June 9, 2018
Ordination of The Rev. Dave Jones
Dave, out of all the reasons you are here today – your gifts for ministry, music, compassion, humor . . . and yes, they are many . . . the gift that is uniquely you, which I appreciate more than you will ever know, is that you are the ONLY person in my life who actually KNOWS what it means to tend sheep!! Yes Dave, you have been blessed, with sheep-owning and sheep-loving neighbors. Your willingness to step in, now and again, to care for those sheep means that I – and now everyone here - know someone who knows sheep.
Now I don’t want to be accused of generalizing or worse, stereotyping sheep – I’m sure they are uniquely individual, just like all of us – but from you I’ve learned that sheep aren’t particularly nice. Or cuddly. Or docile. Or dumb! They know what they want. They know what they need. And they are smart enough to conspire to get those things. Unfortunately - for you - that means you have been knocked over, butted, and played by the sheep in your care.
But at your expense – thank you - I now have a new appreciation for and insight into John’s famous passage on the Good Shepherd, which we just heard. It seems that tending sheep isn’t the peaceful, pastoral, or serene vocation the storybooks would have us believe it is. No, being a shepherd demands attention and uses energy. All of it. There really is no respite. I’ve watched enough cartoons to know that as soon as you turn your back or rest your eyes, that’s when the Ralph Wolf or Wile E. Coyote threaten. And, the stakes are high. Not only do the sheep depend on the shepherd, but ultimately, so too does the livelihood of the family who owns the sheep. Being a shepherd can be dangerous work . . . and being a truly committed shepherd, THE Good Shepherd, means it may even cost you your life.
And yet, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, doesn’t even flinch at all of that. In fact, he chose it. God chose to be among us – DARED to be among us, actually. And there are no sheep – no people -- that are too unruly, too marginalized, too invisible to receive the Good Shepherd’s care. That’s the thing about the Good Shepherd. He stands in the midst of the sheep, on the fringes of the sheep, or wherever he’s needed – always in the “right place”– with all the “wrong people.” Don’t misread me here – I use the word “wrong” only as our culture uses it. Because Jesus, the Good Shepherd tended to all the “wrong” people: the lowly fishermen and the divorced woman at the well. He fed lepers, sinners, and tax collectors. He gently welcomed back the strays, and forcefully called forth the dead.
He continues to do the same today; standing with the poor, trudging through the wilderness with the addict, comforting asylum seekers and refugees, loving the prisoner, understanding the disabled.
Now, I know it is tempting, as we hear today’s Gospel – especially at an ordination service – to place you, Dave, and ourselves as clergy in the image or shoes of the shepherd. I mean that’s what the word “Pastor” means after all. It’s Latin, and it literally means “feeder” or “one who feeds.” Our Prayer Book confirms that role, and in just a few minutes, the Bishop will declare, “You are called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher, together with your bishop and fellow presbyters.” So in a sense, today, Dave, you will become a new shepherd to a flock of sheep.
But hear this – your life as a priest may be to emulate the Good Shepherd . . . to continually point to the Good Shepherd . . . to be an icon, if you will, of the Good Shepherd – but it’s not to BE the Good Shepherd. There is only one Good Shepherd. That’s Jesus.
And I know Dave, that you already know this. You know this through your service with “All the Way Up,” as you’ve tutored, one-on-one, young adults in Newark to pass their High School Equivalency test or prepare them for their job certification exams. By doing so, you embody the Good Shepherd, but at the same time, so do your students. Just as you feed them, they are feeding you.
The same was true, last summer, when you shepherded one of our campers for our “It’s My Turn” vacation Bible camp for children on the autism spectrum. Your one-on-one camper happened to be a “runner,” which in autism-speak, means that this particular sheep had an innate desire to wander. And as most 4 year olds do, he ‘wandered’ much FASTER than you! Shepherding him was exhausting and demanded your complete and utter attention. All the time. And yet, even as you tended to him, he was tending to you. Calling you by name. You became one of the few people, in the circle that made up his world, that he had ever connected with. His love for you was concentrated and pure. Just as you fed him, he fed you.
Finally – and if you ever begin to get too full of yourself, too proud, too strong, too sure – I want you to remember all those who have served as shepherds to you. Those who have been the voice of the Good Shepherd in your life. Because, to hear you speak of it, it sounds like you needed a good bit of shepherding. From your mom’s dogged persistence [You knew I would include your dogs in this homily somehow, right?!] to those who have helped shape and support you – Bob, and his family; your sisters, and brother – who I know you lost suddenly. To the generosity of those at Church of the Redeemer, and to those here, who have helped name and affirm your gifts. To the people in this Diocese – our Bishop and Canon, and the many Commissions, Committees, mentors and [even Methodist] friends who have walked with you on this journey. No one does THIS alone.
Finally Dave (Please stand – look at this community of shepherds and this community of sheep) – and remember that you know the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. Be assured of that. But, so often and so easily the Good Shepherd’s voice gets drowned out by the competing noise of our modern life and our incessant drive to “succeed” or “achieve.” Your survival as a one of the sheep in the pasture – and as one who also serves as a shepherd to many – is to spend time listening for the Good Shepherd’s voice. In song. In scripture. In community. In nature. In silence. And as difficult as this is, listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice in weakness. That’s what gives you the strength to stand “in the right place, with all the wrong people” in love, and it allows us to not only reflect the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd into those places, but to also recognize Jesus the Good Shepherd in others.
This is a pasture where I hope to graze - - and it’s a pasture that I know you will tend. Where God’s name is glorified, and Jesus’ kingdom realized. May it be so.