Not without a shepherd

Proper 11 (July 19, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 23:1-6; Ps. 23; Eph. 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This week we met in Bethlehem with MCC’s Palestine Advisory Committee. They offered wise counsel regarding program priorities in the region and helped us plan for the 60th anniversary of MCC’s work in Palestine.

We also celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary, July 18, with dinner at our favorite restaurant in Amman. We were married in 1981 – in a sunrise service on an island at Pine Lake Camp in Meridian, Mississippi!

Byler family in Jerusalem (June 2009)

In the region this week, “Breaking the Silence,” a group of Israeli soldiers spoke out about widespread abuses against Palestinian civilians during the Gaza war in January 2009. Their 81-page report details numerous examples of disregard for civilian life in Gaza. MCC workers recently traveled to Gaza and reported that the humanitarian situation has deteriorated since the war.

Post-election unrest continues in Iran, with more street demonstrations and a former president calling for the Iranian government to release protesters who are being held in jail. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Iran is running out of time to dialogue about its nuclear program. She warned that further isolation and even military action are possible.

In Iraq, four people were killed and more than thirty injured when six churches were bombed in Baghdad in a span of 24 hours.

The Common Lectionary readings this week offer encouraging reminders that God is our shepherd even as human leaders frequently fail us.

A young shepherd watches sheep near Irbid, Jordan (Holden Byler photo)

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God confronts the shepherds who “destroy and scatter the sheep” (Jer. 23:1) and promises to gather the sheep back to their fold and to raise up new shepherds who will care for the people (vv.3-4).

The familiar Psalm 23 offers the powerful image of God as the faithful shepherd who nurtures, calms, and restores us; and leads us in just paths. (vv. 2-3). Even in the darkest valleys and in the presence of our enemies, God is present with us (v.4-5).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes about Christ’s costly concern for our well-being. Through his death, Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, creating one new humanity (Eph. 2:14-15). Through Christ, all groups have equal access to God and are members of God’s household (vv. 18-19).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus has compassion for the crowd because they are “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34a). He teaches and feeds them (vv. 34b-44) and heals their sick (vv. 53-56).

In the midst of global turmoil, these are timely reminders that, even when – perhaps especially when — human leaders fail us, God is faithful to shepherd us.

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