[Start w/ my trip to Houston, my video project and finally, Dad’s line: "we are always in procession"]
Once we get established and rooted we want to protect what we have. It’s much harder to be open and generous because we’ve built it, we “own” it, we’ve earned it, we’ve claimed it for ourselves, the land, the space, the people, and we’ve put all this money into it all these years and so the attitude becomes one that is the opposite of what’s embodied by the image of “open hands” and always being on the move, “always being in procession.”
But look at the image on the cover of our bulletin: Open hands and moving with the flock.
The Good Shepherd of the valley is a nomad, with no place to lay his head. And we are called to follow him, for we are his flock. Let’s just be honest about shepherds. They were not rooted people. The 23rd Psalm is a song about journey, walking through valleys and green pastures, sitting along water, the scenery is always changing (every noticed that?). Shepherds move around and their lives, both out in nature and in society—being the lowest on the socio-economic ladder—were always at risk. Faithfulness, trusting God, worshiping together is risky.
It’s all striking me today, because – I don’t know about you but – my natural impulse is to want to settle, to have things secure and in place, to tie up the loose ends and to carve out a nice, little niche, to put my money and my time and my hobbies and my family and my friends and my church, to pack it all in there.
And then I want to protect all those good things and myself with them. I don’t know about you but often, especially when times are tough, I’m seeking a cave.
But the shepherd and the sheep are always in procession. That’s the story of the Bible to isn’t it? Think of all the processions in the Bible: Adam and Eve processing out of the Garden of Eden into the frightening world; Abraham and Sarah processing across the desert; Jacob and his brothers and all they’re families processing to Egypt; and of course the 40-year procession with Moses and Miriam and Aaron back to the Promised Land. But the procession is never finished, just when the people get settled and the things start seeming in place, the palace is built in Jerusalem, the king is powerful and smart, the money is secure, the army is rockin’…
Then comes invasion and strife, and before you know it the people are back out in a procession to Babylon in exile; many years later they process home again; but then Rome; and then Jesus, procession back and forth from Galilee to Jerusalem, to Calvary, and then back to Galilee; then the great commission and Pentecost, the great sending out, then Paul and Lydia, and the mission is expanded. The journeys continue through the ages...moving, moving over seas and mountains, across deserts and through forests. Dad was right, God’s people are always in procession. And that sounds pretty scary: to never be finally be rooted and settled in this life.
But this is what “flock life” is. In baptism we become inducted by God’s grace, actually, into this “flock life”. We are sheep in in Christ’s fold, and so we are always in procession. Always moving from one pasture to another. From one adventure to another (it’s not always terrifying, many times it’s fun), from one transition to another, always moving, always changing.
And like sheep we don’t always want to get up and move. “I’m fine right here, Jesus, thank you very much!”
But today and forevermore Christ gently nudges us with his staff (the symbol of our congregation—the staff) and moves us along. C’mon Lois, c’mon Dusty…c’mon Dan. “But I don’t want to!”
“I know,” Jesus says, “and I love you still, but we need to get going. And you’re part of this flock.” [pause]
And the shepherd’s staff doesn’t just push us forward in the procession, it also pulls us in from the side when we go astray, as sheep do. The Good Shepherd of the valley is such a rich image.
I hope everyone here, from some point in their life or another, has a “getting-hooked-back-into-the-fold” story. Where you strayed from this risky procession of the faithful and decided to settle down and away from the flock, as we all can, but someone hooked you and pulled you back into the procession. Maybe it was just a gentle invitation back, or maybe it was more dramatic, and you were in big trouble, like a lamb caught in a ravine or trapped on a cliff. But somehow God found you, through friends or family or strangers, and here you are today, back in the procession.
My family and I were at the MS walk yesterday, because one of our dear friends, Andrea, 32 years old, has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. And we, along with friends and strangers, gathered and walked with her, and for her and for all those diagnosed with this terrible disease. And our kids walked too, and in such a large crowd and with a handful of friends our kids would move around and walk with different people and dogs. Lots of dogs. And our group, together with Heather and I, would keep hooking them back in to the fold as they would wander or stray or stop or get into trouble. The community would bring them back in, lovingly and firmly. And we would keep moving. It was a wonderful way to live into this text for today. I could have been rooted at home in my cave.
We are always in procession. With Christ as our Good Shepherd, sometimes out front, sometimes along side, sometimes nudging from behind.
So where is Christ leading us as a congregation? Where is Christ leading Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church of La Mesa? How are we being called to lay down our lives, to risk it all for the sake of the Gospel? And how is God leading you?
The walk of the faithful is a constant procession, but we do not walk alone, we walk together, for Christ processes with us, this day and always, always. AMEN.