.

And the second phrase that we focus on;
“that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak”

One more thing we promise in our Baptismal Vows is to “strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all.”
None of us, that I know of, have magical healing powers. In other words, wearing a cloak with regal gold fringe will not make people well.

But, what if your “cloak” is a cloak of justice and peace? What happens to the world we live in if we all get up every morning and don our cloak of justice and peace?

There are people that just want to touch the fringe of the cloak and we need to be the one to get close enough to them that they can reach it. You cannot feed the hungry if you do not go into the kitchen and do some cooking. And, you cannot right the wrongs without getting the soils of injustice and turmoil on your shoes.

——

A seven-year-old boy named Jonah Eggleston found a way to be a shepherd and a whole parish worked to fill needs.

He found a way to get close enough that one could touch the fringe of his cloak and the healing of broken homes and families began. He did it all with something as simple as a giving jar full of coins.

What is your “giving jar full of coins” and how will you use it?

Amen.

One thought on “Sheep Need a Shepherd…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s