Good Shepherd – Br. Robert L’Esperance

John 10:11-18

O my God, you are here… but always you are where we are, and always you love us, calling us each by name. Amen.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday Jesus tells us that he “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Well, that’s a metaphor, no matter what sheep-like sounds we might make at odd moments or how much we might sometimes behave like sheep.  It’s still a metaphor.  We’re not sheep. I feel quite confident about that as an unequivocal statement.  But though we are not sheep, we do respond to this picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd.  We respond because he says he has come so that we might “have life, and have it abundantly.” God really wants us to get the most out of life. If we love life, if we choose life, we respond with joy to the one whose deepest desire is to give us life in abundance. If we do not love life, if we choose death, then we respond more readily to the enemy of the Good Shepherd, the thief, who Jesus says, “Comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

This past week there was a very disturbing picture on the front page of the New York Times.  It was a picture of a boy’s burned body.  That picture has haunted me all this past week.  The picture was taken near Bentiu, South Sudan.  When I read today’s gospel lesson, I suddenly realized that the “thief” who fired the rocket that killed that boy came to steal and kill and destroy. By killing that boy that thief stole his life from him. That thief killed his hopes and dreams. That thief destroyed sacred life and devastated a family. That thief was in love with death, with Hitler, with violence. And in the end a young life was stolen, he was killed, and his end was destruction.

That charred boy-body on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times is one of many deaths in a civil war begun many years ago.  The soldiers, their skilled ruthlessness honed during that long and bloody war in the Sudan, have been stealing and killing and destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens, subjecting them to atrocities because their presence does not fit a Sudanese ideal of what the Sudan should be. And for many of these Sudanese soldiers, their lives will end in death, the futures of their families will be stolen by war, their loved ones left grieving their destruction.

With the death of that young boy and the renewal, this past week, of war in the Sudan, one is tempted to ask what conclusions we might draw from these two violent events — one, thank God, over and done with; the other apparently resumed.

If we Christian, who profess to “renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God” if we profess that and embody the faith of Easter, then we must always be ready to share life and hope with others.  Doubtless prayers were offered for the repose of the soul of that boy who died and for his grief-stricken families and for others wounded in the renewal of airstrikes.  We continue to pray for a just peace in Sudan and so many other places in our war-wearing world.  Let us, who profess Jesus Christ as the Lord of Life, continue to pray for all of those suffering, and let us pray with the hope born at Easter, the hope given us by Christ’s Resurrection, that somehow, in the end, new life will triumph, that God will bring life out of death, good out of evil.

Why are Sudanese killing each other?  South Sudan became independent last year in fulfillment of a 2005 peace accord that ended decades of fighting between north and south.  But, there’s oil in the Sudan and the north and the south cannot agree on how to share the oil and the wealth that will result.  The president of the Sudan, Mr. Bashir referred to the people of South Sudan as insects.  That’s language reminiscent of hateful words that Nazis used to describe Jews.  Not surprisingly, there is a religious factor in this war.  Last week, mobs attacked a Roman Catholic Church attended by Southern Sudanese in the country’s capital, Khartoum.  These are some of the reasons behind the war and I’m sure there are many, many others.

The kinds of violence we are seeing on a large scale in so many parts of the world are repeated over and over again in smaller versions.  I don’t watch much television but I catch a glimpse now and then and I’m aware that for some weeks now audiences have been bombarded with “all news, all the time” reports about the killing a young black man in Florida by a white man, who claims that he shot in self-defense.  Continuous reports somehow create a tone to reporting about violence and death that seem to begin to numb us to the cost of violence for individual human lives, both victims and perpetrators.

Last weekend, while visiting with a good friend of mine, I watched an episode of a television series entitled, Magic City.  Maybe some of you have seen it too.  The story line contains what have become usual themes for television viewing:  power, greed, sex and violence.  And the images flashed across the screen had plenty of graphic violence.  I don’t think of myself as a prude, but to my shame and dismay, I now realize how unfazed I was by what I saw.

I’m not a media expert; far from it.  But I’ve been thinking about the violence portrayed in media.  There is real violence and imagined violence.  And I couldn’t help thinking about the connection between the two.  As I pondered this, there’s one question I want to ask. The television industry has long maintained that the pervasive violence one finds on television does not influence children’s behavior, or anyone’s behavior for that matter. But isn’t the entire financial basis of the television industry advertising? And isn’t television advertising predicated on the idea that repeated exposure to television can change our behavior so we will buy certain products? If this were not the case, why would companies spend hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars each year on television advertising to change our behavior and motivate us to buy certain products? It seems logical to conclude that what we see and relish and drink in visually for a national average of more than four hours a day on television changes our lives. How much it changes us depends on the individual. Obviously, the vast majority of people in our society do not become violent as the result of watching violence on television. But does not our acquiescence to an atmosphere of violence in our society, fostered by television, contribute to the emergence of violent behavior?  Individual reactions to television vary widely. But it takes only one person to create hell on earth for the victims of that violence.

