Today's Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-8
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. (vs. 1-4)
Matthew 20:17-28 (Jesus came to serve) and Psalm 100 (We are the sheep of God's pasture)
Hymn: "Gather Us In" by Marty Haugen
Prayer: O God, we confess that religion can be divisive and leaders more contentious than compassionate. Banish fear, engender healing, and restore trust to those who have been damaged by religious manipulation.
It is so interesting that this reading from Jeremiah would come up in the daily lectionary this week, given how well it connects in with something that has happened this week here in my congregation.
My sermon this past Sunday, which I will post at some point, was titled "Gatekeeping". I worked off of Jesus' statement in the John 10:1-11 reading that "I am the gate". I said that, if Jesus is the gate, then perhaps that means that we, the Church, are the gatekeepers. I played that two different ways: first that, in fact, we have all too often made ourselves into gatekeepers trying to slam the doors shut, keeping people from an experience of God, from entering into the realm that Jesus opens. But then, also, even as we repent of that kind of gatekeeping, perhaps we are being invited, called, into another kind of gatekeeping, into being the kind of gatekeepers that see someone coming down the road and call out to them, 'hey, let me hold this door open for you.' Perhaps 'usher' is an image we better connect with this than gatekeeper, but either way, we the Church are supposed to be the ones inviting people to enter through the Jesus gate.
In talking about being this kind of welcoming, ushering sort of gatekeeper, about being an "open-gate community", I mentioned that we in the United Church of Christ have been at the forefront of opening the gates of the church to gay and lesbian people, who for too long have had to deal with far too many of that 'other' kind of gatekeeping Christians (the gate-closing ones). I later received an email from a individual for whom this past Sunday was their second time visiting our congregation, and they wrote to thank me for my sermon, because they had been waiting 35 years to come to a church where they were welcome.
So, thanks be to God, that I have the privilege of being among those of whom Jeremiah says "I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them," at least in as much as I get to be so and do so for anyone who walks through the doors of this community and finds welcome. And thanks be to God that people do indeed find a home and a place to journey with God, that "they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed". And long we still await that day when "nor shall any be missing", because indeed, we know that many, many folks have still not found that place where the gatekeepers are doing their real jobs, the hold-the-door-open, welcoming-in, ushering job.
Oh, and I just love Marty Haugen's "Gather Us In":
Here in this place the new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away; see in this space our fears and our dreamings brought here to you in the light of this day. Gather us in, the lost and forsaken, gather us in, the blind and the lame; call to us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.
We are the young, our lives are a mystery, we are the old who yearn for your face; we have been sung throughout all of history, called to be light to the whole human race. Gather us in, the rich and the haughty, gather us in, the proud and the strong; give us a heart, so meek and so lowly, give us the courage to enter the song.
Here we will take the wine and the water, here we will take the bread of new birth, here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us anew to be salt for the earth. Give us to drink the wine of compassion, give us to eat the bread that is you; nourish us well, and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true.
Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven light years away--hear in this place the new light is shining, now is the kingdom, and now is the day. Gather us in and hold us forever, gather us in and make us your own; gather us in, all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone.
(Marty Haugen, copyright (c)1982 GIA Publications, Inc.)
Daily lectionary readings from Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, ©2005 Consultation on Common Texts. Hymn suggestions and prayer for the day from Bread for the Day 2008: Daily Bible Readings and Prayers, ©2007 Augsburg Fortress.