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THE GOOD SHEPHERD

It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you today. St Peters is such a warm and welcoming community. Brother Dennis and I have been very busy relocating to Oceano, so it is a pleasure to switch it up and focus on worship and reflect on the gospel today instead of unpacking boxes.

 

I have been listening to a new podcast which I highly recommend. It is produced by The Center for Action and Contemplation, and it is called Everything Belongs. CAC is the organization that Father Richard Rohr – a Franciscan priest – created many years ago. Father Richard has had a giant impact on Christian spirituality over the last thirty or forty years, having written many popular books like Falling Upward, The Universal Christ, and Breathing Under Water. I’m sure many of you are familiar with his profound teachings, but if you are not, I encourage you to check him and this organization out. You can sign up to receive a daily meditation which is a wonderful way to start the day.

 

Recently Father Richard has had some tough health struggles and is now fazing out his obligations and some bright young leadership is stepping in to lead the way forward with his organization. In this new podcast they speak with Richard about his legacy and his desire for the future after he is gone.

 

They ask him 3 questions:

 

First, what does he want people to know?

 

Father Richard took a moment and then said – “I want them to know that whoever this being is we call God we must be convinced that this God is Good – not neutral, certainly not wrathful – but this presence we call God acts in caring ways in your life.” I find it a bit breathtaking that all his years of wisdom, all his profound teachings boil down to this: he wants us to know the God he loves as a God acting in our lives not as a passive God but a God who really is providing for us.  He goes on to say that to fall in love with God we must believe that God is an involved presence in our lives.

 

Then he is asked: “How would this knowing cause humans to grow?” 

 

Richard said that understanding that God cares about us more than we care about ourselves, that God forgives more than we can understand, and that we must know this experientially. This is the Inner journey with this presence. We need to give God a chance to act in our lives, to know in our heart that we are loved– then one can’t help but grow.

 

Richard wants us to know that overcoming the resistance to this knowing is the path, it isn’t a hallmark version of God loves me – it is the deeper wrestling with our limitations and shortcomings and finding this love available to us that is the richness of this knowing of the love of God and God’s love for us.

 

He stresses that it is not about avoiding sin or being perfect. It is more about the fallen who humbly returns to God like the story of the Prodigal Son.  Remember the son who has disgraced himself and his family and when he returns his Father runs out to meet him? This is the story that most illustrates God’s love for us as we reach out in our brokenness, just as we are.

 

The third question they asked Father Richard was: “How do we want people to show up in the world?” 

 

Father Richard was quick and certain in his response. “Servant leader.”  He went on to explain how this is so clearly illustrated in the Gospel.

We need only look at the story in today’s Gospel from John. Jesus is the good Shepard who lays down his life to save his sheep, not like the hired hand who is going to run away when there is trouble. It demonstrates this deep care and dedication that is almost difficult to imagine.

 

And we see what Father Richard is saying so clearly in the passage read today from the First Letter of John:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

 

This is clearly the message of servant leadership. We are to abide in the love, let this transform and heal us, and become servants of Divine Love.

 

I don’t know about you, but for me it is remarkably hard to maintain a vital connection to this outpouring of Divine Love. When I feel it, I feel free of my petty Greta-ness, I feel expansive and generous. But before I know it, I am judgmental or impatient or short tempered. But I am fortunate as I live in a monastery where we pray 3 times a day and I minister in a prison. This life I have been called to impels me to constantly return my attention to the Divine.

 

A most powerful way to live more of one’s life united to Divine Love and trusting in God’s goodness is to sit in silent meditation. I find that after about 15 minutes of annoying mental gymnastics my mind settles, and I enter a state I call the Grace-field. I find myself immersed in a vibration of love or peace. I can’t cling to it, or it disappears.  I have to let go of my Greta-ness to make room for God’s presence to emerge and to merge with me. As the scripture says, “abide in me as I abide in you.”

 

When the 20 minutes are up, I slowly come back to the here and now and I find myself a bit more spacious, more compassionate, less reactive. I feel a bit more connected to the Peace that Passes All Understanding.

But I know this is not for everyone. In fact, my professor of contemplative studies told us that only 10% of Christians will engage with contemplative practices.

 

So, I offer this simpler practice instead: just breathe in God’s love. That is all it might take today. So close your eyes and imagine breathing in God’s Love.

 

It is a fact that this mysterious force or presence of Love that is creating of our universe loves us just as we are. It is by living into this truth that we can know in our heart that we are truly loved just as we are, that we live into our fullest potential.  

 

As we hear in Psalm 23, maybe today the Good Shepard can guide us to those green pastures and still waters where you might restore your soul.

 

Amen.


The Reverend Sister Greta

 

 

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