I probably strike you as a technology dinosaur with my references to television.   Because, it seems now only more disconcerting that we carry around these messages and images in the palm of our hand.  Instantaneous access to violence, should we choose such a thing.

As Christians we pray that God will give us the grace to counteract evil, to be a force for the good. And in the face of tragedy, we pray that God will bring good out of evil. It was the Scottish writer George MacDonald who said in Lilith, “Annihilation itself is no death to evil.  Only good where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.” Only good where evil was, is evil dead….

Which brings us to this peaceful place, Jesus’ followers together in this glorious Chapel, on a peaceful April Sunday morning.  Here are some questions I want to suggest we ask ourselves:  “How often do I respond to those who wrong me with an inner desire to see them done away with, destroyed, annihilated in some way, instead of asking the question that God must be asking, ‘What can I do that might bring about their redemption, a change in their behavior for the better?’” Another question:  “Is venting my own anger and frustration at them, or satisfying my own need for revenge on them, more important than doing what might help them to change for the better? Is this a situation where it would be a lot better for me just to sacrifice my anger, just give it up, leave it alone, for the sake of something better?’’ God is always on the side of redemption and change for the better. Always. If we’re not, we’re fighting God.

Our propensity to think in dualistic term, the “us versus them” way of thinking, our tough talk, our blustering and our posturing has spawned wars throughout human history. Only when human beings everywhere realize that not one human being is expendable, not one human being is of less worth than ourselves, only then will there be any hope of an end to wars.

Again, should we not be examining our day-to-day behavior to see if there are ways in which we treat others as though they were of less worth than ourselves? And if we’re pretty much O.K. in this regard, then what are we actively doing to affirm the worth and dignity of every human being we come in contact with?  That is, after all, what we have vowed to do in our baptismal covenant; the same covenant I quoted earlier about renouncing Satan. That is what Christ calls us to do by his own word and example: to affirm the worth and dignity of every human being we come in contact with. Not to label others, not to pigeon-hole them, dismiss them with as a category and demean their humanity, but to call others by name as our God calls each of us by name. To value with compassion every other human being. May God forgive us where we have failed to do this.  Thank God for where we have succeeded. May God give us the motivation, strength and grace always to do better…and he will, you know. He is our Good Shepherd and he calls us each by name.  Our shepherd’s deepest desire is to give us life, abundant life!  Choose life, choose life — for yourself and for others! Amen.

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  1. Karen Hall Wright on September 20, 2018 at 09:07

    Robert. This is an amazing homily. I want to share so many snippets that speak strongly of desention I see in our conflicts today. Thank you

  2. Rhode on September 20, 2018 at 08:17

    Good message! – What draws big box office receipts are movies that deliver horrific monster(s) killed by the avenging super hero amid violence, destruction and whopping death tolls. A strong and sometimes fun substitute for our inability to cope. Our zombie apocalyptic books and end of the world scenarios reflect our fear of the future with dire repercussions as our collective fear drives not only our entertainment but our wars. This is all so anti-christ. Not one man but a pervasive degading systemic pall that seeds our politics with strong desire to secure what we think we own. Our first reaction to all this should always be prayer, and perhaps a fast of fear-driven drivel and doing something good for someone. As SSJE offers this opportunity to reflect on our good Shepherd, let’s remind ourselves who truly has our ‘back’. Each time we lend a hand, offer a meal, share our space in Jesus name we becomes the needed superman. Our children desperately need to see us live the day in hope and courage and with a sound mind….”not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts”…

  3. Barbara on September 20, 2018 at 07:20

    We must pray for all victims of evil, and we must pray for those who inflict this evil, that their hearts would be turned towards Christ. Our hearts should break not only for the victims, but also for those who cause their suffering and death. We cannot choose whom to pray for.

  4. James Rowland on June 26, 2018 at 08:35

    Thank you, Br. Robert, for this message. We are in a dark, dark time right now in our apparently uncaring culture and nation. It seems easier just to give up and simply join the hate that flows unchecked from the top levels of our nation than pray for transformation.. But—“Anniliation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was is evil dead.” Amen.
    With Christ as our leader, this is our task.
    Pray without ceasing–always–everywhere—no matter what!

