Sunday, November 23, 2014


   Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe    

A few years ago,
Fr. Stitt gave me an unusual but most enjoyable CD.
It was recorded 
by a rather quirky quartet of musicians:
a classical cellist, a Nashville fiddler,
a “new-grass” mandolin player,
and a guy on bass who does a little bit of everything.
They’d never performed as a group before.
What could have been a total disaster 
actually works quite well.
The album is aptly called, The Goat Rodeo Sessions.

I had not heard the expression before,
but it seems that a “goat rodeo”
refers to an especially chaotic state of affairs
that involves lots of risks, but uncertain rewards.
Just think about it: in a regular rodeo,
cowboys risk their necks…
…but they get to look pretty cool doing it;
if the cowboys were riding goats, however,
they’re still likely to get injured…
…but not nearly as likely to look cool!
According to the album notes,
the term is used by air traffic controllers
and others in high-risk fields to describe a situation
“that requires about 100 things to go right at once
if you intend to walk away from it.”
(There are, of course, 
some other colorful expressions out there for this,
but they’re definitely not appropriate 
to say in church…)

“Goat rodeo” described
this groundbreaking musical project to a tee.

And “goat rodeo” also describes fairly accurately
the kingdom of Jesus Christ, our King.

I know of a fellow 
who has recently come back to the Church.
He still has some issues with the Church
and plenty of his own personal baggage, 
but he’s nonetheless quite happy to have returned
to the practice of his Catholic faith.
While well aware of his own weaknesses,
there’s something he’s observed 
when looking around in the pews:
people he knows from other settings 
whose regular weekday behavior
doesn’t exactly line up well 
with their regular Sunday worship.
And that leaves him perplexed.

In effect, what this man is seeing
are sheep and goats all running together.
That can be disconcerting for all involved:
sheep frequently fear that goat-like habits might rub off,
cause scandal, or lead weaker lambs astray;
goats, meanwhile, can get pretty annoyed
with do-gooder sheep always trying to correct them.
It makes me think of a brilliant quote
from preacher Billy Graham:
If you find a perfect church, by all means join it!
Then it will no longer be perfect.
Although completely divine in her origins,
the Church is made up of sinful human beings
and, therefore, has never yet managed
to live up to her full potential—
not even when she was pretty much
just twelve Apostles following Jesus around.
Christian discipleship is messy!  It always has been.
Maybe you didn’t realize it at first,
but what you’ve signed up for is a goat rodeo.

From ancient times, the image of the shepherd
has been used as a metaphor
for the relationship between a people and their king.
It’s worth noting that this Sunday’s celebration
has not been “updated” for the 21st century
as the feast of “Christ the Chairman” or “Christ the President.”
The life of the spirit doesn’t operate like politics:
we don’t get to decide who’s in charge,
or how he ought to run things.
The reign of Jesus Christ—
along with whoever else comes under it—
does not depend at all on your vote of approval or mine.
Christ is, indeed, no less than the King of the Universe, 
and he demands to be the Lord of every aspect of our lives.
It’s completely his to sit in judgment of the living and the dead:
he alone has the final say.
But this king is no authoritarian tyrant,
simply throwing his weight around:
you can tell by his crown,
which is not of burnished gold but bloody thorns.
To submit to this king isn’t to be kept down,
but rather to be lifted up.
You see, this king’s greatest power
isn’t in enforcing uncompromising commands,
but in the way that, with some loving coaxing and merciful coaching,
he can turn rebellious, head-butting, quarrelsome goats
into humble, innocent, dutiful sheep.
If we surrender our lives to this Good Shepherd,
our very identity changes.
That’s why he’s willing to let this goat rodeo go on:
it’s risky, but it’s oh-so-worth it.

Whether we tend more to right or left, to sheep or goat,
our attention is much better focused not on the rest of the flock,
but on the Shepherd himself.
Even when we encounter the very least among us,
it’s this King we ought to see and serve in them.
Allow the Lord to rope you in and get good hold of you
in the midst of life’s crazy goat rodeo,
that he might then lead you beside restful waters
and into green pastures—
a sheep chosen to inherit the Father’s kingdom,
prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

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