“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. “So I will attend to you for your evil doings,” says the Lord. “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing,” says the Lord.
“The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
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We as a Church are struggling right now. We are wracked on all sides by shame, scandal, false teaching, and unfaithfulness inside our own doors. Divisive preaching on politics and public policy, the continuing revelations relating to the residential schools, and the revelations of wolves in pastors clothing. As the lights are turned on the festering darkness, the sheep lose hope and are scattered.
It is easy, and in many ways understandable, to lose trust in organized religion. Social media is littered with those who cannot withstand another storm in the barque of Peter; who have jumped ship in hopes of saving what faith they have left. What do we do when we look upon the Bride and see her wedding dress tattered, torn, and covered in the blood of her children? Do we follow our brothers and sisters out into the storm, abandoning the Bride?
This reading from Jeremiah is one that gives me solace. I am not in charge of passing spiritual judgement, so I entrust it all to God’s justice. God sees the shepherds who have destroyed their own sheep and scattered those of us who have survived their faithlessness to us. Their judgement and the justice they have invited belongs to the Lord. But we aren’t left without a shepherd. Even if every shepherd should fail us — and while many have, not all have — we have the Good Shepherd who is for us and with us. He sees His Bride and still has tender love and mercy for her.
The violence done to God’s children and His Bride are not the end of the story. God’s love and healing are with the broken. The Bridegroom still chooses His Bride. He will drive out every evil, flip every table required, and wash and mend her dress. I cling to the barque of Peter because I know that God has not abandoned us, even if His chosen shepherds have. Judas’ betrayal didn’t undo the power of the Cross. Christ came for the broken, and our brokenness is not an obstacle for His boundless grace.
How can I leave the barque? How can I abandon the Bride? I can’t. Because that is where I know Christ will continue to heal me, wash me clean, and feed me. Lord, to whom else should I go?