The Shepherds in Our Lives

Most Rev Dianne Sullivan

Today, 9/11/16, we remember and honor the many men and women who died on the infamous 9/11. Fifteen years ago something horrendous occurred and for too many the scars of trauma remain, their lives forever changed.

Today’s homily is not about 9/11, but rather those human moments, the twists and turns of our lives, when we are upended, lost, or our hopes dashed.

Yet hopelessness reaches towards hope and hurt moves toward healing. When we feel lost there is an opportunity to be found.

The promise and covenant of Jesus is that no matter the circumstances of our lives God is with us.

Take the experience of walking through the forest.

We walk deep into the forest trying to make note of where we are. The trees know where they are but we feel lost. But are we?

When our daughter Kristin was 10 years old we hiked up the popular Talcott Mountain in Simsbury, two families with five children between us. Kristin ran ahead of the sauntering adults and when we arrived at the designated meeting place she was no-where to be found. Panic went through my heart! We decided one adult would stay with the children and the other three would go in three different directions, calling, running, asking anyone on the trail. We found the ranger on duty. He had a mountain bike and a radio. I went back to the fork in the trail and sat by the enormous tree that held that space with authority. I prayed and cried. I was a mess. My little girl was lost and despite my best instincts, my deepest love, I could not bring her back.

In today’s gospel the shepherd has lost one of his sheep, something that was equally precious to him. How often we find ourselves in a similar position. Or in the opposite position where we feel lost, hurt, broken, our hopes dashed. When we find ourselves in this very human place, our hope is thin.

There is a sweet story of a little boy who was very sad. His mother suggested they pray. The little boys says, “But I can’t see God.” His mother responds, “God is here.” And the little boy says, “I need God with skin on.” And don’t we all.

It is the shepherds in our lives, God with skin on, that bring hope; our grandmothers, our aunts, our friends and neighbors, our teachers, pastors and rabbis.

There is the story of an Indian couple. He an artist, scientist and she was a writer and activist. He went blind and she lost feeling in her body from the shoulders down after a car accident. He cared for her for her entire life. They inspired and served everyone they met. Through painstaking art creation, inspired stories, and service groups this couple made a difference in the lives of every heart they touched. She died in 2008 and he had his 80th birthday yesterday. When we are inspired we gather up our courage from the stories of the brave.

Simply, at times we need to be reminded to put one foot in front of the other. If when we look into the eyes of another and we can see a light, a spark of hope that’s what gives us a sense of confidence and courage to move and to persevere. When someone is brave, we can be brave. When someone works to overcome obstacles we are inspired as well. When someone is mindfully accepting, we are reminded to dig deep and do the same.

If there is one recurring theme that Jesus preached it was the constant, magnificent and consistent love of God. The mission of Jesus was to make God accessible. And the continuous mission of Jesus today, is to make God come alive in the past, the present and the future. He is the ever-alive son pointing to the Father’s love as the way to shed ourselves of anything that is not true to our being, not true to our passions and that lives without hope and acceptance.

The shepherd in the gospel leaves his flock to find one lost sheep. And when he finds that sheep he carries it on his shoulders back to the flock. That he carries the sheep causes me to pause.

How many times have you felt carried by God?

How many times have you been picked up and then set down in greener pastures? How many times have you imagined the worst only to experience things working through. And how often we forget, we are being carried.

True, things don’t always work out, we feel disappointed or afraid, but things usually work. My experience has taught me that when I can relax and stop fighting what is, I can accept things as they are with a soft mind and soft heart.

Now to finish the story of our daughter, Kristin.

I sat at the fork in the road, and leaned against that giant tree, crying and praying. I found myself appealing to Mary, mother of Jesus. She’s a mother and she knew my fear.

After an eternity of slow motion time Kristin appeared like a mirage, running down the path breathless. She was sobbing, eyes swollen, nose red, an anguished mouth twisted. I was sobbing. She fell into my arms and I rocked her and held her, moaning deeply. I am sure that God found my girl that day and brought her to safety. I am sure God sat me down on the good earth, to wait by that big sprawling rooted tree. And I am sure that God rejoiced when we were reunited.

So many lives were lost on 9/11. There was no reuniting. Yet the best of who we are was experienced during and after that unspeakable horror. There were hundreds of shepherds that day, who sought the trapped, the injured, the frightened.

The best of who we are responds to the servant’s call to serve and love one another. Whether we are 15, 51, or 81 years old we can love well, we can comfort well, we can be God with skin on, we can give and we can receive, we can seek out the lost and bring one another home to the meeting place and rejoice together.

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