Sunday, April 26, 2009

Single, Bicultural Diocese Seeks Good Shepherd for Lasting Relationship

He looked a lot like the New Mexican shepherd in this photo. But he was a wood carving at a folk art exhibit I visited decades ago.

The display featured Santos, carved figures expressing Catholic faith through a Southwestern art style.

The one that caught my attention, and of which I've not been able to find a picture over the years, was called El Buen Pastor - "The Good Shepherd."

El Buen Pastor stood out from the other Santos and also from other traditional representations of Jesus.

He was different from the other Santos because most of them were painted in bright primary colors. He was unpainted. Just plain wood with some natural staining from the oil of the hands that shaped him.

He was different from other "Good Shepherds" in Christian art. They always cast Jesus as a spry young boy or, even as a bearded man, handsomely gentle and certainly European as he carried a lamb to safety. El Buen Pastor was squat and thick, his shoulders hunched and his face notched with lines that conveyed both age and pain. The lamb across his shoulders was certainly one of hundreds or thousands he had retrieved over many years out in the elements. His features were distinctly and unapologetically Indian.

I always remember El Buen Pastor when John 10:11-18 comes up in the Church's readings, as it did today in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and will next Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... El Buen Pastor was not so much "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" or the glorified, victorious Christ to come. He was the One who suffered and died under the burden of those he saved.

...The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep... El Buen Pastor was so aged and hobbled that he couldn't run away if he wanted to. He wasn't just hired to spend time with the sheep; his life was spent on them.

It is a good time to think on El Buen Pastor as the Diocese of South Dakota seeks its 10th Bishop. One challenging passage of the Bible, I Peter 2:24-25, joins the roles of Shepherd and Bishop in the suffering Savior himself:

He personally bore our sins in His own body on the tree , that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have come back to the Shepherd and Guardian (the Bishop, episkopos) of your souls.

Coming back to John 10, we see the rugged work set out for our next Bishop (or any Bishop in the service of El Buen Pastor),

...I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father... The Shepherd/Bishop has to be close to God and close to the people - and both will demand much of him.

...And I lay down my life for the sheep... A marriage is not fulfilled by the wedding ceremony, and a Bishop is not made complete by an election or a consecration service. He fulfills his role through the investment of his life, becoming a living sacrifice in the care of God's people.

...I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice... A Bishop must be an evangelist, announcing Good News that turns others toward Christ. This is not just "adding members to the church," but bringing people close to Jesus, training them to recognize Christ's voice in their lives. And those of us already in the church can be a hindrance, as we demand the Bishop's attention for our internal needs. He will suffer our excuses and grumbling if he leads us to go out and find others.

...So there will be one flock, one shepherd... He must seek to unify us in Christ, often having to fight the wolf packs of our sin-stained egos, lurking in snarly factions. He must increase the authority of Christ in the church while all other claims, including the Bishop's own, must decrease.

...For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father." He must model for us the way of Christ, obeying God's direction into painful places while holding onto the assurance of God's love.

Pray for our next Bishop, that he have all he needs to be Un Buen Pastor. And pray for us all, that we grow in ability to recognize The Good Shepherd's voice.


Anonymous said...

Pray that the unchosen candidates will return to their own flocks to be good shepherds and that their churches all survive the turmoil, tension and perhaps disappointment. Pray that there is a reconnection, "reinvestment" and recommitment on all our parts.

Awesome post, anyway. I like the way you connect the exhibit, scripture, and the bishop search.

Anonymous said...

A second thought - - does anybody fit the bill at this stage in the game, to your mind?

I look forward to your updates as the week goes on.

And yet another concern - flying with this flu scare pretty much stinks! Pray for the health of the candidates in this stressful week and onwards.

TLF+ said...

I think we still need to hear them at the Walkabouts, pray, discuss, pray some more... I will be at one of the Walkabouts and post some reactions to what I hear, plus what I will be getting from some folks at other gatherings.

Thanks for that nudge to pray for their health (and I believe their wives are with them). They are all rolling into several demanding weeks weeks.

Anonymous said...

What's your perspective on how much the wives count here?

TLF+ said...

Wives can help or hurt a leader. Fair or not, they are considered an extension of a clergy person's work.

I Timothy's criteria for Bishops includes a look at family life.