St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401


  • The Good Shepherd Keeps Us Through the Threshold – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    November 26, 2023

    This time of year is a threshold moment. We experience the limits of daylight and the close of a liturgical year. This is the eve of something. It’s something that we know is coming. For the new day always comes. The earth continues to spin and the sun always arises in the morning. The earth continues to travel around the sun and we have changes in season.

    This threshold is always here, every year. This extended evening time. This liminal space in which we cannot see as clearly as we would like and we do not always know what is in the dimness around us. Some enjoy nestling in for a cold, season. There are others who lose hope in these longer shadows. It’s easy to forget that something new will always arise. It’s easy to listen to voices of doubt and division because they are always there, ready to ravage us in the night.

    In the evenings, during this dusky moment, shepherds used to gather their flock. This flock was often a mixed group in the ancient Middle East. Goats and sheep would spend the day together grazing in the pasture. One shepherd watching over all. One flock, mixed together. Perhaps you can picture it: A hilly field at the end of the day, as the twilight begins to gather. This is when the shepherd has to separate the flock. We hear about this from Matthew today, as he uses it as a metaphor.

    The shepherd has to separate the flock, you see. The temperature drops at night and the goats are not able to tolerate the cold. So, they are herded into a shelter where beds made of hay await them. The sheep, however, are allowed to continue to pasture through the night. Of course, this puts the sheep in danger of predators which means that the shepherd pays particular attention to them through the darkness. Staying with them.

    The goats have their protection. The sheep need looking after. Both goats and sheep are important to the shepherd and to the life of the community. Both are needed. Both are prized. Both are loved. The goats are ok though. It’s easy to leave them to their own devices for the night. Their lives have already been cared for. But the sheep need the compassion of the shepherd because as the darkness descended, their lives are in danger.

    This is the Sunday when we celebrate Christ the King. Or the Reign of Christ if we would like to be inclusive. And we would. Yet, the scriptures are not about worldly power or crowns or triumph or thrones. They are not talking about making anything great again. They are not about empire and the spread of influence or the acquisition of wealth. So, why call Christ a king?

    As a matter of fact, our passage from the prophet Ezekiel, talks about the problem with worldly power. It seems that even within the ranks of sheep, there are those who “push with flank and shoulder” and “butt at all the weak animals with their horns until they are scattered far and wide.” Of course, if they are scattered, they are in danger of being ravaged by the wolves.

    The life and ministry of Jesus is not one in which he gains worldly power. We know this. But we easily forget because in the darkness of our lives, we are often haunted by the wolves at the edge of our awareness. Voices that speak into the quiet. Lies whispered during the twilight hours. As we listen, before we realize what’s happened, we believe that we are not being looked after. That we are not enough. That we are not ok. We believe the morning will never arrive and we will always be in this interminable darkness.

    The Good Shepherd, Domatilla Catacombs

    And it’s not just our own personal lives. We also become despairing about the things that are important to us: family, friends, our jobs, our relationships, our faith community. We may believe, for example, that church is about bigness and being grand, as if church was a rock concert or spectacle of some kind. But Jesus is about something else. This Reign of Christ is different than what we might hope it would be.

    You see, the first image we have of Christ, is not one of a conquering hero who is raised from the dead and vanquishes our enemies. The first image we have of Christ, the one that the earliest Christians used to communicate who Jesus the Christ was and continues to be… is the one on the cover today: the Good Shepherd. The simple unadorned image of one who compassionately watches over those who are at risk in the darkness of the world.

    And here we are, at a threshold moment. Before we can bear witness to the new day, we have the night before us. This threshold to cross through. And the night can seem endless. Especially when hope seems to be hanging by a thread.

    Thresholds are more common than we realize. At any given moment during the day, we are faced with decisions and moments, that will lead us into the next space, the next room, the next moment… or will keep us in the same space. There are thousands of personal thresholds that we navigate throughout our lives.

