Jesus Our Shepherd
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Then came a man named John, sent as an envoy from God. He came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through his testimony everyone might believe. He himself was not the Light. He came only to testify about the Light, the true Light that illumines all humankind.

Now the Temple authorities sent emissaries from Jerusalem, priests and Levites, to talk to John. "Who are you?" they asked. This is John's testimony; he did not refuse to answer, but freely admitted, "I am not the Messiah." "Who are you then?" they asked. "Are you Elijah?" "No, I am not," he answered. "Are you the Prophet?" "No," he replied. Finally they said to him, "Then who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you have to say for yourself?"

John said, "I am, as Isaiah prophesied, the voice of someone crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight our God's road!'" The emissaries were members of the Pharisee sect. They questioned him further: "If you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, then why are you baptizing people?" John answered, "I baptize with water because among you stands one whom you do not recognize, the One who is to come after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." All this occurred in Bethany, across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Homily for 15 December 2002

Mission is Personal, God's Call is for Eternity
Rev. Jim Ryan

In today's first reading we have one of the most treasured passages of Judeo-Christian scripture. "God has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted…….. (Isaiah 61:1) This passage preserved by the Prophet Isaiah's followers indicates that the newly returned exiles to Jerusalem understood that God's call is for outreach to others. What makes this passage even more treasured for Christians is this is the passage Jesus chose to read when he stood up in his home-town synagogue in Nazareth. And after reading it he rolled up the scroll and said, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

In other words here is where we get into the mind of Jesus, into his own sense of personal mission - a mission that is for all people and for all ages.

Every Christian has such a personal call and such a responsibility to mission.

Jean and I want to report on the meeting we attended in Baltimore last weekend. The purpose of the meeting (sponsored by CITI Ministries, Inc.) was to invite a discussion about establishing worshipping communities across the country. These communities would call married priests back to ministry. Sadly, the meeting took on a tragic life of its own.

As we were going around the room introducing ourselves, Jim Harris, married priest and father was speaking of his life, of his family - Mary Jane, his wife, and Andrew, his son, of his life as a military chaplain, of his commitment to the work of CITI Ministries. As he spoke he collapsed, and tragically, he died.

Our weekend became an experience of prayers for Jim and his family who live in Florida. Our faith supported us in our sadness over Jim's passing, sad knowing that he leaves a widow and a 16 year old son. Our faith also allowed us to celebrate Jim's life, to be thankful that since God chose this way then Jim died among friends, among colleagues, among priests.

Jean and I did not know Jim Harris. We did get to have dinner Saturday evening with Mary Jane and Andrew (they flew up from Florida on Saturday morning.) We grew in a short time to understand that Jim was a special person - a chaplain with three tours in Vietnam.

We had a Resurrection Liturgy on Sunday morning in the room in which Jim died - the room that we also had our discussions about worshipping communities that Jim had been so committed to. Mary Jane read from the book Jim wrote and published after he returned from Vietnam, "The Ambivalent Heart." The passage she chose was truly revealing of Jim and it ended (paraphrased) this way. Jim wrote, "I was trained in the seminary to think high-minded philosophical thoughts and ponder theological realities, but life is lived in the trenches."

As Mary Jane read this I remembered Jim telling the story of his responding to anyone's request in Vietnam who wanted to receive Eucharist. Jim, as Jesus did, turned noone away.

Mary Jane shared with us that, yes, she is devastated that Jim died away from her arms. But she had great comfort that Jim died among priests and their spouses. And she is grateful to God that at the end Jim was anointed by a married priest.

So, as trite as it often sounds, "We know not the day, nor the hour." God's call is for Eternity. Jean and I thank God for even the few short minutes of knowing of Jim, his life, and his family.

Please pray for Mary Jane and Andrew, especially at this time of year. The birth of Christ as a human being is also Jim's transformation into the eternal life of Christ.

When we acknowledge that we have been given many gifts through our faith, we understand that we may not bury those gifts. Burial, in this instance, does not preserve and it certainly does not promote growth. Only sharing and reaching out to others in witness is the responsibility of the industrious and reliable person of faith.

So, our jobs are to do the hard work of community-building. Through prayer and public worship we at Jesus Our Shepherd have come to share God's glorious gifts. What are we to do now?

As we prepared last week by looking at the results of our parish survey that was completed by 54 individuals this past May-June, so this week we want to look at three central areas of community life. We plan to look at them by having a discussion that responds to three questions.

At this time we distributed sheets that had three questions on them:

  1. What do I think when I hear that Jesus Our Shepherd is a diverse and inclusive community?
    1. What does being a diverse community mean?
    2. What does being an inclusive community mean?
  2. What activities would increase our faith and action at Jesus Our Shepherd Parish?
  3. How will we make decisions as a community in the future?

Individuals offered their spoken response to these questions and we put those responses on paper. Others wrote their responses and we collected them afterwards. All the papers were included in the Offering of Gifts at the Preparation Rite for Eucharist. These represent the first response and the commitment to community building that we offer to God at this time.

These three questions relate to critical and central issues that our parish community must address going forward. These areas are: Mission, Ministry, and Organization.

On the basis of the spoken responses we can say that we want to be a community in which all are welcome and make others feel welcome, and we want to place our lives in dialogue with faith traditions and practices. We want to live with integrity while not simply attaching our life decisions to the application of outmoded laws and regulations. The twenty-first century presents very particular challenges in our decisions for life. It is up to us to practice a faith within a community that recognizes the dialogue that must take place within each person.

We also have suggestions for outreach both to ourselves as community and to others external to our worshipping experiences. Scripture study and discussion, responding to requests from local Food Pantries, children's toy drives, communications with persons serving our country in the armed services, and others are possibilities. There is truly much to decide upon.

And the third question looked for sharing responsibility for decisions and oversight of resources. We could have steering communities that take on these duties.

At the bottom of each sheet individuals were invited to identify which area interests them and to write their names and phone numbers to volunteer for follow-up decisions and actions. The community looks for proposals for action.

On the basis of this discussion, we can say that exciting times are ahead for Jesus Our Shepherd Parish. May we experience the full blessings of being industrious and reliable in the challenges faith places before us.