Sunday, April 25, 2021
Good Shepherd Sunday
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because of the gospel and churches all over will have priests and ministers holding up little stuffed lambs or in some cases will have real sheep as a prop. This story is one of the most popular Godly Play stories and we all love the shepherd image.
The idea of the shepherd and the flock is a very old one going back to the Old Testament, especially in the various books of the prophets. The leadership would often be judged as good or bad shepherds in their leadership. Israel is often referred to as either a flock of sheep or a vineyard. Both are the same idea when it comes to the shepherd or the vineyard worker or owner.
I had the vestry look at this passage at our meeting Wednesday. I start every vestry meeting with prayer and some scripture discussion. I believe that serving on the vestry, being shepherds of our parish, is more than just worrying about the business of the church. The vestry also needs to be worried about the spiritual health of the parish. For them to do that, I need to constantly remind them to have a prayer life and to take time to read scripture. If we do not do what we do in the name of Jesus then a church can just become a social club who does good things in the community.
There are a couple of images in this passage that I want to look at. The first is the idea of my sheep know my voice. Not only do sheep know the voice of their shepherd but they also know the face of the shepherd. I was in Turkey back in the 90s way often the tourist track with a bunch of biblical scholars from Garret Seminary. Wendy and I were about the only ones on the trip that didn’t have a Ph.D in religious studies. We were in search of a long–lost inscription that one of the people on the trip had written his dissertation on. As we went down this backcountry road we came upon 5 shepherds and their flocks walking down the road heading to their fields. Remember in much of the world farmers all live in town and travel out to their fields each day. As we crawled along behind them as each shepherd got to his field he would call his sheep and they would follow him. We knew they were his because each sheep had a spot of paint on them that marked which shepherd owned them. They all went with the right shepherd.
I’ve also been told by a shepherd that if they start to move the flock and some of the sheep aren’t paying attention, he can go back to them and as soon as they see him they will go and follow him. We will not know the voice or face of the shepherd if we don’t spend any time with him. That would be where the prayer and scripture discipline comes in for all of us.
One of the things about sheep is, they are not always the smartest animal in the pasture. You can put cattle out and they will wander around and eat the grass and do just fine without any supervision. That certainly was how cattle were raised for a long time on the large ranches of Texas. Sheep however tend to stand in just one place and will eat the grass to the roots and destroy the pasture. One of the reason they need a shepherd is to keep them moving so both the pasture and the sheep stay healthy.
During this time of pandemic we’ve been sort of just holding on but now I believe it is time to begin to look at some new pastures and to move to places with new grass, new sources of nourishment for our souls and our parish. Those new pastures leads me to my next point.
Now for me one of the most important lines in this is when Jesus says “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” This is a call to evangelism my friends. I was talking with a group of priests from west Houston this week at our clericus. All of them have seen an increase in visitors in the past few months including us. That’s one of the reasons I have been reminding people to wear their name tags. Bishop Doyle has told us repeatedly that he is not worried about if people will come back to in-person worship. We are already starting to see the return. He feels that we can do better and really work to bring new people in. This time of pandemic has given people time to think and wonder about what is important. Some have faced death or hardship and realize they need to turn to a higher power.
Over the summer heading into the fall the vestry and others are starting to explore ways for us to reach out to more people in our area. Some will be outreach activities. One that we are going to try for the first time is hosting a blood drive on the Sunday of Memorial Day from 8 until 2. The drive will be run by the Gulf Coast regional Blood Center. For every donation they will make a $5 donation to Wounded Warriors and every person who donates will get a Coronavirus antibody screening. The area immediately around the church and the school across the street will get information about our new outreach activity. That is just one of the local things we are looking at, but will get us off our corner and into our community where there are other sheep to invite.
The Fall Festival will return. Something that amazed me the first time I did this with St. Paul’s is I set up a may I pray with you table. Quite a few people stopped by. What really caught me was the one child who said, “Is this a church? I didn’t know it was a church.” A couple of the programs that we had just started I hope to get back up, like the tutoring program we were hosting for Katy Christian Ministries.
I am also convinced that we have the start of something great with our Family Service. Bishop Doyle really loves the idea and I’m dreaming of some ways we may make this a really unique offering. Then there is the stations of the cross labyrinth prayer area. What might we do with programs and offerings around prayer, maybe some day–long retreats. Just publishing on Facebook and nextdoor.com during Holy Week brought a steady stream of people to our campus. There are lots of pastures to explore but most importantly there are many sheep out there to bring into the fold. That is where our efforts need to be over the next year.
Andrea Smith and Harlan Matthews from the vestry are starting to look into getting our Outreach efforts back up and going as well as expanding what we are doing. Part of that is looking at what needs are there here to address. That is where the idea for the blood drive came from. We need people from outside the vestry to get involved as we rebuild an Outreach Committee.
I know the word evangelism makes many people nervous, but that is the call that Jesus issues to us. To spread the good news of the king of love. Mark I don’t know enough to talk to people about my faith. I don’t want to be like those people who get in your face about their religion. I’m not asking any of you to teach a class and people do not get attracted to a church by in your face evangelism. There are other ways and we are going to revitalize the Invite Welcome Connect program to do all three of those things for people looking for a church home.
As I was writing this in my home office Wendy was doing her Saturday morning online meditation for Christ the King. She started it by playing hymn 645, The King of Love my shepherd is. I would like to end this sermon with verses 1,2 and 6. These verses pretty well sum up today’s sermon. So please open your hymnals to 645 (oh I like getting to say that) and join me in closing today’s sermon with “The king of love” verses 1,2 and 6