The church services Rich and I attended when our kids were young usually included children’s sermons, during which parishioners talked to the little ones about the lectionary readings for the day. I had a flashback to those days during our Good Shepherd Sunday this week.
An earnest woman sat on the chancel steps and gathered kids around her, facing the assembled worshippers. “What I have in this bag,” she told the little ones, “are rocks. Jesus was a shepherd and he had to keep his sheep from straying, so a lot of times he threw rocks their way to get their attention and bring them back. Sometimes God does that to us, sending hard times so we can learn to be better people. Would you like to throw some rocks like Jesus did?” About a dozen three- to eight-year-olds enthusiastically pelted the first few rows of a stunned congregation.
Years later, I understood that this woman had been deeply bruised and abused at home. No wonder she thought she was being stoned by the Almighty. I hope she eventually felt the arms of a comforting, loving God around her.
But the sad truth is that many of us blame or thank the Triune God for just about anything we don’t comprehend. My mother was convinced that God opened up great parking places when she went downtown. A neighbor was sure that God had a hand in his child’s acceptance to an Ivy League school. I’ve heard people revel in the assumption that another’s problems were God’s comeuppance. Someone will say, “God wanted another angel” when a child dies. And I need to grit my teeth and leave the room if I hear “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
But what God gave us was his son Jesus, fully human as we are, who dwells among us and in us that we may do God’s work. I listened carefully to Geoffrey’s sermon Sunday when he talked about the good shepherd walking ahead of us, about knowing a shepherd’s voice—and the voice is probably among us here in our St. Alban’s flock, a voice of God-in-us. I can’t be sure, but I don’t think the shepherd-voice is leading us to parking places or opining that God has willed a tragedy. I truly don’t know what a shepherd says, but I know what one sounds like. It is the sound of hope, healing, and love, of intimate knowledge of my soul.
Last week I wrote about being able to recognize who is walking with us on our Emmaus road. Let’s also listen for the voices of shepherds in our midst. Perhaps one of them is yours.