Wednesday, February 15, 2012

One Flock, One Shepherd

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:1-18

Years ago, I took a group of college students to visit the Diocese of Navajoland. We were visiting in Coalmine, attending an evening youth gathering. As we sitting in the small church singing, a couple of boys came in carrying new lambs. It was late winter or early spring and still very cold outside. The students were all from the Northeast and I don't think a single one had any experience with farm animals, let alone finding themselves up close and personal with little lambs. They were at once overwhelmed and smitten, watching the young boys care for the sheep, as natural and as casually as one might care for a pet or family member. As we road back that evening someone remarked that it had changed their whole understanding of Jesus as the good shepherd. These kids and their families lived their lives for their sheep. And the sheep came to church because they were brand new and too little to be left alone.

Jesus always uses images and stories to help people understand his relationship with God and humanity. He lived in a culture of sheep and shepherds, so it was a fitting image for the people he spoke with. It was vivid and real to them. Those of us with less experience with sheep and livestock might make that image completely pastoral and quaint. But for Jesus and his disciples, the images were very personal, and tangible. Being a shepherd meant protecting, caring, nurturing, sheering - an exhaustively constant and demanding life of care and oversight. Nothing sweet or nostalgic about it. God among us, as a living, toiling shepherd who feeds us, leads us, shelters us and protects us, willing to die to make us safe and on good grazing land.

Today, I want to give thanks for all the shepherds in my life. For my friends who have taught me what it truly means to be a shepherd, who live into the challenges of climate, culture and faith. They walk humbly and speak softly, caring for all who come their way. May we imitate those who have been shepherds to us, and in so doing, may we reflect the love of God, the Good Shepherd, who is willing to lose everything for us and who seeks us out when we wander off. May this day be a day when we know we are part of the flock cared for by a most loving Shepherd.

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