This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Granbury on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, April 25, 2021. The service marked the 50th anniversary of the parish.
Good Shepherd Granbury 2021 4 Easter – Year B April 25
I am glad to see you – in person. It has been a strange year, a surreal year, and for many people a devastating year. For most of a year we were not able to gather for indoor, in-person worship, and yet all over the church congregations adapted. We learned new ways to worship, new ways to proclaim the Gospel, and new ways to do ministry. And your 49th year as a congregation was no exception.
Thank you for the new ways you learned to worship together, serve one another pastorally, and serve your neighbors beyond the church. You are to be commended for your creativity and your sacrificial service. I cannot say I’m surprised at your response to the Pandemic, for creativity and sacrificial giving have been part of your DNA for a long time. But we would all agree that loving one’s neighbor by staying apart from one another is not natural, and not how we are created to be. It has been a sacrifice.
So, on January 3rd of 1971 Father Hume Reeves presided over the first official service of what became Good Shepherd Episcopal Mission. The service was held at the Christian church in downtown Granbury, and it was attended by fifteen people. The first hymn you sang was “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd has been an important part of the spiritual life of Hood County since those early days. Always an active congregation, I want to suggest you went into another gear in the years leading up to and following the events of 2008 and 2009. You chose to remain with the Episcopal Church, stepped into leadership roles as we reorganized this diocese, and you have never stopped.
Many members of Good Shepherd, including the late Norm Snyder and Barb Click, were active in the work of the Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians. For the many of you who weren’t here back then, that’s the body who worked with the Presiding Bishop’s office to find a provisional bishop and to organize the Special Convention for reorganizing the diocese.
It’s always dangerous to list names, because somebody inevitably gets left out, but Leslie Guinn, Jon and Zonnie Back, and Ian Moore were among those who were untiring in their work to make that convention happen, and in the rebuilding of the diocese that followed. Bill McKay and his beloved Carol were right there as well. Zonnie organized one of our first United Thank Offering in-gatherings in 2009.
Since then, members of Good Shepherd have served on diocesan wide committees such as the Standing Committee, the Constitution and Canons committee, and the Executive Council. You have been deeply involved in various conventions of the diocese, and have served as alternates and deputies to General Convention.
You have reached out to your community in a variety of ways, from your many outreach ministries to Hymn Fest to the amazing Hood County Christmas for Children event. In 2013, when a tornado tore through the Rancho Brazos neighborhood and wiped out so many homes previously built by Habitat for Humanity, you were right there, joining Mission Granbury not only for the immediate cleanup, but also for the long haul, helping rebuild those homes.
And of course, you built this building.
In December of 2009, thanks to the foresight of leaders like Linda LaMarca, Paula Duckering, Ian Moore, and many others, you had a plan for the immediate future. You worshipped at the Wednesday Women’s Club until you outgrew it. You found temporary refuge with the good people of Granbury’s Seventh Day Adventist Church. And then, with that same foresight and leadership, you built this building. That’s quite a journey.
In the last decade or so, you have been served by the likes of Bruce Coggin, Frank Reeves, and Suzi Robertson. And now you are served by your new Priest-in-Charge, Doug Travis, and his Assistant, Leslie Guinn. You know Leslie, but I would like to say a few words about Doug.
I suspect you know already a part of his resume, and that he served congregations in the Dioceses of Dallas and Texas, as well as President and Dean of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. You may know already that he comes from a family of Presbyterian ministers, and that he lived a good part of his youth in the Panhandle of Texas. You know he’s a good theologian, and that he is drawn to the mystics – and given that “like is drawn to like” he likely is one, but he would deny it.
What I really want you to know is that I invited Doug to be the presenter and speaker for a diocesan clergy conference in Northwest Texas several years ago. I can’t find my notes from that event, but I remember some of it.
