A Good Shepherd, Sheep, and a World-wide Flock
So, I have been thinking about sheep this week. Quite a bit. More than I would like to admit. It could be that I have been thinking about sheep because I wrote about knitting last week and since I am a purest when it comes to the yarn I use (I am also called a yarn snob) much of what I knit is from wool and of course, wool comes from sheep.
It could be that I am thinking about sheep because I spoke at a gathering of Crosslines, Clothes Closet, and Upshur Parish volunteers, this past Tuesday night and I focused my comments on sheep and wool and the Good Shepherd. I shared with the group several old proverbs concerning sheep including an African proverb that says, “The quarrel of the sheep doesn’t concern the goats.” Another proverb from Germany says that “It’s a poor sheep that cannot carry its own wool.” A Russian proverb says that “Without the shepherd, sheep are not a flock,” and this one I have been thinking about.
Sunday, April 17th, is Good Shepherd Sunday. The fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday. The assigned psalm for that Sunday is Psalm 23—“The Lord is my shepherd,” one. The Gospel lesson is one of the shepherd passages found in the tenth chapter of John where Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. So, every year, if we follow the lectionary readings, there is a passage and an image of sheep and the Shepherd.
There are so many ways that this image of sheep and a Shepherd fits our faith journey. For Jesus and those who heard him teach and preach, sheep were common place all around. Sheep were everywhere. Sheep provided a significance in life because they provided food and clothing. For the most part, shepherds that looked after the sheep were not the owners of the flocks; they were hired help who were tasked with a very difficult job of caring for sheep, making sure that they did not come to harm, that they did not get lost, that they were well fed and had water.
The job was not easy. Wolves attacked and killed the sheep and when that happened, the shepherd was responsible. Storms came up and caused frightened sheep to go missing. And loneliness was a way of life for a shepherd.
A good shepherd understood the sheep. A good shepherd was a source of great comfort. A good shepherd was trustworthy. Without a shepherd, the welfare of sheep is bleak at best and so much about sheep depends on the kind of shepherd they have.
Jesus presented himself as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and calls them by name. The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep, leads the sheep to safety and pasture and water. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and gives them life eternal. There is no greater security for the sheep or for us.
As I have thought about these passages, this image, and these proverbs this week, I have thought about them in regard to the prayers of my heart and the condition of our world. It would be so easy to say that everywhere in the world the Good Shepherd’s “sheep” are secure, but we know that is not true. So many of the Good Shepherd’s beloved sheep are not safe. There are those in danger. There are those who are misunderstood by the other sheep of the Good Shepherd. There are those who are shunned by others. Sometimes we sheep try to make our own security, forgetting that we are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock. We put all our hopes and dreams into our own abilities or in false security. We want things our way and we fail to see that there are so many different kinds of sheep, each beloved by the Good Shepherd.
Literally, there are hundreds of breeds of sheep. Suffolk, Hampshire Dorset, Rambouillet, Columbia, Southdown, Shropshire, Cheviot, and Leicester are just a few of the sheep in North America. The beauty of the different breeds is that each is prized for a different characteristic, a different gift. And yet, they are all sheep.
We humans are the same. People of different races, different nationalities, different ideas are all loved and cherished by God. We each bring gifts and characteristics that make the world a better place. But these days we don’t seem to focus on what we can contribute that makes us better. We seem to focus on our differences and we allow those differences to tear us apart, creating conflict. When I think about all of this, I am certain that I hear the Good Shepherd sighing.
More and more I find myself praying for the Good Shepherd’s flock—the flock that extends worldwide. I pray that we can follow the One who loves us all so deeply and I pray that we can find ways to get along and celebrate the gifts that we can all bring to this life—the gifts that can make this world safer, peaceful, a better place than we can imagine. I pray that we can help the others who need our help and that we can lose our judgmental ways. I pray that we can trust the One who loves us all so deeply and that we can trust each other.
I hope you will join me in this prayer of my heart.
To God alone be Glory!