who are we the sheep following?

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

John 10:1-5

We sadly hear and read about “sheep” leaving churches. In biblical language, God and Jesus are called “my shepherd” (Psalm 23) and “the good shepherd” (John 10). There are women and men gifted to be what has been called “under shepherds” commonly called pastors. And the rest of us are called sheep, though in a certain sense that designation includes everyone.

The question today is simply: Why is there the scattering and division of God’s flock? If the sheep were all listening to and hearing the voice of the good shepherd, they would be together, one flock with Jesus. And under shepherds as we take in the rest of the New Testament are in the mix and arrangement as well. Of course the under shepherds themselves, that is the pastors need to be listening and hearing the good shepherd, Jesus, so that they might lead their flocks and be examples to them. But alas, today we have a crisis of sheep being scattered.

And why? Unfortunately we sheep are too often not animated by just the Lord’s voice, if by the Lord’s voice at all. But there are a cacophony of voices causing discord and confusion, along with division. The consensus is gone which can only be present when everyone is intent in following the Lord’s voice only.

What is the cure for this? Simple yet profound, and not easy once we’ve gotten off track. We need to get back to the basics, assess just what we’re hearing, what’s influencing us, and repent of whatever is interfering with the Lord’s voice, so that we can’t even hear him, or are not properly understanding what he is saying.

Not one of us is exempt from this. We need to pay attention to those who are over us in the Lord, as they commit themselves to hearing our Lord’s voice. As we too seek to hear that same voice day after day, and find our way back into safe, verdant pastures. Now and forever with, in and through our good shepherd, Jesus.

Jesus our shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Psalm 23

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep….

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.

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.”

John 10:7,10b,11,14-15

David knew sheep firsthand, and what it was like to be a shepherd. David herded sheep as a boy before he became shepherd of Israel, as king. But David knew that he needed shepherding himself. Scripture tells us that we humans are like sheep. Just as God is like the shepherd of God’s people. Just as Jesus is like a gate where sheep can enter in, become one flock, all their needs taken care of.

The Lord, Jesus is our shepherd through thick and thin, whatever we face, through every stage of life, and beyond. The Lord will take care of it, will take care of us in his love. We are his bleating sheep, forever in the Lord’s care in God’s love. 

It really does help to remember that we are like sheep, and that the Lord is indeed like our shepherd. This puts less pressure on us. As we hopefully begin to experience the abundant life for us, even in this life with all its dangers and sadness. In and through Jesus.

cae

the shepherd’s leading/guiding

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

What makes all the difference for the sheep? What is the difference between life and death for them? The shepherd. And specifically the care the shepherd takes of the sheep. And one important aspect of that: leading and guiding.

In our new hymnal, Voices Together, the Benediction for Morning Prayer reads:

God will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Amen.

Voices Together, 985

Notice that the shepherd leads, the shepherd does not drive the sheep or coerce them. They simple follow the shepherd’s lead. The shepherd goes before them. Jesus leads the way for us. Yes, by his example in trusting in his Father and following even to the point of the death of the cross. But clearing the way for us so that we can live in the same blessing in which he lives.

It’s vitally important for us, as Christ’s sheep to follow the lead of our Shepherd. The Spirit enables us to do that, along with Scripture. We need to be intent in simply following. Not going off and doing our own thing, which we’re ever so prone to be doing. As if we either have to figure it out, or have it figured out. That comes to a dead end, darkness, and finally, death. No, we move only with the Lord’s leading.

That will give us the light we need in our own darkness, in the darkness of this world. In and through Jesus.

the Lord as “my” Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd…

Psalm 23:1a

It was pointed out to us in seminary, rightfully so I think, that spirituality in the Bible is communal, or meant to be lived in community. Yes, and we lose so much when we don’t understand this, or take it seriously. We are so steeped in an individualistic mindset in our western culture, that we see most everything in terms of individuals, rather than of each individual as part of the whole. And God though One is also revealed as Three, so that while there’s only one God and God is One, in that Oneness somehow, God is also Three: Source, Word, and Spirit, one way of putting it; or Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So that God is also in God’s Self, communal. So when we read a Scripture like Psalm 23, one might say that we’re considering one important aspect of our existence: the reality that we are an individual, and that God deals with us as such. The Lord takes seriously each one of us as individuals. And this most classic of all the psalms one might say, probably most loved and memorized brings this out clearly.

I was sharing this psalm with our grandson this week, and later meditated on it for myself. Yes, the Bible repeatedly likens us humans to sheep. We’re so easily lost, flustered, and then upset. Bleating, often injured, and again lost, again and again. This is the reality we live in. I personally am amazed at my own experience, how a kind of deep settled peace can be so rudely interrupted by what sets me back into an unhappy state, where I no longer feel at home, but long for home as something like the idyllic state which is touched on in this psalm. But we have to read the entire psalm. And happily remember too, who it was attributed to: To David, himself a shepherd as a boy, who became shepherd of God’s people Israel, and who certainly did not live an unblemished life.

