Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

For centuries – long before you or me or John Wesley or even Jesus – this Psalm of King David has brought strength and comfort to God’s people. Read at memorial services and in morning prayers in recliners, sung in worship, and cried out in need as a long-ago memorized verse, God’s people have relied on it to give them permission to weep and then to wipe their tears.

As I read it for this Sunday, March 3, I realize that I know nothing about sheep. I do, though, know something about shepherds. Both Moses and King David were flock-tenders before they became leaders. Shepherds gather the sheep, lead them to places where they will have food and water, and protect them day and night.  Eventually Moses and David were called by God to lead human flocks through wildernesses and battles, toward home and life.

Jesus goes further and says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  To the good shepherd, every sheep matters. Before Jesus left this life, he asked his disciples to feed his lambs and sheep. Jesus entrusted his shepherding to those who followed him.

I have been called by God to be your shepherd, to take you to places where food is plentiful so you can grow and thrive, to protect you, to gather you into one flock, where each one knows that he or she matters. It is a daunting and awesome task, made more so by this week’s decision at the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I have been called to this shepherding along with your other pastors and with church leaders. Shepherds rarely work alone.

At this Conference in St. Louis, 864 delegates from the U.S. and other parts of the world approved by a narrow margin the “Traditional Plan” for the future of the UMC. The task of this Conference was to determine how the UMC would relate with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. The Traditional Plan maintained the current restrictive language in the UMC Discipline and added further restrictions, creating even greater exclusion. The Plan has been referred to the UMC’s Judicial Council, the “supreme court” of United Methodism, which will rule on whether the plan is in line with our UMC constitution or not. Until that ruling comes in late April, we don’t know whether this plan will stand. We will know more as time goes on.

My heart aches and is overcome with grief as I write that paragraph. Here is what I do know:  At St. Mark’s we have worked hard to welcome and include all of God’s people, and carry out active mission and ministry in our community and world. We will continue to do that. We will do what we do and seek to do it ever more faithfully. We will worship with joy, move into the season of Lent and learn and grow together, share in mission work, and seek to love one another as Jesus has loved us. One sign is this weekend’s adult mission trip to Rocky Point, where 60 people from our Desert Southwest Conference, including six people from our church (led by Pastor Stuart) will be building homes with One Mission.

One of the blessings of St. Mark’s has been our ability to have differing viewpoints and still love and care for one another. It is my fervent hope that will continue as we move into the future. Every one of you matters to me, to us. Please stay with us. Do not leave in haste.

I know that many in our congregation have children, grandchildren, sisters and brothers who are part of the LGBTQ community. It has been important to me that those dear to you feel like St. Mark’s is a place where they will be welcomed. I imagine that some of them are reading about the UMC and wondering about your church. Please reassure them that St. Mark’s will be what it has been and more – welcoming to all God’s people.

This Saturday, March 2, I and others will participate in a meeting with our Bishop, Bob Hoshibata and learn more. Our Western Jurisdiction leaders are already working and planning as well.

I will be talking more about this in this Sunday’s message and we will share in Holy Communion. Shepherding is serious business and is also full of joy, as we watch people grow in love of God and in service to others.  I believe that God has never left our midst, even now is guiding our shepherding and is doing a new thing that we are just beginning to see. Know that I and your other pastors are joined with Jesus, our Good Shepherd, to lead all of you to healing waters and pastures green.

Blessings, Sharon

P.S.  Another way to support mission – our Agua Prieta Task Force will be selling coffee in the courtyard Sunday morning which comes from our partners at Fuente de Vida Methodist Church in Agua Prieta, Mexico. They roast and sell the coffee to aid their ministries.