Easter 4- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
Transform the Church!
All God’s creatures got a place in the choir. Some sing lo, some sing higher some sing out loud on the telephone wire and some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got now.
Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter the scripture invites us to envision lush pastoral landscapes. The green hills are full of sheep and they are all protected by the Good Shepherd, a metaphorical description of Jesus Christ.
We are also invited to ponder and imagine the dangers that face this flock –dark valleys, lurking predators that try to catch and devour the flock. The Good Shepherd protects the sheep and brings them together into a single flock.
These images are comforting and certainly beneficial to describe the Church. Sheep tend to stick together. They are herd animals. Jesus describes the merging of Jew and Gentile and eventually all people into one flock under one shepherd.
Sheep also from time to tend to wander off and get into trouble. We have all done this at one time or another, but Sheep are also followers. The shepherd leads them, protects them, guides them to those lush green valleys and still waters.
It’s a beautiful and calming image, but this metaphor for the Church as a flock of sheep is somewhat problematic for us today. When we discuss the modern church, we realize that this metaphor hasn’t been fully achieved, and will not be fully achieved until God’s promises are fulfilled.
Green pastures, unity, stillness, peace, no one wandering off, this is not something we have achieved in the Church yet, and it doesn’t take long for us to see that.
Maybe it would benefit us to view this imagery as something to be strived for. Maybe it would serve us well to develop some new imagery that fits with where we find ourselves is 2021. Since we started with the animal metaphor, let’s stick with that.
Which of God’s creatures will work to capture the reality of members wandering off, unique personalities, the difficulties faced by leaders both lay and ordained alike? What metaphor will take into account the value, spunk and yes sometimes even sassiness of humanity? What metaphor will enable us to transform the church today?
Personally, I think cats better describe humans anyhow. They have unique personalities. They are both communal and individual creatures. Like sheep, they too get in trouble, but are much more cunning about it.
What if we envisioned humanity like a group of cats instead of a flock of sheep?
Trying to control what a cat does is incredibly tough, if not impossible. They are creatures of free will. There is a reason the expression “It’s like herding cats” exists. Anyone who has spent any amount of time working with people has probably said “This is like herding cats.”
If we look at the entirety of scripture, for example the Exodus story, Jesus own disciples, the 12 tribes of Israel, even Adam and Eve. God’s direction to us and our wandering is like herding cats.
I also like the ring of “Good Cat Herder Sunday”
Cats have unique personalities that must be taken into consideration – different food likes, they enjoy laying in different windows, or in the case of kitty my t-shirt drawer. Sometimes they like to be around one another, sometimes not. They, like humans can be communal and individual.
At one point, I owned three cats.
There was Nuage, the Maine Coon. He was a calm, playful cat.
John Philip Sousa was my second cat. Later John was renamed Sousa when we discovered she was not a boy cat. Sousa was timid and shy. She liked to hide and she was a bit of a glutton at the food bowl.
Then of course there was the queen cat herself, the head honcho cat to whom all the other cats, and people, in the house had to respect. Kitty. She is bossy and demanding, yet she is still a beautiful creature.
I learned a lot of important lessons and facts from owning three cats at one time.
- Buy a good vacuum. Your house will get messy with all that cat shedding. You just need to accept that at some point.
- Don’t expect them to always get along with one another. You can set the house up for peaceful living, but conflict will arise.
- Adapt when necessary, or things will fall apart. Your furniture will have tears in it from claws. Fragile objects come crashing down and break.
First, the church and the world are messy places. We will need to accept this messiness for what it is, and also equip ourselves with Spiritual tools to help clean it up. Primarily, God equips us with the tools of listening and empathy. This is because like cats, and unlike sheep, each person has a unique story. We aren’t all the same. We all bring personality to the church. There’s the timid and shy type, the bossy and sassy types. You’ll have the calm and easy to get alone with type. You’ll also have person who likes to make messes simply for the sake of getting attention.
With so many different types of personalities, people will want to go in different directions. Different ideas and approaches will emerge. It may feel like “herding cats”
God promises to meet us where we are, to see us out, find us and bring us together as one.
Yet, the Church for a majority of its life approached the world with the “meet us where we are” mindset. Believe before belong. How vibrant would our churches look if we took into consideration the gifts brought to us by varying personalities, skills, cultures and backgrounds and incorporated it into one ever changing and flowing body?
We’d have a church that reflected the creation that God made instead of an institution aimed at conformity.
If we are going to transform our churches and bring together a wandering herds of cats, we must make our communities adaptable. We must constantly discern and pay attention to where people are journey. We must ask ourselves “How do we help others see God in their lives” That is when true transformation will come.
To do this, we ourselves must recognize that we come from a variety of backgrounds, personalities, and views. God will help us bring our mission into focus if we discern and pray.
Today, we are doing just that. You’ve probably seen several announcements about the CAT survey. We’ve been using our parish’s own felines to advertise. We are about to set out on a strategic plan that will help us bring new folks into our midst. It will help us strengthen the ministries here at St. Alban’s. It will help us discern when to say yes and when to say no. We need your unique input.
It is my prayer that in the days ahead you will complete this important part of our discernment process. Then, please pray for our Visioning and Implementation team. It’s a team of cool cats with various gifts and backgrounds and approaches to ministry. Under their leadership and under God’s direction, we may discover that herding cats may be tricky, but it’s just what God is calling us to do.