Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Many of you know that Annie and I have four cats: Genevieve, Hildegard, Jerome, and Alban. Three of the four have been acquired since we came to Findlay six years ago- Jerome wandered up to the back door of the rectory and just stuck around; we found Hildegard seemingly near death in a ditch while we were taking a drive in Putnam county and I pulled over to grab her and take her to the veterinary hospital, assuming they’d have to euthanize her and delighted that she pulled through; and we Alban famously adopted Alban after our parish’s service day at the Humane Society two years ago. Genevieve is the old lady of the house, whom not only preceded our moving here to Findlay but actually preceded our marriage by four years. That being the case, I was more or less the only human she interacted with consistently for the first third of her life, and she’s developed a strong attachment to me.

This becomes obvious whenever I spend any amount of time away. I was at our annual clergy conference in Geneva-on-the-Lake earlier this week, just two nights out of town, and ever since she’s been pretty much on top of me. It can make it hard to read or do anything on the computer because she’s not satisfied just to sit on my lap; she wants to be right up in my face. Some of you know I’ll be away for the whole month of July this summer, first at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention in Baltimore and then as the chaplain for the Merchant Marine academy’s training voyage in the North Atlantic. I can only imagine how clingy this cat is going to be when I finally return.

You’ve all hear the idiom “herding cats”, meaning trying to control an unruly group of people or a chaotic system. This, presumably, is meant to contrast with herding sheep, who are reckoned more docile and obedient. Now, I know it is technically true that sheep tend to be compliant; they are fully domesticated whereas housecats are reckoned only half-domesticated, which is to say that they’re still half wild. My experience, though, is that our cats know our voices and they follow, just like a sheep is meant to do, and just like the sheep of Christ’s fold, whom Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel are meant to do.

I will take this one step further. I wonder if most of us most of the time are worse off than either the sheep or the housecats. We are a lot more clever, if not any wiser, than the innocent creatures of the earth, which means we can convince ourselves we have no need to follow the voice of Jesus, our shepherd. Jesus’ task is harder than herding sheep or herding cats, because we human beings are just a little too smart and a little too wild to be fully- or even seemingly half-domesticated sometimes.

The most important thing about seminary–as great and necessary as all the classes in scripture and theology and church history were–was the expectation that we all attended chapel three times a day every day for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and the Eucharist. In the center of campus was the Chapel of the Good Shepherd and above the altar, flanked by statues of Old Testament Patriarchs and New Testament Apostles, in the very center was a ststue of Christ the Good Shepherd, holding a lamb which clearly wanted to be as close to Christ as it could get. It was getting right up in his face, just like my cat does when I’ve been gone for too long. And that, I think was what we were meant to be doing in this thrice daily retreat to the chapel–getting as close to Jesus as we could do, because even if we wandered from time to time, we knew his voice and we loved him and in the deepest part of our hearts we simply wanted to be with him, even if we didn’t always acknowledge that.

What if we acknowledged this truth about ourselves, our need to be held in the arms of Jesus simply to be close to him, more often than we do? What if our heart’s desire was simply to rest in his arms more often, to look into his face more often, to find that in following him he simply bids us rest in his presence? That, I think, is why we come to this place week in and week out, whether we know it or not. That, I think, is why in the midst of all the busyness of life, we must take time daily for prayer. We will hear his voice. We will see his face. He will hold us close to his sacred heart. We need only let him lead us. We need only, sometimes, to let him carry us beside still waters to refresh our souls.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.