“The Knowledgeable Shephard”
April 25, 2021 – Easter 4 – Year B
Rev. Laura Turnbull
A surgeon by the name of Dr. Richard Selzer tells of witnessing the following scene. “I stood by the bed where a young woman lay, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted and drooping. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, had been severed. She will be this way from now on. During the surgery I followed with great care the curve of her face. Nevertheless, to remove the tumour in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
The woman’s husband was in the room. He stood on the opposite side of the bed, and it was obvious to me that the couple were lost in their private world.
The woman speaks carefully: “will my mouth always be like this?” “Yes” I replied, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”
She nods, and is silent. But the husband smiles.
“I like it, “he says. It is kind of cute.”
Unmindful of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth. Gently he twists his own lips to accommodate to her, to show her that their kiss still works. Instead of telling her that their love was great enough to overcome her anxiety and concern – he showed her – with unmistakable tenderness. The husband’s action left no doubt! Love is more powerful than the obstacles that life presents.
Today, we let go of side comments. We resolve to speak with gentleness. We refuse to enter into gossip. Today, we announce in unmistakable ways the incredible Good News that our God is the God of love. Ours is a faith that is deeply rooted in the assurance that God’s love is real in our lives.
How easy it is to herald the cries of God’s love. And how comfortable it would be to sit back and bask in the assurance that God loves us. But, like the husband of the story I just told, we too are asked to show our love in concrete and tangible ways. That is the faith that we profess in baptism and confirmation and that we enact each day.
The theme of love is explicitly stated in the scripture passage from 1 John 3 and is alluded to in the Gospel passages as well. The love that Jesus lived out, as Good Shepherd and healer was described using parables and poetry and proclamation. Both of the passages offer reflections on the sustaining power of love.
Love is one of those topics that we hear about week after week when we come to worship. We like to hear the stories of God’s love for all people – I suspect, because we so need love to make us feel whole. And let’s face it, if the preacher is talking about love than she or he is not urging us to get involved in social action or out-reach activities. But – guess what, today I am going to talk about love in action.
The letter from John, which was read earlier challenges us to consider love as an action which includes a wide circle of people. You see, love is not just some warm, cuddly feeling that bathes us in calmness, and tranquillity. Love is not simply the warm embrace by a benevolent God. Instead, love has arms and legs, body and soul that reaches out to the hurting, the lame, the needy and the dispersed flock of God’s people.
A few months ago, the United Church’s Broadview magazine which replaces the old Observerdescribes the ministry of First United Church in the west end of Vancouver. Dubbed the poorest church in Canada, the haven is the only place many can relate to as a form of home. Sprawled on church pews, drinking hot coffee and lining up to take a much needed shower, these street people are family to one another. Some of the people have been able to move off of the streets and find employment and affordable housing. And in return, they come back to First United Church and offer their skills to assist others. One man offers free haircuts. Another helps with filling out forms. Some just listen. But, whatever is offered is given out of love and thankfulness. First United Church, Vancouver truly is love in action.
What does the account of a mission program on the west coast of Canada have to do with us on this last Sunday in April? Part of the answer is offered in my opening story. We need to ask ourselves, are we prepared to contort our mouths to show our love? Will we reach out to neighbour and share our skills and energy? Will we listen without passing judgement? Will we support the Mission and Service fund of the United Church, so that continued funding might be offered to First United Church in Vancouver and other outreach centres all across Canada? Will we commit ourselves to being just and caring in all spheres of our life?
You see – love in action takes us beyond the confines of home and church and moves us into the fields and offices and homes and very lives of God’s people. To be in solidarity with people implies involvement. And so, I look out into this amazing congregation and I reflect on all the many ways you share your gifts. There is always time to listen to a troubled soul. I see the Thrift Store and its many volunteers being a hive of activity and outreach. I see Anjanee, Lorraine and Denis faithfully offering insightful worship on those Sunday’s that I am not with you and I marvel at their gifts. I see Joan and Anne faithfully navigating through the challenging world of Zoom technology, so that we might worship together. I see Ray quietly fixing all sorts of things throughout the building. And then there are all the UCW members who are anxious to get back into the kitchen so they can make it hum. And what is most astounding, these folk do the tasks with a smile on their face. They are filled with love. They, just like all of you, realize that we are called into a revolutionizing way of love. So, let us be a people of grace – a people of loving action that helps to create a more just, caring, and peaceful world. Let us love one another, for we all are loved by God. Amen.