Gathering the Flock
CRE Jane Shelton, January 3, 2021
2nd Sunday after Christmas
We have finally made it! 2020 is gone, and we are celebrating and welcoming 2021 with great joy and hope as we begin this new year, although COVID is not done with us yet!
Somehow this past year though, feels like….well, it feels like the Grinch came, and he had no heart at all!
I fear that 2020 has left a scar on us that we will not soon forget. It seems we have lost so much, but would we be remiss if we did not look at what we have gained?
In some ways, it seems like it was just a couple weeks ago when I was talking to you from this very spot about “Star Words.” Remember those? You know, the yellow stars we gave out last January that held a meaningful word. A word that we were to hold for the year, to live into, and then we would be able to gather this January to discuss and remember our words, and perhaps share with one another exactly how those words had spoken to us through the year.
My Star Word was “trustworthiness.” I remember pulling that word from the basket, and thinking, “Gosh, I hope I’m already trustworthy!” But as I had instructed everyone to do, I placed that star in a memorable place in my house so that I could see it often, and be reminded of my trustworthiness that I needed to live into.
So there it was on my refrigerator all year, staring back at me every time I opened the door, and next to it was Dick’s Star Word, “Unity.”
I often pondered how these words applied to us. What did they mean? And how would we live into them.
Then came COVID-19 like a bad winter storm that wouldn’t go away. Life became complicated, frustrating and yes, even disappointing.
People that I worked with daily, were no longer in my life, and people that I was used to sharing joy with were being informed of much disappointment.
Any thoughts of gathering with friends and family became almost impossible. Whoever thought we would have to cancel Easter Egg hunts, picnics and routine daily activities? No graduations, no football gatherings, no Thanksgiving and perhaps worst of all, no Christmas gatherings?
Indeed life changed, and it changed for everyone. There was no normal, and we were all left wondering if life would ever return to the normal we once knew, and we still wonder.
Yet, here these Star Words remained, staring back at me day after day. Trustworthiness and Unity.
As I began preparing for today’s message, I realized how comforting the words in Jeremiah 31 were that Dick Shelton read for us this morning, and how comforting and timely in a world turned upside down. Knowing the Shepherd will gather the flock. Knowing we will indeed gather again. I could just picture myself like the lamb in the arms of Jesus like we see in the beautiful stained glass window here in this church, and many other churches we’ve visited.
We will no longer languish, and we will have joy! The Lord will comfort us and give us gladness! We will be satisfied with the Lord’s bounty! I wondered had these been someone else’s star words? Joy? Gladness? Satisfied?
So there in my mind popped one of the words that I had been staring at all year, and a loud voice in my heart spoke, “we will gather and have unity in the flock.” God wants his children to be unified.
And if we believe in him, if live into God’s trustworthiness, we will be given the power to be children of God. It is through grace that we are given the power to be children of God, and to live into that calling by showing others the love of Christ. With this power to be a child of God, I realized how important it is for me to reflect this same trustworthiness to others. How important it is that I have the ability to be relied upon as honest and truthful so that I might reflect God’s grace and truth.
We are all used to gathering to socialize, fellowship, and share meals.
Gathering is an instinct of survival. From the beginning of time, gathering has occurred. Gathering of nature for natural events to occur, gathering of animals in packs for survival, and gathering of humans for survival and growth.
When we look back to when Jesus was born, there was gathering at the manger. When Jesus walked among us teaching the good news, groups gathered to hear his teachings. Indeed, Jesus traveled with a group of disciples and others for support and protection. When he was judged and crucified, groups gathered. When Christ arose, groups gathered.
So how do we respond today when we cannot gather physically?
One of my commentaries on Lectionary Reflections by Jill Duffield states, “This text in John invites us to silence that voice within us that tells us to keep everything under control, do not expect too much, do not hope too much, do not reveal too much, to not rejoice or grieve too much, and instead give ourselves over to the Word made flesh and embodied in us. Allow the Word to overwhelm and envelop, silence in you any voice but God’s. Open your mouth, your body, your whole Jesus-redeemed being to praise and song, truth, grace upon grace, let it radiate through you so that you will be, …we will be, ….the light of the world no darkness can overcome.”
God sent his Son, God in the flesh, to gather the flock, and to show us how to keep gathering. So we gather in the power that has been given us as Children of God. We gather in Spirit by grace and truth that we have been shown by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
When we gather via Livestream and Zoom, Facetime and Telephone, we gather not by physical touch, rather by the power of the Spirit that touches us within the heart, just as the Spirits in the wombs of Mary and Elizabeth jumped with joy before John the Baptist and Jesus were able to physically touch.
In Dolly Parton’s Christmas Special, she sings, “Circle of Love,” and the lyrics to this song speak to our text today:
‘Circle of love, halo of light, when Jesus was born on that Christmas night.
God sent his Son, his great gift to us. Salvation for all, he loved us that much.
We honor and praise that gift from above. He holds all of us in a circle of love.’
It’s up us to continue the circle of love, and Jesus has shown us the way.
So even if we can’t gather the way we want to now, the way we think of as normal, think of all the doors that have been opened and given to us because we have been given the power to learn new ways to gather as children of God to share the Word in this world. We have been given the power to learn new technology, new ways to share in worship, new ways to connect and gather. New ways to embrace and expand our circle of love.
We are constantly bombarded with what we should think and feel, what and who we should like and dislike, and who we should follow or stand with.
Yet, God has given his children the power, and it is up to us how we choose to use that power. Will it be to follow an ever-changing world telling us what we should think or feel with every whim…., or will it be to follow Jesus in all his trustworthiness in a circle of love on whatever path we are given, in whatever direction we are taken.
In the end, we will gather and be united in the power of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God. As long as we trust in his Word, as long as we believe we have the power to be children of God, and with that comes the responsibility to continue bringing in the lambs to the flock, until that time when we are all united and gathered at the Lord’s table.
*Cover Art from https://pemptousia.com/2016/12/the-word-became-flesh-john-1-14-a-sermon-on-the-nativity-of-christ/