This morning we have one of the most common images within scripture: the Sheep and the Shepherd.
I served as an intern at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, where I was in charge of the Senior High Youth program for a while. During that time, I created a Facebook page with this picture of sheep as our primary picture.
The administrative manager within a couple of hours had come upstairs to my office and informed me that I needed to change the picture because “we might be the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd but we are not sheep”.
I see some confused and strange looks.. and I had the same looks on my own face.
There are plenty of scriptures that refer to us as the sheep and the fold/flock. However, in our time and place being “sheep” has come to mean “mindless follower”.
BUT, how many have interacted with sheep? Sheep have a mind of their own.
I took this picture while in Ireland (Bushmills, Northern Ireland). I had been determined to capture an idealistic picture of sheep laying in pasture, because that is the image we all have of sheep and of Ireland. However, every time the opportunity had arrived we were in the car driving just a little too fast for me to capture the picture.
In fact, the previous picture of sheep I had captured was when a fold were running on the road in front of our rental car. As we sped up, they sped up. As we honked the horn, they sped up until eventually disbursing to the sides of the road and letting us through.
It was that evening when we arrived to our Bed and Breakfast that I was greeted by sheep laying in the pasture of the side yard. I FINALLY got my picture.
When we hear the passages in scripture about sheep and the shepherd, we hold to this idealistic image. We think of the good shepherd, not the hired hand. We think of Christ with the lamb gently laying on his shoulders, not the rough and tough shepherd defending his flock against threats of thieves and wolves.
There is no doubt that Jesus the Christ is our Good Shepherd. We listened to the familiar words of Psalm 23, which we heard the role of a good shepherd:
- provide for every need of the sheep,
- provide a place for the sheep to find rest,
- provide shelter and safety for the sheep,
- provide comfort when the sheep are lost and/or scared, and
- to care for the sheep.
BUT, how often do we hear these passages and ponder our calling to be good shepherds, like Christ?
How often do we think about our responsibility to live into and live out our baptismal promises:
- to proclaim the Word of God through word and deed in love,
- to seek justice in love,
- to act with compassion and mercy in love, and
- to serve all people in love.
Our First John reading has a reoccurring theme from the author John which is that we have been commanded to show the world who are teacher is, who our Good Shepherd is, even after he has had to leave us. It is to love another not as the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke commend which is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul as well as love our neighbors as ourselves. AGAIN, there are loopholes because we do not always like or love ourselves…but John is very clear, it is to love another as Christ first loved us (no loopholes).
We have that theme echoed with the idea that you cannot love God if you do not love your neighbor (How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? – 1 John 3:17). John argues that one cannot love God whom they have not seen face-to-face if we cannot have love/care for the person standing next to us.
We can take that same thought further: today is Earth Day.
How can we love the whole of God’s creation if we cannot love/care for the creation in our time and place?
That is the challenge of being a good shepherd. It is EXHAUSTING.
It is exhausting to care for ALL people, ALL creatures, and ALL creation.
Thus, we live in the gray-zone and paradox of our calling to be both the good shepherd and a sheep of the fold.
Before I was ordained, a pastor who had served my home congregation said:
I will give you the same advice I was given at my ordination. I was given two feed buckets and told “remember to keep these full because if you do not keep your own feed buckets full, how do you expect to feed others from it”.
My hope is that during this Easter season, we consider how to be a people, a church, a world in this post-resurrection of Christ era which can be scary and exhausting.
My hope is that we can answer the call to be good shepherds AND find the pastures of rest and restoration that our Good Shepherd provides.
It is a life-long dance, but may we get out on that dance floor and join it. Amen.