We are not without a shepherd.

Unlike the exiles of whom Jeremiah writes,
who fall victim to a series of poor decisions by their kings,
we are not without a shepherd.

Unlike the great crowd gathered
as sheep without a shepherd
on the shore of the sea of Galilee,
we are not without a shepherd.

Unlike the gentiles of whom Saint Paul writes
who once had no hope and
once were outside God's promises,
we are not without a shepherd.

This side of Easter morning.
This side of the fullness of resurrection promise
in the gift the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
With the psalmist,
we can claim and proclaim:
"the Lord is my shepherd."

God in Christ Jesus
reaches out to an exiled people;
reaches out to the sick and suffering;
reaches out to a people who once stood outside
embraces all people into the fold;
embraces those who simply long
to touch the fringe of that cloak;
embraces anyone and everyone
who, for one reason or another,
has been let go
by family, friends, a community, society.

Embraces you.
Embraces me.

The twenty-third psalm is beloved by many
because of this embrace.

The embrace which comes to us
first in the waters of baptism
as forgiveness.
Profound forgiveness.
Forgiveness for things done.
And for things left undone.
Forgiveness of sin.
Forgiveness that we do nothing to earn.
Forgiveness we cannot earn
and do not merit.
Forgiveness that is both indelible and eternal.

And so,
thankful for and confident in
such a free and marvelous gift,
we say,
"the Lord is my shepherd."

The Lord, who carries each of us
from these baptismal waters
to another and a still more glorious shore.

But, the Lord is also our shepherd.

Not simply my shepherd.
Or any particular faith tradition's shepherd.

Not the shepherd of any particular denomination
or any particular community.

Certainly not the shepherd of
a particular nation,
a particular race,
a particular social status, or
particular sexual orientation.

how quick we are
-- as a society,
as individuals within a society --
how quick we are
to claim such particularity.
Claim such particularity with heinous violence.
Claim such particularity with insidious speech.
Claim such particularity with perilous indifference.

The persecution and annihilation of Jews in Europe
-- the holocaust.

Racial prejudice in this country
-- the horrors faced in the Civil Rights movement,
the horrors faced by people today
for which as a nation we mourn,
but of which have yet to repent.

Our uncharitable representation of others.
Others seeking citizenship in this country.
Others celebrating full protection
of their relationship under the law.
People of faith traditions other than our own,
exercising their faith as Americans in this land.

Sisters and brothers,
the embrace any of us comes to know individually
cannot and does not negate God's other embraces.
The Lord is my shepherd,
can never be understood as me and my Lord,
me and my Jesus.

We must seek to understand through the eyes of God
who embraces many.
Understand through the eyes of God.
And practice God's embrace with others.

God in Christ Jesus' embrace of people like us,
does not negate or supersede
the Lord's embrace of the people of God's first promise.
But instead calls us to see,
to rejoice,
to give thanks
that God would call us all sheep,
next to our Jewish sisters and brothers.

God in Christ Jesus' embrace of people like us,
does not give us permission to malign others
whom God embraces under the name Allah.
But instead calls us to
stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers
and refuse to smear them with the stain
of those who do not practice the peaceable ways of Islam.
God is Christ Jesus' embrace of people like us
knows no boundaries of race, gender,
sexual orientation, social status.
But instead
calls us to resist any and all supremacy;
calls us to speak truth to stigma;
calls us to think and act generously
as human rights are extended and acknowledged
by law in this land.

The voice of religion,
the actions of religious people
in a time such as ours,
is the voice and the action
of the one who gives us reason to say:
"the Lord is my shepherd."

Which is not a particular claim enjoyed by a select few.
But a generous claim enjoyed by an ever-widening many.
Giving us reason to say of our neighbors,
the Lord is your shepherd, too.

The great wisdom of the psalmist
is the way in which
this promise of God's multivalent embrace
is made manifest.
At table.
With food and drink.
With nourishment
for people seeking to live into God's embrace.

The food and nourishment
God's people longed for while they were in exile.

The food and nourishment the crowd sought
on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
-- for many were coming and going, and they had no pleasure even to eat --
and which Jesus provided with a few loaves of bread and fish,
and with still more than this.

The food and nourishment
longed for by the Gentiles of whom Saint Paul writes,
longed for by any and all who have not sat at table.

At table
with bread broken
and cups running over.

At table where those of God's embrace gather.
Gather to be embraced.
And gather to embrace others.
At table which seats both human brokenness and divine grace.
Betrayal and promise.
Death and resurrection.
The scattered made whole in the sharing of the body of Christ.

At table where we are found.
As sheep with a shepherd.

Broken for the world.
Poured out for the world.
Raised up for the world.

A people gathered at table in the midst of a world.
so critically in need of this table's promise.

The promise that here there is nourishment.
Nourishment for confronting even our enemies.
Nourishment for reconciliation.
Nourishment for healing.
Nourishment for forgiveness.
Nourishment for a generous spirit.
Nourishment for life, even in the face of death.

Nourishment enough for such a time as this.
Nourishment for life together.
Today and tomorrow.
Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Saint Mark 6:30-34, 53-56