Message by Pastor Pokora May 3, Fourth Sunday of Easter

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

One Easter weekend my son, Jon, his wife, Carlissa, their three daughters, Malin, Isla, and Emaline arrived at our house to visit. My daughter Sarah and her husband and daughter also came home. The normal quiet and serenity of our house suddenly evaporated with the squeal of little girls and barking dogs.

Sometimes my son will suggest his daughters walk over to Paul Norton school to play on the swings. My granddaughter immediately runs down the hall toward the front door and yelling as she goes, “Yippee, then I can go like this.” and let out two ear piercing shrieks.”

To my granddaughter a trip to the park means she could shriek to her heart’s content, though I know not why. But I do know little girls from our preschool program, who play right outside my window, love to shriek as well. I take that fact for granted now.

When I called my daughter-in-law this past week, in the background I heard our granddaughters making all sorts of noise. My son wasn’t home from work yet. So, my daughter-in-law had to ride herd on her little girls. She had her hands full. Our conversation was brief.

Watching my son and his wife raise three little girls reminds me again what it means to be a parent. Next Sunday we honor mothers. We honor mothers who raise, nourish, mentor, nurse and protect our children. We ought never undervalue their contribution to our lives.

From a liturgical point of view, today has been observed, as Good Shepherd Sunday.  The lessons for this Sunday suggest that theme. Reading those lessons carefully, we discover how Good Shepherd Sunday and parenting themes share common values, mutually defining each other. In fact, the similarities between these two observances enrich and broaden our understanding of them both.

Our first lesson from the Book of Acts describes everyday life in the early church. We learn they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, the breaking of bread and prayers. Scripture adds this observation to our knowledge of the Christian community, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and enjoying the good will of all the people.” Surely, their lives were more complex and, at times conflicted, than this text suggests. But, nonetheless, we learn, at least ideally, what Christian life ought to be like.

Wouldn’t we like to say of our congregation and family life that we spent time at church, ate our food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all people. Once again, that’s the ideal towards which we strive, but church and family are all too often more challenging than that brief description.

Maybe our Epistle from First Peter approaches more closely the reality we experience in our family life, as mothers and fathers. Here the Apostle Peter acknowledges the Christian way of life to be not easily lived. He recognizes the pain and suffering early Christian endured for their faith. He reminds us how Christ has suffered for us. He says, “When Christ was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” He bore our sins that we might be saved. He was truly a shepherd for us.

Once again we can use this description of Christ, as the shepherd, to shape our own understanding of what it means to be a parent and recognize the sacrifices mothers make on behalf on behalf of their family, as well.

Let me offer an illustration. One morning I took our family puppy, Haakon, to the Crow Creek Dog Park. The other day I met a young woman studying to be a social worker at St. Ambrose. In the course of our conversation, we discussed family life. It turns out her sister has a mild form of autism. Doctors and the parents attempted to diagnose and treat the sister’s mental health issue. Imagine the frustration, disappointment and conflict that family experienced. Certainly, they are not alone with their struggle. Every parent, every mother, can tell you how they suffered and worried and worked for their children. Parents are shepherds to their family. Like Christ, we require strength and understanding to be a parent. No one can claim to be a perfect parent. We all require God’s grace and forgiveness for the mistakes we make.

The Gospel for this Sunday, taken from the Book of John, also describes Jesus, as the good shepherd, but with a very different focus. Here the text describes sheep both protected by a sheepfold, while threatened by a thief. The sheep, however, will not follow the thief. Instead, the shepherd knows his sheep by name calls and leads them out. They will not follow a stranger. Christ reminds us, as our good shepherd, he came to offer us life in abundance.

Every parent ought to resonate with this text. Like the shepherd, we create a home life to protect our children. Parents especially serve as gatekeepers, making sure children are safe. The other day I read about a little boy on a school bus who was falsely accused of hitting a little girl who also rode the bus. An adult got on the bus, attempting to drag the little boy off the bus. That’s every parent’s nightmare. Threats to children come in so many forms. The parent must be the shepherd who protects the child. That is no easy task, but it one we must do.

Finally, the best has been saved for last. The 23rd psalm describes God, as the Good Shepherd, who guides us along right pathways, accompanies us through the valley of the shadow of death and prepares a table for us. The psalm concludes with this line, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This line ought to be every parent’s prayer. Parents prays goodness and mercy will follow their family and that they will dwell safely in the house of the Lord forever.

Our reflection on Good shepherd Sunday, as informed or defined by the Biblical image of the Good Shepherd, must recognize the role of parent’s play has changed dramatically over the past half century. Today we have both parents working moms and dads, single parents, same sex parents, stay at home dads and other variations too numerous to mention. But one point should be made. In every family, someone must be parent to the house. Our society struggles to identify that person and define the task that lies before them. Today, we propose parents to be the good shepherding, and recognize how essential that role is for human well-being. Amen

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.