  5. Kathleen on April 23, 2017 at 14:24

    Thank you for the beautiful reminder of who we Christians are supposed to be. I struggle with how to respond when people are rude, thoughtless or aggressive towards me, even though I know the way Jesus would respond is my example.
    Blessings be upon you!

  6. David Cranmer on April 22, 2017 at 11:45

    Thanks for the reminder to think in terms of what I can do to help others come to receive the abundant life that Jesus offers.

  7. John Gishe on November 2, 2016 at 13:23

    I loved this quote,”It was the Scottish writer George MacDonald who said in Lilith, “Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.” Only good where evil was, is evil dead….” After reading your sermon, I bought and read the book….and found the passage. Thanks for sharing such a profound quote. I have thought a lot about it since reading it in your sermon.,=

  8. Ruth West on April 19, 2016 at 02:03

    Thanks for this good message. It is one which should be heard and digested again and again.
    The evil in the world causes so much hurt, grief, and pain beyond telling.
    I remember that St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:21
    “Do not be overcome by evil; but overcome evil with good.” Loving God with all our heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as one’s self is a tall order and is impossible without total surrender to Him. God is the ultimate goodness.

  9. Margie Shoyer on April 16, 2016 at 12:46

    May I leave a prayer request for my sister Joanne who has been gravely ill for 2&1/2 years. She is attached to a feeding device 18 out of 24 hours. Pray for Jesus to visit her and make himself known. She’s been so brave in her suffering and this would be the greatest gift.

  10. Christopher Engle Barnhart on October 14, 2015 at 08:48

    It all comes down to the second commandment that Jesus gave us: Love our neighbors and we love ourselves. Or as in the Lords Prayer: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Or another way of saying it: Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

  11. Muriel Akam on April 25, 2015 at 14:02

    Thank you for the sermon. I pray that the the people who have power act for the good and not for the evil . The stronger should protect the weaker and more vulnerable in society. This sermon reminds me to do my bit and pray for the strength to be more active in renouncing evil.

  12. gwedhen nicholas on April 24, 2015 at 16:22

    I so agree with what you said about violence on television engendering violence in the world. What we feed on is definitely going to affect our behaviour. It makes me think of the passage in Philippians 4:8. We need to think on things which for example are honourable, commendable, pure etc. and then “If there is anything worthy, think about these things,”
    What we think about influences us to either act out of good or to act out of evil. We need to think on good things, so that we produce uplifting behaviour. Behaviour which affirms and loves others. If we dwell on evil things, then it goes without saying that we will produce evil. We will look down on others and try to pull them down to our miserable position.
    I pray that I might always focus on the good things, and think on them, so that I might always be a force for good in this world and might lift others up to abundant life. Gwedhen

  13. Margaret Dungan on April 24, 2015 at 14:56

    Thank you B. Robert,

    It is so easy to let our focus slip on what God desires of us, Your words are a strong and necessary reminder.Thank you.

  14. george on April 24, 2015 at 08:50

    Thank you for your sermon–it is excellent. Yes sometimes wars begin for the reasons you cite. Sometimes they begin because strong people stand aside and allow other strong people to kill weaker people-which is what happened to the boy killed by the rocket. The world situation has gotten worse since you wrote this, because the strong ones who could prevent it continue to stand aside and watch.

  15. Elspeth on April 24, 2015 at 06:53

    This message is a gift for me today. I need to remember the power of prayer, even when facing terrible evil. I also need to remember as a member of Christ’s family to choose life and hope for those I encounter and the world.

  16. Roderic Brawn on April 24, 2015 at 05:32

    I love these sermons. Because I am retired I have time and can choose how to spend it I am enriched in listening.

  17. Christina on March 18, 2014 at 08:22

    It is March 18th and I have just listened to your video where you talk about your difficulty with LOVE.
    I too have that problem. I know that I do love, but sometimes I only recognise that when something happens to bring it to the surface. I am 79 – probably old enough to be your mother – but I think it goes back to my early life. I had wonderful parents; they were Scottish and the way of the world for them was not to be effusive with their love for me. They were people who had inherited their families’ attitudes and they were not going to spoil a child. So it was a rather authoritarian upbringing.
    I still struggle, like you, and sometimes I feel as though I have a big stone near to my heart which will not go away. On the odd occasion, it disappears. Thanks to your message this morning, LOVE, I will try to remember that I was loved before I was born.
    Blessings to you. Christina

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