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05/12/19 Fourth Sunday in Easter

This was the message of Christ's Passion: Jesus is not a God who stays aloof from our suffering. He comes down into the valley of darkness, takes our hand, and saves us through our suffering.

One of the most well-known modern Christian poems expresses this closeness of God with memorable beauty and simplicity.

You have probably heard of it. It's called "Footprints".  It was written in 1936 by a girl named Mary Stevenson. Mary had lost her mother at age six. She grew up in poverty and hardship as her father struggled to raise eight children during the Great Depression. One cold winter's night when she was 14-years-old, she was locked out of the house. As she sat shivering on the doorstep, she wrote "Footprints" on a scrap of paper. I would like to read it.

Think about young Mary Stevenson struggling to survive, sitting out in the cold, and writing this.

And think about what God, the good shepherd, was thinking as he watched over her that night.

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. / Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. / In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. / Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints. / This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints. / So I said to the Lord, "You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. / But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. / Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?" / The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you."

It's just a poem, just a story. But it rings true. 

Christ is our shepherd, and, as he reminds us in today's Gospel passage, if we trust in him, nothing, not even hardship and suffering, can "take us out of his hand".

Unfortunately, life in today's world is noisy, and it is not always easy for us to hear the voice of our good shepherd.

We are bombarded with so many other voices, so many images, so many ideas.

Christ knows this, yet he still tells us, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me."

What gives Christ so much confidence in our ability to stay close to him and avoid the traps set by poachers and wolves?

It is prayer, one of God's greatest gifts to us, and one that we often take for granted. Christ is always paying attention to us, just as a good shepherd pays attention to his sheep. He is always speaking to us, just as a good shepherd walks ahead of his flock talking and singing, so they can hear him and follow along. No matter how noisy, dark, or stormy it gets, he knows how to make his voice heard in our hearts.

We can always tune into it - that's the gift of prayer.  The server never goes down, the reception never goes bad: as soon as we turn the attention of our hearts to our good shepherd, he makes his voice heard. God is always online, waiting for us to turn our attention to him, so he can guide us to the meaningful life we long for.

The sheep who wanders away and gets stuck in a ravine or attacked by wolves cannot blame the shepherd.

Just so, when our lives don't fill us with the meaning we long for, before blaming Jesus we should take an honest look at our prayer lives: do we pray?  Do we strive to pray better?

Today, as Jesus renews his commitment as our good shepherd, let's renew our commitment to be his good sheep, to give daily prayer the place it ought to have in our lives.

 

 

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