Year B Easter 4, 25 April 2021
Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“List of the Beloved”
Collect: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
In preparing for today’s sermon, like I do every week, I pasted the Gospel message into a document. I do the Collect, too, as between the two I usually find my inspiration for the message. Well, the grammar check immediately underlined Jesus’ statement “I am the good shepherd.” Grammar Check did not like that at all. It asked me if I wanted to change the definite article, THE, to the indefinite article, A. I declined. And that is what this passage is about. Am I part of the flock of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, or not? Is he “a good shepherd” to me, or is he “THE good shepherd” to me. That is the question. Each day we all, myself included, answer that with how I live my life.
These verses immediately come after my favorite verse in Scripture where Jesus says that he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Scarcity says, “Look how little there is!” Abundance declares, “Look how much we have!” During Coronatide, I think that is one of the big differences in people’s attitudes. Scarcity versus Abundance. Much more than optimism versus pessimism. Abundance lets us be thankful, even when what we have may seem meager to those outside.
There have been a lot of things that have kept me going in the days of isolation and separation. For many months I collected and shared silly memes and jokes. That was fun. We started cooking some wonderful meals at home, and Stephanie’s pizza crusts have reached unimaginable levels of perfection. We also started watching a movie a night. I have a pretty extensive movie collection, but we decided to have it come to an end on Wednesday. We thought pretty hard because it had been such an intentional act, and we had to be pretty disciplined to keep it going and not repeat ourselves. We decided to close it down with Oscar winners for Best Picture. So we ended with the best of the best of the best. After 400 movies you have to do something for the movie to stand out. We have seen some good ones, but I decided that for our final movie we would watch what I believe to be one of the most powerful movies ever made, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.
I have been to a few of the monstrous concentration camps in Germany in my travels in younger days. I have never made my pilgrimage to Auschwitz, yet. One day I must. But at the camps I felt numb. I could not respond. I was overwhelmed to the point of shutting down emotionally. But this movie was always a catharsis for me, allowing me to give in to those feelings and vent them, mostly through tears. Streams of tears, in fact.
It was the same way this week. At the point in the movie where Schindler and Izak Stern his accountant make the list where each name is the life of someone that Schindler is saving, buying them with bribes to the Nazi SS, redeeming them from the death camps with his own personal fortune. Schindler calls out his employees’ names, one...
Each name a life. Each name one of his own. He is a Good Shepherd. They are walking through a literal Valley of the Shadow of Death as the Psalm invokes, and he is with them each and every step of the way. And as I watched the movie, the words of Christ came to mind:
I know my own and my own know me.
I lay down my life for the sheep.
Oskar Schindler knew his flock and did what had to be done to save their very lives from the nightmare of the Nazi Holocaust.
Izak Stern when the list is finishes holds it up. “The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.” I know my own… Schindler knew his own, and called them each by name.
The Nazis, a very organized evil, made lists of those whom they killed. Schindler and Stern made a list of life. The gulf between that monstrosity and this small hope is and always will be there. But the movie also quotes the Talmud, the Jewish commentaries on Scripture, “If you save one life, it is as if you save the world entire.”
I hear an echo of that when Jesus says, “When you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me.”
Or when Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
Friends, we are all given choices in this life. But as Joshua called on the people of God, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
And as the Grammar Check demanded, is it “a good shepherd” or “the good shepherd.” Little did I realize that when asked this it was truly a philosophical and theological conundrum.
Oskar Schindler was a scoundrel, a skunk, and a cheat most of his life. But once, when it mattered the most, he made a decision that saved the world, or at least his small corner of it. May we do the same. We can do no great things, only small things with great love. If you save one life, it is as if you save the world entire.
“I know my own and my own know me,” Jesus said. Oskar Schindler put all his peoples’ names on a list, and gave it to the Nazis. What also struck me at the end of the movie, knowing that he would be on the run after the war was over, his people made a list, a letter that each of them signed declaring that he was a righteous man and not a criminal and war profiteer. His sheep knew him, too. And there was another Schindler’s List, one declaring him a righteous man.
It is a comforting thought that Jesus knows each of our names, and he calls us his own. He knows us, and as we grow in Christ we know him. We know his voice when we hear it in Scripture, in a word from a stranger or friend, on the wind, maybe. But when we hear his voice, we know it is him. As we prayed in the Collect this morning: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.
He knows our name, but because he loves us he thinks of us each and every one as his Beloved. Agapetos, beloved in the Greek. Like we call our loved ones, dear, or honey, or sweetie, Jesus calls us Beloved. He loved us to death, even death on cross. It cannot be more clear. It cannot be more plain. Jesus is THE GOOD SHEPHERD. And Jesus has a list, too. And his list…
His list is in the Book of Life and our names are there written clearly for all to see throughout eternity. And I can think of no greater place for my name to be. Thanks be to God! Amen