Scripture: Acts 4:5-12 and John 10:10-18
Sermon working title: Peter wasn't always a very good Christian..(or: Ba-a-a-a-a-a-ah-d Sheep)
When I read Jesus' sayings in the Gospel about "the good shepherd" and his depiction of bad shepherds, I wonder and worry about the kind of shepherd I am. Both pastors and parents are shepherds of a sort, and I am very aware of ways and times I have not been a good shepherd either as pastor to the congregation or as parent to my son and step-children.
That thrust of judgement is certainly one way this image was used in the Jewish faith tradition. The prophets especially spoke of true and false shepherds as a way of critiquing and judging leaders of the people who did not exercise their role properly and who mis-led and hurt, rather than led and nurtured the people.
But am I alone in this?
A sermon I will never forget hearing in my last years in my childhood church tells me I am not. The sermon was about anger, and in it the minister told the story of one Saturday night he spent with a colicky infant, an exhausted wife, and an unfinished sermon. The baby would not sleep, and it was already 3 or 4 am. His wife was exhausted and could do no more; she needed sleep. The minister, still struggling with the sermon for the next morning, took the child and tried to help her sleep. But after an hour of walking and rocking and tentatively placing the child in the crib -- all to no avail, what the minister said he finally felt like doing when he bent down one more time to pick up his crying daughter from her crib, was simply to throw her against a wall, if only that would make her stop crying.
I have loved that minister for many reasons, and that sermon alone would have been sufficient.
It makes me wonder about the deep mystery of how one can be a bad shepherd and good shepherd at one and the same time -- bad pastor and good, bad parent and good.
Maybe it has to do with how we handle the ways we are bad, and where we turn for help.
When I read Peter's sermon to the leaders of Jerusalem about "the stone that was rejected, that has been made the cornerstone," it's good to remember Peter is speaking as one who himself a number of times rejected that stone that God lays in the world. (Recall the famous triple denial, the running away, even the earlier "satanic" attempt to turn Jesus into a different kind of messiah than he really is?)
Without these humanizing and honest touches added to the portrait of Peter, his words sound only harsh and judgemental of others. But with them, something emerges about the amazing gift of finding ourselves (sometimes-bad shepherds, all of us?) redeemed and growing into goodness as we find our place in the flock gathered and fed by the one Truly Good Shepherd.
None of us is truly and always good in and of ourselves; but is it maybe that we grow into goodness and come to participate in a goodness greater than ourselves, as we find and take our place in the community of those who follow Jesus, or at least in some sort of truly spiritual community?