Sheep and Shepherds

Did you notice the common theme in ALL of our Scriptures? (Shepherd)

It is the Shepherd. This fourth Sunday in Easter is informally known as “Good Shepherd” Sunday, which always reminds me of the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd.

Although it sounds odds, it also always reminds me of our understanding and use of language. There is a reason.

My internship was served at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, which included working with the senior high youth. I created a Facebook page for our youth group featuring a picture I took in Ireland of sheep resting in a field. It was a beautiful and peaceful image, but the communications director was in my office 30 minutes later informing me that it needed to be changed because ‘we’re NOT sheep’.

In our time, place, and culture a person called a ‘sheep’ is often one that has seemingly turned off their logical minds, closed their eyes, and are being blindly led… perhaps led stray.

BUT, have you been around or worked with sheep?
Do sheep turn off their minds and do as they are told?
(They don’t do anything you tell them to do.)

Right! They don’t do ANYTHING you tell them to do.

Instead of the blindly led sheep image, I am reminded of another from that trip to Ireland.

We were driving from the north near the Giant’s Causeway to near Dublin where we were staying our last evening in a castle. We decided to take a ‘back road’. It was a beautiful drive, including a portion of Saint’s Patrick’s trail, and we came upon a herd of sheep in the middle of the road.

He begins to slowly drive again thinking the sheep may move out of the middle of the road… Nothing.

He honks the horn. The sheep take off beginning to run but the sheep remain in the middle of the road.

He begins to increase speed while honking the horn. The sheep continue to run faster but remain in the middle of the road.

The sheep did not care that we were behind them on the road.

I ‘hate’ to tell you… but we are sheep.

There are scriptural and theological language for us as sheep, but this does not mean we have closed our eyes, turned off our minds, or turned off our ears (like Highlander does when I call for him). We do not blindly follow the Shepherd.

We are like the lost lamb in the video.
We go astray.
We run away and do our own thing.
We tend to be hard-headed and stubborn.
We are just this way, because we are sheep.

The other language is that of the Shepherd.
The act of shepherding is to care for, to tend to, and to nurture which makes this appropriate for Mother’s Day but also dove tails nicely with last Sunday.

Last Sunday, Jesus asked Peter three times “do you love me?’, which mirrors his earlier denial of Jesus. Peter answers “yes. I love you”. Jesus replies “then feed/tend my sheep”.

Does this mean that Jesus has a flock of four-legged, furry sheep?

No! We are those sheep. We are the ones Peter was called to feed and tend.

Recently, I was asked if there is a difference between Reverend, Minister, and Pastor. These are three different clergy titles which invokes different images.

While on internship, I read a book that was essentially ‘how to pick out your clergy title’ instead of ‘how to pick out your grandma name’.

Reverend is the official title with a Masters of Divinity degree.
It invokes this image of placed above on a pedestal (to be revered).

I do not want to be placed on a pedestal.
If you feel the need to do so, please keep it short with a lot of pillows around it because I will fall off of it and I do not want to hurt myself when I do.

In fact, “Reverend” on official items does not feel ‘right’ or comfortable to me. 

Minister is the official title with my ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.
It invokes the responsibility to administer the Word (preaching) and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

However, this administering does not feel as though it describes the majority of my ministry.

But, does anyone know what ‘Pastor’ means?
It is another term for ‘Shepherd’.

That is how I view my life and ministry.
I am called to feed, to tend to, to care for, to nurture, and to shepherd.

We know herding sheep is not easy, similarly herding people is not easy.

The reality is: I might be a decent shepherd. I am NOT the Good Shepherd.

Christ is our Shepherd. Christ is the one who cares for, tends to, and nurtures us.
Christ is the one who does the illogical action of leaving behind 99 sheep to find the one that strayed away.

Sheep know the voice of their shepherd.
Sheep listen to their shepherd, occasionally.

How often do we spend time (trying) to listen to the voice of our Shepherd?
How often do we cooperate with Christ shepherding us?

And yet, we are ALL called into the same mission and ministry as Peter to shepherd, feed, tend to, and care for the sheep… the lambs… the people.

Thus, we are all sheep of the Good Shepherd AND shepherds to one another.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday and Mother’s Day, I invite us each to reflect on our relationship with the Good Shepherd AND how you are shepherding those near and far in Jesus’ example. Amen.

Scriptures were Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; and John 10: 22-30.
Originally preached 12 May 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

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