Monday, July 21, 2014
Bring Home Our Sheep
Good Shepherd, Berkeley 5/11/14
I am always in a quandary when I preach on Mother’s Day. I myself am a mother, and it has been the richest experience of my life. It was very important that my daughter called me this morning, and later in the day I expect one or two long worshipful essays on Facebook. But we are not all mothers- we do not all have that experience in our lives. And there are many, many other beautiful expressions of God’s love to celebrate besides that of mother. So the celebration of Mother’s Day, I think, must be seen in perspective.
But whether or not we have ever BEEN a mother, we have all HAD mothers, whether or not they are still with us in body and in spirit. And inevitably, there is a way in which one’s mother might recall either the acts of the Good Shepherd, or perhaps some exemplary gate we might aspire to. My own mother was not a perfect shepherd, but of course I adored her. My most enduring vision of her is as a glamorous blonde lying back on a chase lounge, holding a cigarette in one manicured hand while frowning intensely into her magazine. As a child I was not entirely sure if she would ever lay down her magazine, let alone her life for me, but of course I worshipped her anyway.
And she did give me many gifts of good shepherdly abundance. My mother was the one who brought me to the Episcopal Church as a child, and after a few years I was prepared for confirmation. She bought me a white lace dress that was so expensive that it occasioned a screaming fight between my parents. My father, to her fury, boycotted the confirmation event as a result.
After the service we came home, and in a few minutes our Priest, Don Seaton came storming through the unlocked door.
“Where the hell were you this morning Dave Gardner?” He roared at my father, who was seated in his easy chair. I was thrilled. I ever after thought of that act of his as that of a Good Shepherd- looking after one of his small sheep.
But for any travails I had as a child, I was singularly blessed to enjoy my confirmation classes and my schools, to be educated, to be taken care of, kept safe. No one doubted that I deserved and would get an education. There was no danger in this. No question about it.
But it seems such things cannot be taken for granted anymore. The news story that has most riveted my attention of late, describes the act of a group of thieves and bandits who kidnapped almost 300 girls from the Chibok Girls’ Secondary School in Northern Nigeria. These girls were targeted just because they were seeking an education. The thieves who broke in to steal these girls, as they were taking their final exams, belong to the terrorist organization, Boko Haram, a word which means “Western education is forbidden”
To the great frustration of the mothers and fathers of the abducted girls, the Nigerian government seemed uninterested in doing anything at all. Many of the fathers of the girls, unarmed and unsupported by their government went off to find the girls, knowing the danger they faced.
In the voice of the Good Shepherd, they said, “We are going to find our girls. And if we die, we die.” Slowly the word got out, and slowly it became apparent that the whole world was watching. I have now heard that President Obama has sent a team of military and law enforcement agents to help the Nigerian government to find and rescuing the girls. To my great relief we also now have Britain, France, Canada, and China pledging to help as well.
They are at last following the lost sheep, even into the valley of the shadow of death, because if they manage to rescue them, they may be saving these girls from a death-like life.
This is the way of Christ the Good Shepherd. This is the gate he bids us walk through. Thank God that there are those brave enough to go through this gate, to risk suffering for, as Peter’s letter would have it, God’s work.
The terrorists and the girls are believed to be hiding in the vast Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria, so it will not be an easy task to find them. But in these seemingly impossible situations, a Good Shepherd, someone of extraordinary courage is often likely to arise. A gate, through which we might choose to pass.
A Good Shepherd has indeed raised her strong voice against this atrocity. She has an authority few would question, although she is an unlikely heroine. Beginning at the tender age of 11 years old, she began to write a blog, in the Swat Valley, in Northern Afghanistan near the Pakistan boarder. She was inspired to write in protest when the Taliban began banning girls from attending school. She had been blogging under a pseudonym, but encouraged by a New York Times journalist, she revealed her identity. Her name is Malala Yousafzai. She then rose to prominence, speaking out against the ban in interviews in print and on television and wherever she could.
She was soon nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu. She was later nominated for the Noel Peace Prize. But on Tuesday October 9, 2012, as she boarded her school bus, Malala was attacked by a terrorist and sustained a gunshot wound to the head.
Although she lay in critical condition for weeks, she eventually recovered, and went right on with her courageous work. She continued to go through that Christ-like gate and follow her calling.
When she was asked in an interview is she was afraid for her life, she admitted that at first, she was. She said she imagined what she would do if a gunman appeared again. At first, she said, I thought I would take off my shoe and try to hit him with it. But then decided that I must not do that, because then I would be as bad as he was. So I decided I would say to him, I wish for your daughters and sons that they have an education too, and I would die for their right. Then, I thought if he wants to kill me, he will kill me. When she stood before the United Nations, still recovering from her wounds, she said, “One child, one teacher, one book will change the world.”
Malala also talked about a gate. She said that having an education was like walking through a gate into a beautiful dream.
And as for her mother- what was she doing? As Malala said these things, her mother was sitting close by, tears of pride and joy streaming down her face. And her father, asked about his daughter said, “She is not only our daughter. She is the whole world’s daughter now.”
Now that we know the sound of her voice, perhaps we might all follow her.