A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
I recently attended a church service that started out like any other. During the collection, however, there was something different. A young lady, wearing a hoodie, and a backpack, simply dressed and somewhat too casual, came up to the ambo and asked to share a "witness." The presider allowed her the microphone and as everyone looked up to listen to this mysterious person, she began to speak. Quietly and slowly at first, she slowly gained her courage and began to share about God's love. The sermon had just been about the Shepherd who calls His sheep in love, and how in that love, the sheep find their place of refuge. The preacher reminded the congregation that Christ calls each and everyone of us in love, and that Love sends us forth to a radical hospitality that breaks beyond the labels and boundaries that we tend to put up so easily. Perhaps it was in that same spirit of radical hospitality that the microphone was so easily handed to this young woman. Her voice picked up and she continued sharing her experience of God's love, and something in her words reminded us all of the words of the Shepherd. She knew Him, just as we knew Him, and this was reflected in the way she spoke of the One who had called out to her. But this is where the connection between she and I ended, because after her beautiful elocution on the Shepherd and His Love, she turned and spoke of His condemnation. Within a matter of seconds, the beauty that this sheep had expressed in speaking of the Shepherd, was turned into an ugliness that no black sheep contains. In just a few thoughts, the Shepherd's love was turned and mis-formed to become a hammer of hate and ignorance. Just like that, the young woman who had spoken of the Shepherd, jumped the fence and followed the thief, in no time at all, the love which had been expressed became a fleeting memory to which many attempted to cling, finding it difficult to believe the hate with which this person spoke, some of us stood in silence, others reacted negatively to the thief among us, and yet others, accustomed to these attacks, took their seat and prepared for the next part of the celebration. Myself, I felt nothing but love for this young woman, but sadness too, and I was reminded of the times when I so easily had taken the name of the Shepherd to withhold His Love to others. I was immediately reminded of the aggression which I had felt at times toward those different from me, the disgust I had experienced at seeing something different from what I was used to, or told that "we" believe. At that moment, it became clear to me that as a follower of the Shepherd, I am not immune to the very human tendencies to use those things greater than I to justify myself. The feeling of using Christ as a mask to make myself feel better for the things I do, for my self-righteousness. As I approached Communion that day, I was humbled at the fact that the Shepherd comes to me each and every day, and that He calls out to me, in Love, even when I am being difficult. This event also started the wheels spinning in my head. How many times have I become that thief to others? Although I would like to answer this question immediately, I don't believe it needs an instant answer, instead, the question becomes an extension of Communion because at receiving the Bread of Life, I am then called to be a witness of the Love that has come to me! As a person who participates in the intimate reception of Christ, I can no longer be satisfied with being who I was before, I can no longer be that thief, I must be love in the world, because Love has come to me. And so, the moment of tension and confusion that was brought about by a hooded person, became a moment of reflection and grace, because the Shepherd has called me in love, and I know His voice. Can you hear Him?
As always, know that I love you. RL