22 APR 2018
I could spend my time today extolling the beauty of the 23rd Psalm. I could talk about Jesus leading us as a shepherd. But I am not going to do that. What I want you to experience, not merely hear me speak about, is community, the beloved community.
But let’s start with sheep. I think if we know more about sheep we can better understand how we create and sustain a beloved community. For community is what Jesus came to proclaim. The so called Kingdom of God is really male centered language for the commonwealth of love, justice, and mercy. That is what “Thy Kingdom Come” is really all about.
So what about sheep? Did you know that (according to Rob McCoy in the podcast Pulpit Fiction):
Not stupid and mindless: Sheep can remember the face of 50 individual people or animals for up to 2 year
Sheep must be led - often by goats
Sheep are extremely communal animals: “they established firm friendships and looked out for one another in times of need: "Rams were found to form long term relationships… [they] intervened on behalf of weaker colleagues and supported each other in fights," says the 1993 study. These acts of loyalty and friendship-building are driven by emotions. A 2009 report published in Animal Welfare found that sheep are capable of experiencing a whole range of feelings, from fear to anger, despair, boredom and happiness.
They are fertile and demonstrate sexual preference with 8% exhibiting a lifelong same-gender sexual preference
Understanding Sheep Behavior
Sheep are social animals, so try and prevent seclusion.
Sheep by nature are followers; let them follow and don’t drive them as you would cattle.
Sheep are docile animals by nature.
Sheep have good memories; these memories need to be positive ones as much as possible.
Sheep like routine, so be patient when introducing something new.
Sheep reactions are predictable, so use them.
Sheep react negatively to loud noises and yelling.
Sheep tend to move in the opposite direction of the handler.
Sheep move best when not afraid, so work slowly and calmly.
Sheep will move towards other sheep.
Sheep have no depth perception, so shadows, dark surfaces and water are an issue.
Sheep fear new visual objects
Sheep can also be very destructive- there are 1.2 billion sheep in the world
unchecked they can consume to the point of decimating other species
Who are the other sheep in your midst? Are they immigrants? Those with substance abuse problems or mental illness? Are they “other” due to sexual preference or gender identity? Is the economic class to which they belong different?
That brings me back to community. The Diocese of Iowa is supporting an initiative of racial reconciliation entitled The Beloved Community with the goals of:
Telling the Truth through educational programs, re-examining local stories, partnering with allies and accomplices.
Proclaiming the Dream through interfaith gatherings for reflection and spiritual practice, seeking repentance, and rebuilding systems and structures.
Practicing the Way of Love by providing space for public story-telling, offering training opportunities for all ages, facilitating leadership training, and coordinating pilgrimages.
Repairing the Breach by building community partnerships, offering space for community groups, creating and offering justice initiatives, and supporting restorative justice initiatives.
But what I lay before you this morning is an even broader definition of beloved community that racial reconciliation. I say that Jesus asked every one of us to be a member of THE Beloved Community. That community is one founded on Love, Justice, and Mercy. Exactly what is being said in 1 John!! I have said it before and will say it again: desire is an emotion; love is an action verb.
We think of John 3:16 as the mantra of Christianity and often times think it is the cornerstone of our faith, misconstruing it as a litmus test of belief, when what Jesus said was that action was the cornerstone of living in the commonwealth of God. But listen to what is said in 1 John 3:16
This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. CEV
Is this not what Jesus did for us and what we are to do for one another? We must be willing to lay down our lives for one another: that is the definition of ultimate love. Would you have done that for a child? Most of us will never be asked to give up our lives for one another, yet we must be willing to become part of that healing community. We must speak truth to power and challenge those in power who deprive people of their basic human rights. We must proclaim the dream of God, so well-articulated by Verna Dozier, that we live together in community with God and one another and all of creation. We must practice love for one another by doing for and caring for and respecting the dignity of every human being and, I might add, all of creation. We must work to heal the wounds of humanity, be it racism or sexism or homophobia or a failure to care for the great creation of God in which we dwell.
How do we start to form a beloved community?
We can start by sharing our stories with one another. Perhaps this morning I can ask a question of you and, if you are willing, you can share your experience:
We are talking about love today, the kind of love that the Gospel teaches us, the love that means tending to and caring for. When is a time that you felt loved?