Pope.Easter4A.2008

Easter 4A, 2008
John 10:1-10

A Liturgy is also available

THE MIXED LEGACY OF [A FORMER] 'SHEPHERD'…

The ‘good shepherd’, as we have been taught for generations, beginning with Sunday school,
is one of the so-called foundational metaphors for Jesus in Christian imagination.

And words like ‘pastoral care’ and ‘pastor’,
get their meaning from the image of Jesus as a
kind and caring ‘shepherd’ or ‘leader’ of the flock.

Our traditional (UCA) liturgies of ordination and induction
also play with this image.  So it seems a foregone conclusion that when stories
about a mix that has sheep, shepherds and Jesus, in them,
they will very readily appear in the Lectionary.

Such is the case with today’s gospel story from the storyteller we call John.

John has Jesus describing a scenario
concerning raising sheep in 1st century Palestine.
After carefully defining the characteristics which make
for a ‘good’ or honourable shepherd in a sometimes hostile world,
John takes this scenario and has Jesus
applying it to himself and his ministry.

So begins a new legacy or model of leadership or shepherding.

oo0oo

Three years ago, give or take a week here and there,
the world was watching as a new church ‘shepherd’ was being elected.
A bunch of red capped cardinals was meeting in Rome,
not for a leisurely chat about ‘what time the surf would be up!’
But who would be the next male Catholic ‘shepherd’.
The next pope.

Three years later, we now know the result of their discussions:
Pope Benedict xvi, better known as the former “doctrinal enforcer”
(SMH/20/4/05),
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

So, after the very mixed legacy of John Paul ii, that deeply traditionalist Polish pope,
how is Benedict’s time as ‘grand shepherd’ going?

Acknowledging that significant numbers of you have come to St James
from many different traditions:
Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, House church,
Roman Catholic, to mention just a few…

And wanting to be sensitive to both your nurturing experiences
and possible continuing relationships, especially Roman Catholic relationships,
let me offer an observation or two I have gleaned along the way.

Catholic and other friends tell me several things:
• the use of Latin in the Mass has returned;
• no feminine images are allowed to be used in the language of the liturgy;
• conservative groups visit parishes to report on priests and
parish councils who push beyond the boundaries;
• the divide between ‘doctrine’ and ‘scholarship’ has widened;
• the social policies of previous popes which wounded women, have continued.

On the latter, I am reminded of a comment Australian cardinal George Pell
said before the election of Benedict:
“The hopes of Catholic dissidents and radical Christian liberals that the next popes will quickly dismantle John Paul’s legacy are naive and improbable” 
(Pell. S-H:31).

On the continuing divide between ‘doctrine’ and ‘scholarship’,
let me also recall some words of retired Swiss theologian Hans Kung:
“Don’t be fooled by the crowds: millions have left the Church...  (The church’s) credibility will only be restored if the new pope decides to re-orient the Church in (the) spirit of Pope John XX111 and the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council” 
(Kung. Online Catholics).

In an effort to bolster his claims of being a theologian,
Ratzinger last year published a book called:
Jesus of Nazareth. From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration.

As the title suggests, we can expect at least a second volume to follow soon!
While having a print run of over a million copies, the book has not
received acclaim from biblical and ‘historical Jesus’ scholars, despite its title.

One such scholar, Gerd Ludemann, has written a detailed chapter-by-chapter,
critical response, titled: Eyes That See Not. The Pope looks at Jesus.
It has literally just been published.

While too detailed to treat here in full, a comment from his Epilogue will have to do.
“Ratzinger both labels and describes his work inaccurately, if not deceptively.  The intent suggested by his title and announced in his preface, namely to discover by means of the gospels the historical Jesus, is in fact not carried out.  Moreover, far from addressing mere historical issues, the book is replete with doctrinally based arguments and personal meditations on his Lord.  Thus, the actual subject is not the Jesus of history, but rather the Christ of faith” 
(Ludemann 2008:119).

So after three years, perhaps this ‘shepherd’s’ report card should read:
Could do better!

On the other hand, Anglicans and Catholics across the regions
of Newcastle and the Central Coast (in NSW), have recently
signed and celebrated an historic agreement of co-operation.

While it doesn’t recognise each others ordinations
- that was squashed by Pope Leo XIII in 1896 when he declared Anglican orders null and void - it is said to
“promises further and closer co-operation between their three dioceses” (RN/Religion Report).

oo0oo

Our gospel storyteller whom we call John puts some additional words
into the mouth of Jesus in his story:
‘I have come so they may have life and have it to the full.’
Other translations say: ‘...and have it abundantly.’
Perhaps we could say ‘wellness’ or ‘wholeness’.

In light of my comments on a contemporary ‘shepherd’ of another place,
we can only have ‘abundant’ or ‘full’ life
in a community of faithful and caring companions,
who live by a vision of wholeness and justice for all
and who embrace diversity and difference.

As I concluded my Easter Day sermon… whatever it might mean to say today, ‘Jesus is alive in our midst’,
“it must above all else mean that he somehow still offers us the vision of a new Empire, into which we are still invited in a real way… a real invitation into a way of life we can see reflected in his own life” (Patterson 2007:80).

Not in what happens after death, but what the knowledge of the
words and deeds and the way of the one we call Jesus, does for our lives… before death.

Not in a theology of salvation but in a way of life, as we
practice belonging,
practice hospitality,
practice respect,
practice humility,
practice conversation and disagreement
(Bessler-Northcutt 2004)...

May abundant wellness be our blessing,
as we continue to go on the journey that Jesus chartered.


Notes:
Bessler-Northcutt, J. 2004.  “Learning to see God: Prayer and practice in the wake of the Jesus Seminar” in (ed) R. W. Hoover. The Historical Jesus Goes to Church. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Ludemann, G. 2008.  Eyes That See Not. The Pope looks at Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Patterson, S. J. 2007.  “Killing Jesus” in (ed) R. J. Miller. The Future of the Christian Tradition
. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.

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