A reflection on the Gospel for Easter 6A:John 14:15-21
A recent article on MSNBC Today internet news tells this story: “Michelle Feldstein was prepared to provide special accommodations for the blind horse she recently added to the flightless ducks, clawless cats and homeless llamas inhabiting her animal shelter in Montana.
But nothing could prepare her for (what actually happened)....
“Sissy came with five goats and five sheep – and they take care of her,” said Feldstein, the force behind Deer Haven Ranch, a private rescue facility she runs with her husband, Al, on 300 acres north of Yellowstone.
The seeing-eye sheep and guard goats are never far from the white mare, and they never lead her astray. They shepherd Sissy to food and water, and angle the horse into her stall amid blowing snow or driving rains.
“They round her up at feeding time and then move aside to make sure she gets to eat” Feldstein said. “They show her where the water is and stand between her and the fence to let her know the fence is there.”
Feldstein rescued the horse and her companions from another rescue facility in western Montana where they were slated to be put down. She says, “There's a magic involved in sheep, goats, and a horse becoming friends...and you have to wonder, why can't people do that?”
Jesus says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Jesus also says, “The greatest commandment is this, that you shall love God, love others, and love yourself.” The Gospel of John, the Easter season Gospel, is all about love. Not the mushy, warm and fuzzy love, but mostly the hard kind of love, extending compassion and care to the least of God's creation, and the human beings that challenge us the most.
In the Gospel of John it is night, we're back to Maundy Thursday. Today's reading is known as his “farewell” address, and is filled with his efforts to assure his disciples and calm their fears. The disciples have no idea of what lies ahead, of the chaos they will witness and live through.
Last Sunday I spoke about the nature of God - as the One who creates life and recreates new life out of chaos, often using human hands and hearts to manifest God's love in the world. As some prepared for the end of the world based on some mathematical equation derived from Noah and the flood, others in this country were dealing with real life struggles and tragedies. This has been the most destructive tornado season on record. Sunday night the massive tornado destroyed portions of Joplin, MO. Tuesday night found me following Facebook and Twitter updates as many of my friends in Texas and Oklahoma sought shelter from several waves of tornadoes. Those same storms blew through Ohio and Michigan dumping buckets of water on us.
One Facebook friend to wrote, “For some, the world ends every day...”
For some the world ends every day.
The disciples knew this feeling. But they also learned what comes after, what comes with love. I don't know if we could call the actions of the sheep and goats tending to Sissy, acts of love. But it could be. I certainly think that animals are capable of emotion. Perhaps on some level they understand that their lives are fragile, that they were facing a sure and certain end, perhaps some aspect of that reality brought them together and formed them into this caring mis-matched troupe of sheep and goats and a blind horse. I also imagine that in some regard, in some way, there is a presence of love between them. And, in that regard, Feldstein has it right, they model for us, how we too are called to love.
In un-predictable ways, in mis-matched ways, with people we least expect. Called to love like this because that is how Jesus loved- with outcasts and sinners, with women and fishermen, with tax collectors, and children, the lost, the broken, the sick, with everyone and anyone.
And now the news is filled with stories of rescue, of people helping other people. My little Facebook and twitter group, are holding in prayer, a string of people across this country from Oklahoma City, to Dallas, Texas, to Joplin, Missouri, to Memphis, Tennessee, to Little Rock Arkansas, to Huntsville, Alabama, to Dayton Ohio – people known “in real life” and those known only through social networks, but all who know the other as “friend.”
I have had the opportunity these last couple of weeks to visit with some of our home-bound parishioners. People, who, in their younger years, were vibrant members of this parish. I bring them communion, I anoint them and pray with them. I take the time to listen to their stories and try to see this church through their eyes, their love. I hope to give them a space to remember, and place to be remembered. I hold their sorrow and sadness as they describe what it is like to be the last of their generation, to have all of their friends gone. I try to bring to them a sense of being cared for, of the love that resides in this congregation, among all of you. And I strive to honor the reality that we are here because they were here, just like those who come after us will be able to do so because we are here now.
Through out time, what binds us together, from Jesus to the disciples, from the founding members of the Christian church to the founding members of this church, and through every generation that has worshiped here, is the love of God. The love of God made known to us through Jesus, through prayer and song, through bread and wine, through hands extended out to share the gifts, where strangers become friends and friends become family, guiding one another through joys and travails of life. A mis-matched bunch, perhaps, but one united, nonetheless, in the love of God.
I think its awesome that Feldstein and her husband are caring for animals who would otherwise have no home. But I think it is sad that she does not know human beings who show the same kind of love and compassion for other humans as she sees in the guidance of the sheep and goats for the blind horse. All around us are human beings doing this, reaching into chaos and, acting as agents of God's love, working to bring forth wholeness, through love and compassion for others. From Japan to Chile, from the Australia to the Gulf Coast, across this country and around the world, people stepping into the chaos and helping, restoring order, a sign of hope, hearts of love. I hear this, too, in the stories of this church through the decades, and I witness it every day as I come to know you.
If you love me, you will keep my commandment, to love God, love others, and love self.