Jesus as the ever-present and attentive Shepherd; the Church as the ever-present and attentive Shepherd Community and me/you as “mini-shepherds” to those we meet – all this carries the most precious of gifts.
The sermon text is below the sermon audio – they are not quite the same.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport
Sunday May 7th 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale
“Present and Correct”
In Tuesday’s NYT, Lesley Alderman wrote an article “The Phones We Love Too Much.” She writes, “We have an intimate relationship with our phones. We sleep with them, eat with them and carry them in our pockets. We check them, on average, 47 times a day — 82 times if you’re between 18 and 24 years old, according to recent data.
The conflict between phone love and human love is so common, it has its own lexicon. If you’re snubbing your partner in favor of your phone it’s called phubbing (phone + snubbing). If you’re snubbing a person in favor of any type of technology, it’s called technoference.
“A key to a healthy relationship is being present,” said James Roberts, author of “Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?”. When one partner constantly checks his or her phone it sends an implicit message that they find the phone (or what’s on it) more interesting than you.
The crucial, essential, functional need to give and receive attention is one of my most common themes in pre-marital conversations; and we can only give and receive attention when we are being present… in the moment, in the conversation, in engagement with others and the immediate world around us.
The Good Shepherd of whom we sing and read today is the perpetually present, acutely attentive Good Shepherd.
We are hungry – he feeds us. Psalm 23:2 “He makes me lie down in green pastures”; v. 5 “You prepare a table before me.”
We are scared – he protects us. Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.”
We are lost – he guides us. Psalm 23:2-3 “he leads me beside still waters; He leads me in right paths.”
The Good Shepherd of whom we sing and read today yearns and aches to create and maintain faith communities that do the work of “shepherd communities.”
People are empty – the shepherd community provides spiritual energy and devotion. Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… day by day.”
People are isolated – the shepherd community creates connection and a sense of belonging. Acts 2:44-46 “All who believed were together and had all things in common. Day by day, as they spent much time together…”
People are aimless – the shepherd community bestows a purpose and mission that has about the very ring of eternity. Acts 2:47 “they praised God, enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
On at least two occasions Peter, the Apostle, experienced the penetrating, piercing, perceptive presence of the Lord Jesus. In Luke 5 (v.) Peter bursts out, “Lord, depart from me from I am a sinful man.” And in Luke 22 (v.62) immediately after his three-fold denial, Jesus looks at Peter and Peter… weeps (Luke 22:62).
Perhaps in the unequivocal, undistracted presence of Jesus we are tempted to cower, to hide, to mumble but this is never the Lord’s intention. As the Lord once spoke to Ezekiel so he says to each one of us, at any moment of our lives, “Stand up on your feet and I will speak with you” (Ezekiel 2:1).
As you and I bathe, bask, revel in the presence of the Lord, his attentiveness to us so we are enabled to give to others that most precious gift… our attentiveness, as we are present with them.
Many years ago, in a little stone Chapel not far from here, my colleague Becky Anderson was preaching on the theme of the Good Shepherd. At the early service, Becky quoted words from a Gershwin song; after the service I said, “Becky, you should have sung some of the words.” At the later service, she did! Here are the words (and I’m reading them, don’t worry)
There’s a somebody I’m longing to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone who’ll watch over me
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood
I know I could always be good for
Someone who’ll watch over me
Today we celebrate the Good and Present Shepherd, one who watches over us, is with us (Emmanuel – the Realm Presence)… thanks be to God, AMEN