He spoke about a clergy person who had served a small congregation in a small Panhandle town for years. The minister was a pastor, not only to his flock, but to his town. He started a number of needed social agencies. He was visible at the big events. And on weekdays, different cars could be seen in the church parking lot, outside the minister’s office — cars that were parked normally at the big church on Sunday. Some problems couldn’t be taken to the big church pastor. I think we all know this happens in small towns. Certainly, Doug’s story connected with the clergy of Northwest Texas. The minister – the pastor – of whom Doug spoke was his own father.
And then Doug asked, “Do we, in our culture, somehow suggest that the rector of the big city cardinal parish – or for that matter, the bishop – is more successful than the pastor of this small town congregation?” You see, that congregation was near closing, and even the pastor himself was wondering that as he looked back over his years of service.
And then Doug reminded us of the Prayer of Thanksgiving in the Daily Office, where it says we give thanks, “for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for your immeasurable love.” Immeasurable. In other words, Doug tells us, “God does not measure.”
That is the voice of grace, and mercy, and love. That is the voice of a very good shepherd. That is the Voice of THE Good Shepherd.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is often referenced as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” as the readings are passages about the Good Shepherd, and we say the 23rd Psalm, and our opening collect prays: “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name … .”
If we are honest, there are voices that are aligned with the Voice of the Good Shepherd, and there are voices that are not aligned. To be clear, no one is perfectly aligned. I do think that one imperfect, but good, voice belongs to Pope Francis who makes a contrast between “shepherds” and “scholars of the law.”
Pope Francis tells us that the “scholars of the law” as presented in the Gospels “represent the principle opposition to Jesus; they challenge him in the name of doctrine.” The “scholars of the law” challenge Jesus when he heals the leper, for example, for “the law of Moses stated that lepers had to be excluded from the city, … cast out, and declared impure.”
“In addition to suffering from the illness itself, they faced execution, marginalization, and loneliness. The leper was not just a victim of illness, but also felt guilty, as if he were being punished for his sins.”
The Pope continues: “At his own risk and danger, Jesus goes up to the leper and restores him, he heals him. In so doing, he shows us a new horizon, the logic of a God who is love … . Jesus touched the leper and brought him back into community … like the Good Shepherd who leaves the flock to save one lost sheep. … Jesus goes and heals and integrates the marginalized, the ones outside the city. In so doing, he shows us the way.” [The Name of God is Mercy 65-67]
The contrast between the “scholars of the law” and the Good Shepherd is not a contrast between doctrine and mercy. It’s not that there is opposition between doctrine and mercy. As Pope Francis says, “Let’s not forget that mercy is doctrine.” Claiming that God shows mercy, and calls us to show mercy, is a doctrinal statement. The title of the Pope’s book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” is a doctrinal statement. Claiming that “if it’s not about a love, it’s not about God” is a doctrinal statement.
We live in a cultural context in America in which we hear some bad theology, and witness a lack of mercy. I am not suggesting that Episcopalians are perfect, nor anywhere near perfection.
But, when we hear the “scholars of the law” in our day – public Christian leaders – claim that those who suffered from a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a typhoon, or any natural disaster, lived in immoral cities that “had it coming,” the world needs a strong voice to declare Mercy and Love.
When we hear current day “scholars of the law” claim that children died in their classrooms because we removed God from school (as if we have the power to do that), we cannot be surprised that many people think of the Church as judgmental, dogmatic, and self-righteous. And the world needs someone to proclaim and embody the Good News of God’s Grace, God’s Forgiveness, God’s Mercy, and God’s Love.
Your strong voice is needed in this world. Today, we celebrate 50 years of a community of faith who strives to embody the presence of the Good Shepherd, and strives to proclaim the voice of the Good Shepherd. It has been quite a journey. And this new beautiful building is more than a destination; it represents a new beginning. It is an outward, visible sign of mercy, grace, and love – even immeasurable love.
We can look at that glorious Good Shepherd window, designed especially for this location, showing Jesus standing amidst Texas bluebonnets with Lake Granbury and the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant in the background.
The window says something – many things actually. It says to me today, that Jesus is present. And Jesus still speaks. May we, the people of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, forever hear and proclaim his Voice in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.