I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. -- Jeremiah 23:4
I've been thinking lately that I have more in common with some Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, than I do with some Christians. There are some Christians that scare the begeebers out of me. They preach a message of fear and exclusion, and make God's love conditional. They say that if you repeat certain words and perform certain rituals, you are saved. If you don't, you are damned.
Now, I'm not saying that repeating those words or performing those rituals prevents one from entering God's Kingdom. I just think they are unnecessary. The fear and exclusion that these conditions promote may, however, prevent some from entering God's Kingdom. That is what bothers me the most. Where did this message of conditional love come from?
Not from Jesus that is for sure. Jesus embraced all of the excluded ones. He invited them in. And it didn't matter where they were from, or what they had done or not done, or what they looked like. All they had to do was believe that such unconditional love was possible. God loved them already. They just needed to understand that. Fear and exclusion had to be countered with love and inclusion in order for their hearts to be turned to God.
Last Sunday's Gospel reading was John 10:1-10. In this reading, Jesus says repeatedly, "I am the gate." He protects the sheep from wolves and bandits. So, if a shepherd wants to care for the sheep, lead them to green pastures, he can only rightly enter the sheepfold by going through Jesus. Jesus tells this parable or allegory just after he heals the man who was born blind, the man whom the Pharisees viewed as a sinner and damned. Jesus did not view the man as a sinner at all. He healed him because he had compassion for him. Jesus was trying to teach his followers that what was essential in one who would be saved was simply the desire to be saved. And the appropriate response was compassion and service.
The parable of the gate tells me that there are different kinds of shepherds. Some teach the same message as Jesus, which is God's message. Some do not. A Muslim who teaches that the Kingdom of God is found within (as Rumi did), is a true shepherd of God. A Muslim who teaches his flock that the Kingdom of God is found by killing your enemy is not a shepherd of God. A Lutheran pastor who teaches that God does not love sinners does not go through the gate that is Jesus. But if he teaches that God loves us all, sinners and saints, Prodigals and Elder Brothers, then he is a true shepherd of God. These teachings of Jesus come from God. Even if they are taught by someone who did not know Jesus, they are still God's message. For "in my Father's house there are many dwelling places...."
Dear and Wonderful Lord, you show me the way through your Beloved Son, the Master Shepherd. Thank you both for loving us so much. Love always, Pam