Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Year B, Easter 4, John 10:11-18; Psalm 23
All Saints Parish, Brookline MA
April 25, 2021
The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days, all the days of my life. Amen.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday…in case you hadn’t picked up on that. Sometimes the themes running through our lectionary readings can be subtle. Not so subtle today. In fact it kind of hits you over the head in all caps: TODAY IS GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY!
- Today’s collect: “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that we may follow where he leads…”
- Our Psalm response: “The Lord is my shepherd, he leads me to green grass and still water…”
- The Gospel passage from John begins with Jesus saying “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”
Even though it’s not a familiar reference point for most contemporary urban dwellers, we can extend our imaginations to understand how a good shepherd cares for their flock: they provide food, water, a place for rest and shelter. The essentials of life. The good shepherd knows their flock and is known. They can walk among their flock without arousing fear or concern, whereas the arrival of a stranger would send the flock into a flurry. The good shepherd leads the sheep to safety, together.
There you have it: the basics of shepherds and sheep. As one commentator puts it, our widespread familiarity with the image of the good shepherd, and with Psalm 23 in particular, can “make commentary superfluous.” (NIB, Vol. III, p. 767).
So, what more can we say about sheep? Where does that leave your preacher this morning?!
As I’ve been thinking about this over these last days, I’ve started to observe my own response to living in these texts for a while. I have come to the opinion that this may be exactly what we need right now – not the superfluous commentary, but the comfort of the familiar.
There’s a lot going on in the world. Stories, ritual, the familiar can help us hold all that the world is sending our way. It’s a lot right now – all the feelings – all at once.
- There is so much hope in the air: today’s weather notwithstanding, spring and warmth are here and we’re able to begin spending much more time outside, vaccines are now available to everyone in the country 16 and older, and clinical trials are underway for our children. This is the season of Easter, of new life, of new beginnings.
- At the same time, it seems we are bombarded with daily reminders of the inequities in our society and the violence and underlying fear that so many in our country live with every day.
- And on top of that, we are – God willing – about to navigate the transition to opening up, re-gathering, and the uncertainties and ambivalence that will come with that.
- Alongside the grief we carry for all the losses of this time.
It seems like resting into our tradition, these places of familiarity and comfort, may be exactly what we need right now.
This brings to mind the way children often ask for the same story over and over and over again. It comforts them. Snuggled in bed with a parent at their side, to hear the familiar words helps their nervous system settle. In our home, there are so many books that no longer even have a cover, just the inside pages hanging by threads. For my boys, Richard Scarry (such delight to find Goldbug on every page, each night), or Harold and the Purple Crayon, or for one of my sons, Noisy Nora. I’m sure you have your familiar titles as well. Or habits for comforting yourself.
These oh-so-familiar passages of scripture, these comforting images, similarly, can hold us when the world is throwing our way.
I was reminded of the comfort that the familiar provides this week in the funeral service for Prince Philip. The Washington Post ran an article entitled “The Royal Funeral Was a Reminder of the Value of Rituals.” “Rituals simplify the complex,” the author writes. “They bring order to chaos.” She continues: “If rituals remind us of how small we are in the scope of history, they can also reassure us that despite all evidence to the contrary, none of us is alone.” So many of us have been missing the power of ritual this last year. And when we have been able to gather, our familiar habits have been transformed. We meet outdoors. We meet on the hiking trails alongside our animal friends. Or, as we so poignantly saw in the Queen’s positioning at Prince Philip’s funeral, we sit apart, physically isolated in our grief. But we are not alone. As the Post journalist reminds us, “during a time of emotional upheaval, [rituals] are guardrails to keep people from tumbling over.” We can fall back on – we can rest into the familiar.
Today’s image of God as the good shepherd, similarly, can hold us when the world is throwing a lot at us. The good shepherd provides the essentials of life. The good shepherd knows us, leads us in right paths, will lead us to safety, together. It’s not that we believe nothing bad will happen. We believe we know who will be with us if it does.
As this week’s events have unfolded and I have been immersed in today’s texts, I have found myself accompanied by a song that emerges from deep within me: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days, all the days of my life.” The last verse of today’s Psalm – the “Good Shepherd Psalm.” These passages of scripture, rituals, songs – the images that are so familiar they “make commentary superfluous” – they live within us, springing from us unbidden to comfort us, to connect us to the Holy and to each other, to hold us. And right now, I think we can all use a little ballast.