Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care 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. I have other sheep that do not belong to 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 in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father." John 10:11-18
As a bishop, I have a crozier that is one piece of wood hand crafted by my Uncle Charles WalkingStick. It is my shepherd's staff, the sight of my role as bishop, as shepherd of the people. Because of this, I have spent a goodly time observing shepherds in many places. I grew up with family friends that had a few sheep and taught us a bit about them. It was such a small herd that getting cooperation seemed easy. I have watched the sheep in the thousands pour over a hillside in Ne Zealand with boys in ATVs and sheep dogs keep them in line. I have been blessed to visit Ireland with my husband several times, and seen large and small herds wrangled by young and old, with border collies ever nipping at their heels. The sometimes herd with whatever works - a staff, the dogs or their car, if need be. And I have been to church in Coal Mine on the Navajo reservation when a young man brought his newborn lamb to church. There are many ways to be a shepherd, and many types of people can be shepherds, I've learned.
Jesus tells his followers that he is the Good Shepherd, the one who sacrifices all for his sheep. They would have understood. Many of them lived among the sheep and their livelihoods depended on the sheep. The sheep were their sustenance and their everything. There is an intimacy and an interdependence that is understood in the role as shepherd. And we hear Jesus reminding us today that he continues to be the Good Shepherd. We are known by name and loved, protected from harm and guided into green pastures and safe passage. The Good Shepherd is with us whether invited or not, caring for us when we turn away and run off, seeking us out in the dark and the rocky terrain.
Today, I ask God to help me to trust the Good Shepherd, knowing that with each step I take I am guided along by one who take my safety and care seriously. May I, who knows this depth of love, likewise live for others, taking my role seriously, guiding with compassion, forgiveness and love. May we all, no matter our role or our call, use the tools we have to guide the weak and the strong among, providing shelter and comfort, green pasture and safe travel to all who come our way today.
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.