    And then there are thresholds that seem more profound – moments that will have a more significant impact on our life. A weighty decision. A big event or change. They could be more communal or institutional thresholds. And there are seasonal thresholds – like this one.

    Enter the Good Shepherd. The one who herds both those who will rest in comfort for the night as well as those who need more attentiveness, the ones who are facing a more dangerous threshold.

    I think what we forget is that often, this is the same person. Because these are parts of ourselves.

    Of course, there are people for whom the world is a very dangerous place. People who live in extreme poverty. People who live with the threat of violence every day, even in their own homes. There are myriad examples of the danger of the world.

    But most of us live in comfort. Those of us in this room, may struggle to make ends meet sometimes or even all the time. We may have illness or other conditions that make our lives difficult. But most of us have what we need and then some. This is not said to make anyone feel guilty. I’m saying it because the recognition of our own abundance is also the recognition that the Good Shepherd is present. Remembering the goodness that is here, the goodness that surrounds us is often all we need to find our hope once again.

    I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but it illustrates this truth so profoundly that it’s worth repeating.

    A number of years back, I was at a very low point in my life. I had just left a bad relationship and the thoughts in my head were like wolves growling at the borders of my consciousness. I didn’t think much of myself, believing only the bad thoughts that came to me. I was in a lot of debt. I had a job that required me to overwork. I had no social life, except for the people I worked with and it was a pretty toxic work environment in which I was bullied. I was not following any faith and spent most of my time alone, which meant that the thoughts that hunted me down in the darkness had even more time and space to keep me in a state of hopelessness.

    I was given a gift by my father – a book about abundance. I read a little bit off and on. But I didn’t find it particularly helpful or interesting. Then, one day I happened to read a passage where the author described a simple practice: To keep a journal beside my bed and at the end of each day, write down 5 things for which I was grateful. A gratitude journal. So I decided, why not. I grabbed a pretty journal I had purchased a few months prior and every night, I wrote down 5 things.

    The weather was good.
    The bed was comfortable.
    The shower felt good.
    Something someone did for me or said something to me.
    Someone said something funny.
    I saw a good movie or read a good book.
    My car worked.
    A part of myself I started to appreciate.

    They were simple things. But I took the time to notice them and name them for myself. I found that I just liked doing it. Some days were harder than others. But I kept doing it. And after a month or so, my world started to shift. I started to experience the abundance of my life… as it was. Instead of the lack I had been experiencing and spending my time feeling resentful about it or being self-critical because of it… I noticed what was good – both in the world around me and, eventually, in myself.

    I still credit this as the one practice that saved me. And now, I can see that it was the Good Shepherd. Calling my name. Reminding me of the abundance I had and the abundance I was.

    It’s so easy, so tempting to see the lack, especially when the light is waning. But to see only what is wrong is really just low-hanging fruit. It requires nothing of us but to listen to the voices of the wolves. This is the way of the world – to view things in columns of wins and losses, to refuse to be touched by our experience, to be stubborn and cynical and correct with a need to be right. The world and its violence hold us in fear, darkness, anger, and hopelessness. And the cost is so great. Because it is the loss of our own heart.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. Because the Reign of Christ is always present. Always ready to carry us back to ourselves – our true selves. The goodness that is here, that is always here, requires us only to witness it in order for us to gain something in return. All it asks is for us to perceive it – not with our eyes – but with our heart. To open our heart and receive God’s abundance. Being attentive to the simple things. Slowly bringing our heart back online.

    This is the Reign of Christ. And it gives so much more than it asks. One might say it gives us the entire kingdom because through it, our very heart is restored. Our hope comes home again.

    So in this threshold moment, as we move into the Season of Advent, we have only to recognize the nearness of God as we navigate this twilight time. So that we don’t get devoured in the dark of the night, can we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd? Can we witness the goodness, the abundance of our lives?

    The Reign of Christ is near, my beloveds. Indeed, the Reign of Christ is here.