Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Both the psalm and the gospel remind us of that. But how many of us have even seen a shepherd--let alone a sheepfold?
So I've taken the liberty to transpose the psalm--and parts of the gospel too--into a metaphor that works for me and I hope for you as well. As I sat with the words of the psalm and the gospel throughout this week, I kept returning to that shepherd and that sheepfold. But in my mind's eye I saw--and see now--not a shepherd but a teacher--a gifted one at that; and not a sheepfold however they might look I really do not know--but a warm, inviting classroom--a place where folks feel safe, a place where folks can thrive. The kind of teacher--the kind of classroom--we all have likely experienced at least once in our lives. Or so I hope.
Hear the psalm and the gospel that flows from it:
You are my teacher;
I shall not be in want.
You welcome me into your classroom--
one that inspires me and feeds my curiosity
a place where I find books and ideas and computers and crayons too
my senses are awash with possibility.
You quench my thirst for learning.
You believe in me and cheer me on.
You open worlds to me
and through your questions guide me deeper into them.
Though I stand at the gate of possibility and change
a place that can be somewhat overwhelming and downright scarry too
I am not afraid
for you are with me
my teacher, my guide, my companion on the way.
Your smile, your word, your comforting gaze
Your hand upon my shoulder
Make me feel safe
safe enough to take a risk
safe enough to cross the thresholds of new worlds
Worlds you open to me even when I'm surrounded by skeptics and bullies
who roll their eyes and snicker at my comments and my questions.
You have listened carefully to me--
always encouraging me,
always pushing me to go deeper,
always delighting in my delight,
always gentling me on.
I cannot ask for more.
Your kindness and respect.
Your zest for life,
Your love of learning
Shall be with me all the days of my life
And I will follow your lead forever
For You are the good teacher who sets aside Your needs to meet mine:
You stay up late preparing for the day ahead;
You rise early to finish reading the papers that need to be graded;
You spend your summers and your vacations too
taking classes, attending seminars, planning for the year to come.
You never "work to rule". How can you?
You have a sacred bond to those within Your charge.
You know Your students
what lures us in
what puts us off
what plagues us
and what intrigues us;
You know us and we know You.
We know You love Your work, Your world.
And we know to our very bones just how much You love us.
We--the people of St. Michael's and those with whom we share the planet--are living in a moment that cries out for trusted guides and wise companions to lead the way, to usher us form the darkness and isolation, from the weariness and wariness that have been so much a part of the last year into sunlight and community, into the future. It has been a very rough year for all of us. We need a model, we need a guide.
Or maybe not. We have that guide. We have that model--the Good Shepherd, the Good Teacher. The One who leads us, the One who loves us, into life. And we can be guides to one another--gentling one another, supporting and encouraging each other, reaching out, showing patience, pushing just a little when a push might help, never judging, always loving. We know how to do this. We have been well taught.
But we're rusty. And maybe just a little bit unsure.
So let me close with a suggestion.
Bring to mind those Good teachers in your life. Remember their names. Recall their faces. Put yourself back into their classroom. Hear their words. Feel their gaze upon your face. Remember how they loved you into taking a risk. How they loved you into learning what they themselves so loved. Try your hand at loving others into this new life we now find ourselves. And when you mess up as you surely will for we are all so very human, remember how it felt when you couldn't fold your paper right or balance that equation and your teacher just looked at you and said, "Next time...next time you'll get it right. Don't you worry. Just keep on trying." Just keep on gentling one another into this new life we now are living.
Then pause--pause to give a little of prayer of thanksgiving for the teachers who have loved you on. Say their names. See their faces. Say thanks be.
And when you have, enter their name in the chat or say their name right here. Our worship will be filled with tmemories the wise teachers--the good shepherds of our lives. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to them.