Sunday, May 15, 2011

Easter 4A

When you hear the title “Good Shepherd” an image comes to mind doesn’t it?  A cuddly baby sheep being held by a smiling Jesus.  Feelings of fluff and happiness abounding. 

As individualistic, independent, post industrialized, western Christians we have a difficult time understanding shepherds, sheep, gates, gate keepers.  Very few of us have spent any time around real shepherds, real sheep, and gates.  We likely have a lot of experience with human gate keepers, those who decide who is in and who is not.  Many of us were not raised hearing the stories about Jesus and lambs in Sunday School.  For those that did hear the Sunday school lessons, they left us feeling warm and happy. 

Jesus as the shepherd, us as the sheep.  It is comforting to imagine Jesus keeping us safe from the bad things of life.  Jesus promises to keep us safe, to guide us, and hold us from harm.  But if Jesus is the shepherd what does that mean about us as sheep? 

If we are honest we think those cute, cuddly, white little baby sheep are not smart, and while I’ve never been around them much, I’m told sheep are not dumb, yet they are willing to be led.  They have a strong herding instinct which protects them from predators.  As the sheep draw closer to one another they are safer and make it more difficult to be singled out. 

Sheep also know their shepherd.  If you were to mix four flocks of sheep together, they would sort themselves out by flock as their shepherd calls.  They know and respond only to their shepherd’s voice and commands.  That arises out of familiarity and trust.  It is learned over time and internalized to the point that even if the same commands and tones are used, the sheep will still respond only to their shepherd.

Jesus calls us to listen and to follow his voice.  We are warned about thieves and bandits who will attempt to lead us astray.  We are reminded that accountability is part of being a sheep.  There is more to being a sheep than being held safe.  We are called to be led. 

And that is where it gets hard.  Being led.  We have gotten comfortable being individuals and the idea of being led goes against what we are taught about being independent.  Our motto has become “it’s all about me” rather than seeking to hear the voice of the shepherd.  Or like Ol’ Blue Eyes, we want to do it our way.

To think that we must wait on the voice of the shepherd and listen for his lead before acting seems difficult.  Yet without this leading, our activity becomes about us. We lose sight of why we are doing what we do and for whom we are doing it.

We come to know the shepherd and the voice of the shepherd as we spend time with him.  We do that by coming together each week to learn, to pray, to listen, to respond.  Just as our human relationships need care, so too does our relationship with our shepherd.

The shepherd remains by our side to guide us, care for us, and to love us. We do not walk the paths alone. We are led. In allowing ourselves to be led we are able to enter the places of darkness, knowing the light is coming. And if we look, we find light even in the midst of the darkness.

God's goodness and mercy always pursue us in the midst of the journey. And that reminds us that in the darkness, there is always hope. In the midst of the shadows, there is always light. It is a promise that no matter how far we stray from the path, the Good Shepherd is there to lead us back. It is a promise that even when we cannot see God in the midst of pain, struggle, and heart ache, God is there. Leading us. Guiding us. Filling us. Refreshing us. And always loving us.
As we come to know his voice the shepherd leads us down paths we never thought we would be on.   We come to trust that while it might be frightening, we are safe.  We begin to learn that the shepherd doesn’t abandon us on the journey.  He continues with us.

As we let the shepherd lead, we are able to respond to his nurturing by reaching out to a broken world around us. We begin to act out of a love that becomes pure and holy. We respond because God has reached out toward us first.

Let us pray in the words of our shepherd’s song:

Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

No comments:

Post a Comment