Sermon Text: Shepherds and Superheroes
Like everyone else, I miss about a zillion things in this lockdown. For me, one of them is going to Good-Shepherd Fairview Home. I've done worship services for the residents at that retirement home for more than 20 years, and I miss doing it.
Those people know their Bible! Early on, 20 years ago, when I didn't realize that, one time I said, "Now, today our Psalm is Psalm 23. Some of you might know it by heart. If you happen to know it, recite it along with me: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."
There were about 60 residents at the service that day. And every single one of them knew all of Psalm 23 by heart perfectly, and said it along with me. Twenty years later, the residents who attend still know Psalm 23 by heart, and I miss saying it with them.
Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, and it's always Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel text is always about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. And today's Psalm is, yes, Psalm 23, the Shepherd Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Now, this whole shepherd thing is a big deal in the Bible. It's an often-used image of the care and protection given to the flock by the shepherd. But I don't bump into shepherds very often in my everyday life. I did grow up in farm country, but it was fruit farm country along the shores of Lake Ontario, not sheep country.
So I tried an experiment one time. Years ago now, I borrowed this shepherd's crook from the Sunday School stash of Christmas pageant props. I decided to carry it around for a day or two to see if it inspired me for a sermon idea.
It did not inspire me. It did inspire my wife to laugh at me. But I learned something, at least. The staff was always in the way. At the time, I had a little purple subcompact car with a stick shift. The shepherd's staff didn't fit in that car very easily. That's when I realized being a shepherd is inconvenient.
A shepherd is always on duty. That's what the stick is for. The curved end is for grabbing sheep who wander off into trouble. And the other end can be used as a rod to whack predators. "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." It's all about care and protection.
Back in Bible times, a shepherd had to be a superhero. Well, I don't think of shepherds as superheroes today.
But I have another image that means a lot. Today's superheroes aren't shepherds or Spider-Man, Batman, or Wonder Woman. Today's superheroes are health care workers, nursing home staff workers, and group home staff workers. They don't wear a black mask with bat ears to protect their secret identity. They wear facemasks to protect the people in their care. They don't wear spandex with spiderwebs or a big red "S" on the chest. They wear scrubs.
And if you don't think they are superheroes, think again.
Most of us are looking at news stories a lot. It can become so depressing and so overwhelming. We need to balance it with good news.
There are lots of good news websites out there. My current favorite is the "SGN Network." That stands for "Some Good News," and it's hosted by an actor who got famous playing on the old TV show, "The Office." His name is John Krasinski.
A couple of his episodes have videos of health care workers. These people are on the front lines. They are cheerfully serving the sick, the injured, and the elderly. Many of them cannot go home to be with their own families. They have to stay away from their own spouses or kids to continue serving the patients who need them.
I watched these videos and started crying. Talk about superheroes.
And I've got some personal connections to some of them. One of our own members is the Associate Directory of Nursing up at the Oxford Veterans' Home, and she's caring for those residents and had to be isolated from her own family for three weeks. Another member of St Mark's is working at Elizabeth Church in the activities department, finding safe ways to give the residents something to do and some peace of mind.
Then there are the workers in group homes for people with special needs. There are dozens of these homes in our county. My daughter lives in one of them. Can you imagine how deeply grateful my wife and I feel toward these superheroes who take care of our often difficult daughter?
Not all superheroes wear capes, or carry shepherds' crooks. But these days, they all seem to wear masks, wash their hands, and offer compassionate care.
And think of all the other people just doing their jobs to help keep the world going.
So how do we celebrate Shepherd Sunday? I say, we imitate those superheroes like we'd imitate Jesus.
You, too, can be a shepherd. Don't carry a shepherd's staff around with you. People will laugh at you, and you might be tempted to whack them with it. But carry a shepherd's staff in your heart the way some people wear a cross around their necks.
You really are a shepherd, you see. There are people for you to care for. There are animals for you to care for. There is all creation for you to care for. Yes, we have to maintain social distancing for now, but there are ways to care. I'm sure you can think of some. The only limits are your imagination, and the size of your heart.
Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd. He is also a heart surgeon. He wants to give us a new heart, to replace our hearts of stone with the heart of a shepherd. The shepherd's heart is big enough to hold all kinds of people. Even our enemies. The shepherd's heart is big enough to care for our neighbors. Even the hard-to-love ones. The shepherd's heart is big enough to continue the work of our Good Shepherd in this world.
So let's start a different kind of pandemic, a good one.
Let's make care and compassion contagious.
Sure, it'll be inconvenient.
Sure, it'll be a challenge.
But think of all those superheroes who are showing us the way.