Today is Father’s Day and a day to celebrate. We celebrate fathers of all kinds – Founding Fathers, biological fathers, stepfathers, fathers who fathered the fatherless, priestly fathers who care for their flocks in the pews.
It is also Good Shepherd Sunday, when the Gospel tells of the telling by Jesus of the parable of the good shepherd who finds his lost sheep and rejoices. (Luke 15+) In other scripture we learn the shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know his voice. The shepherd is a father to his sheep. He protects his children.
The Epistle (I Peter 5:5+) bears that colorful warning from St. Peter that we must be sober and vigilant, for our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. The devil is seeking sheep, no doubt, lost sheep stranded on a cliff, alone. The Good Shepherd finds the lost sheep and saves him from the lion’s mouth.
Our preacher mentioned this morning that the role of the father is to protect the child from outside threats, but also to introduce him or her to the outside world. The father protects and emboldens, training his children to enter the world, a world of wondrous things and events, but also a world of harm and disarray.
And so, as Christians, we are protected and sheltered, yet also empowered, encouraged, urged on to do what we are called to do. The Body of Christ is also the Family of God, and clergy (if they are good ones) are our spiritual fathers who protect us in the name of the Good Shepherd. If they are not good priests, justice awaits them in the next world.
In this world, however, there is a sense of a great awakening as the Good Shepherd calls his sheep to gather other sheep into his fold, in time, before the lion roars. The pandemic, the drastic lockdowns, the fear, the disruption of lives, the loss of jobs and businesses, the loss of school, and the unforgivable masking of children have all given folks a chance to reflect upon what is important. In the losses, some have used the change in habit and communities to evaluate life and death, good and evil.
Where this has happened, it is a vivid example of God writing straight with crooked lines, a turning of despair into hope, darkness into light. For in reflection upon our own deaths, we see our own lives more clearly.
You or I do not know if tomorrow will be our last day on this good Earth. It is beneficial perhaps to hear time ticking, for it quickens us to live more fully, listen more acutely to the Master’s voice, the Shepherd’s call.
And we are all called by him. How do we know his voice? How can we hear him?
In scripture, sacrament, and song. In prayer and care and love. We immerse ourselves in the Shepherd’s words so that we recognize his voice, his calling us, his warning us of the darkness coming and the edge of the precipice.
As I drove to our Berkeley chapel this morning I considered that I had at least a year of eucharists to make up. The bread and the wine, changed into the Real Presence of Christ, nourishes us as no other. I missed the sacred elements feeding both my body and my soul. I took part via screens, singing and praying, but I missed the Holy Eucharist, the presence of the Real Presence.
It is a mystery, the action of the Eucharist. And yet fully supported by scripture and two millennia of doctrine. I know, with faithful attendance now, I will be like the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe. I will be made whole, holy once again.
And then I will know the Shepherd’s voice. I will hear him calling me out from a crowded place, the world of souls remaining on the planet. I will follow the voice, the voice of love, the voice of protection and comfort, the voice of salvation.
And across this land the fathers who are truly fathers will encourage, give courage, to their children. They will protect them from the world. They will shepherd them, and send them into the world with the shield of salvation, speaking truth to lies, good to evil, peace to war.
The Founding Fathers – those noble souls who worked to achieve a perfect union of disparate peoples in this great nation of immigrants – will never be forgotten, will always be honored, will teach us how to unite and not divide, to love and not hate. They too are our own national fathers, our own shepherds. They have given each of us a great gift: America. We must always remember and hear their voices on page and in song, voices lighting the way.
We are awakening from a long slumber. We hear the fathers’ voices, voices of love and light. We need merely listen and follow.