May 12: Your Unfinished Story (Easter 4 C)

“Jesus said: ‘My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.'” (John 10:27-30)

Throughout the Lenten season, we heard a theme, “The word is near you.” Now at Easter, the voice of the Lord is clear, calling out to all who listen and hear his voice.

The New Testament contains 16 references to shepherds from those who attended Jesus at his birth, to the very last chapter of John’s gospel. Last week’s gospel concluded with Jesus’s parting words to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

Packed inside this metaphor is an understanding of the value shepherds and sheep were to the economy of Israel. The long-term care of sheep added to the area’s wealth. In today’s terms, these animals might be valued as a fleet of mini-BMWs. The sheep were pastured mostly for their wool, and less so as a source of food.

Consequently, the shepherd’s caring for sheep had great benefits, and Jesus draws on this particular metaphor.

So this morning, let us listen carefully to the shepherd’s voice on Good Shepherd Sunday. “My sheep hear my voice,” he says, and “they follow me.”

With life’s many distractions, hearing or even attempting to listen to the Lord’s voice comes with complications brought on by texting or the sound of mobile phones ringing in a church or a theater or the classroom.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me this announcement from a church in France that cautioned parishioners about the disturbing rings from cell phones during Mass.

The announcement read:

“When you enter this Church, it may be possible to hear the call of God. However, it will be unlikely he will call you on your mobile phone. Thank you for turning off the phones.

If you want to talk to God, enter, choose a quiet place, and talk to him.
If you want to see him, send him a text while driving.”

Today, I’d like to talk about two “good shepherds” who have heard the voice of God and have gone out of their way to identify with their sheep. Both Rachel Held Evans and Pope Francis share a devotion to those on the periphery, those who need care and an assuring voice.

Rachel Held Evans, a writer, and journalist from Nashville, TN, passed away this week from the complications of a brain seizure at the age of 37. She leaves behind a husband, Daniel, and two young children. She was a wife and mother, someone to celebrate on this Mother’s Day whose wisdom makes her a “shepherd of souls.”

“We live inside an unfinished story,” Rachel Held Evans writes. She was both an accomplished writer and a persistent blogger whose Twitter account created her community of believers among the Church’s refugees of women who want to become ministers and gay Christians who refuse to choose between personal integrity and religious faith.

Rachel Evans’s spiritual journey began in the evangelical Church and led to her joining her husband’s Episcopal Church in 2014. Her insights from her books remind us that listening to the voice of the shepherd gives direction to our faith journey. Evans’s pulpit was her use of the new social media, a gathering place for followers to find safety even in their doubts and learn to believe. The New York Times called her Twitter account a “hub for the Diaspora,” where she frequently challenged leaders of the evangelical and mainline Churches.

According to Emma Green of The Atlantic, “Evans never gave up on Christianity, period.” In a 2015 interview, Evans remarked, “Death is a thing empires worry about, not a thing resurrection people worry about, and as long as there’s people confessing their sins, healing, walking with one another through suffering, then the Church is alive, and it’s well.”

One of Evans’s Twitter followers commented: “I am still a Christian thanks to you. Your legacy includes the thousands of young women who know God doesn’t hate them.”

To be clear, young women need a voice; Rachel Held Evans resembles our patron saint that firebrand Catherine of Siena, who lived and changed her world centuries ago.

This past week Pope Francis traveled on a pastoral visit to Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia. In Sofia, Bulgaria, the Holy Father spoke to 50,000 people gathered for Mass in the Kryaz Alexander I Square. Interestingly, the total number of Roman Catholics in Bulgaria is estimated at only 68,000.

So Catholics turned out for the pope, in what is primarily an Orthodox country. The Bulgaria Orthodox Churches are so fractious that while some religious leaders met the pope, they would not participate in a joint prayer or religious service.

Foremost on Pope Francis’s mind is the international refugee crisis. He was in Bulgaria to honor the work of Saint Pope John 23rd, who was once the papal delegate there. Francis told the gathering in Sofia, “I respectfully suggest that you not close your eyes, your hearts or your hands to those who knock at your door.” He added, “Wherever he (Angelo Roncalli) would go, his home would always be open to everyone, Catholic or Orthodox alike, who came as a brother or sister from Bulgaria.”

In complicated and even coded diplomatic language, Francis’s voice urged those listening that they open their hearts to refugees.

Then Pope Francis traveled to Northern Macedonia and the birthplace of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This brief journey was to meet the very few Roman Catholics there, there contained his tender message, “Do not fear, little flock,” a grace note or reference to his own role a Chief Shepherd. Later this month, Francis will visit Romania from May 31 to June 2. This will be Francis’ 30th pastoral visit outside of Rome in his six years as pope.

So each of us, like Rachel Held Evans, “live inside an unfinished story.” As we take our spiritual journey, there is the core belief that we are not alone, we belong to one another, and mostly we belong to him, who tells us, “Fear not little flock! I know you, and follow me!”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

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