If we read the entire psalm, we see that the Lord has us covered. That the Lord as our shepherd, yes “my shepherd” is present with us through everything, through the mess and the hardest times, as well as the good times. Through all of our days, right to the very end. What if we really believed that? What difference would that make?

It doesn’t mean that life becomes easier, that circumstances change, that all is well and good. It does mean that through the better and worse, even through the most troubled and troubling times, the Lord is with us as the shepherd each one of us needs.

I want to dwell on this psalm for a time myself, let it soak in. So that hopefully I can begin to much better appreciate the faithfulness of the Lord as my shepherd whatever circumstances and experience I’m going through. In and through Jesus.

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

needed rest

A David Psalm

God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

Psalm 23; MSG

This well known, treasured psalm refers to the gamut of life, all of it. I would like to consider one part of it: Our need for rest.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.

Away from the pressures of all the responsibilities of life, not to mention all the drama and trauma which inevitably impacts our world along with the world at large, we need those escapes, even getaways, but I’m especially thinking of simple rest in whatever form that takes for us. We need it daily, but it’s good to have a special time of rest set apart once a week, as in the Sabbath Day of old. And it’s good to have seasons and times when we simply rest.

The portrayal of the Lord’s shepherding of us here includes this so that we can say it’s a necessary element of life. All too often we continue on day after day, and even through weekends in a more or less frazzled state, not catching our breath, but rather gasping for breath. That is not the life God intends for us.

Instead we need to accept the good shepherd’s shepherding of us, his sheep. Together as his flock, as well as what that means for us as his individual sheep. After that we’ll be ready for what lies ahead until the next needed rest comes.

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

In and through Jesus.

going through it, not around it

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

Psalm 23:4; MSG

Psalm 23 is a delight, and one of the earliest Bible passages many of memorized and recited from the beloved King James Version. Couched in the middle of this David psalm is the reference to the darkest and most difficult of our experience in this life. What we would well like to avoid, but can’t. The inevitable trials and tribulations, dark in either what actually is experienced, or in the perceived threats which trouble us.

God, I believe is wanting to teach us something basic, but so crucial to our life in God as pilgrims in this world. We’re not to try to avoid or even escape the darkness we face, but walk through it, yes through it. Knowing that the Lord will be with us. Yes, God will be with us. Jesus our good shepherd. Protecting us with his rod and staff. The Lord will see us through. We’ll receive all the help we need, comfort and security, and will be better off, remarkably enough, for having gone through it. Or at least afterward we’ll be receiving the healing we need. In and through Jesus.

the Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

In Scripture God’s people are likened to sheep in need of a shepherd. God put shepherds, that is leaders over his people, but often they just took advantage of them, fleecing the sheep, and even feeding themselves off the flock, all of this metaphorical, of course.

I too am a bleating sheep, hurt in the past, and usually struggling over this or that. Just like the rest of us. Thankfully in Jesus, God is our Shepherd. In giving Jesus the name that is above all names, Yahweh (Tim Gombis), translated LORD here in most English Bibles including the one above, though that doesn’t come out on my copy, we have in Jesus the good shepherd who willingly in love gave his life for the sheep.

God is this shepherd in Jesus. And because of that we lack nothing. God will take care of everything, all of our needs. We don’t need any particular elected official or government of this world to do that, though God does hold all such accountable for what they do especially to their own people, as well as to others. Christians need to develop the mindset and attitude that the Lord can and will take care of everything.

Notice that the psalm is attributed to David, who may well have written it even as a young shepherd himself. He knew intimately firsthand what went into good shepherding and what sheep were like. He could actually identify with both.

Given the scope of David’s life, the great triumphs and utter failure and aftermath, and what followed, yes, we’re glad a greater David came in Jesus, the son of David. But it’s a great encouragement to us who have stumbled and failed along the way, that yes, God can make us into people and individuals who are people after his own heart, like David was said to be.

From start of finish, yes through everything, God will take care of it. We have to trust him for that. After all, we’re always sheep in this life, forever in need of the good shepherd who will be with us always and forever. In and through Jesus.

in the midst of all the din- the continuous noise, follow the good Shepherd

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

John 10:2-5

I am amazed today at how caught up Christians are in the political mess. It’s like we’re taken up into the maelstrom and chaos, and we become part of it, frankly part of the problem, at least all too often. We can see this on media networks such as Facebook. And it’s not like I’m immune to this. Given the fact that I have a teaching bent, and tend to confront what I consider wrong, I am definitely vulnerable to getting caught up in this myself in ways that are not healthy, or even helpful. That’s a struggle for me. Maybe in my case it’s more a matter of how I do it, rather than wondering if I should do it at all. But regardless of who we are with our differences, we as followers of Christ need to do precisely that, endeavor to be following him.

To do that we need to be listening to his voice. And with other sheep. That is a challenge during this time of pandemic. It’s always been a challenge, and from what I’ve seen and experienced, Christians overall are not that good at this. We often don’t listen well, nor do so together. And when we do listen, we fail to keep all of Jesus’s words in front of us. Our mistaken theology might keep us from considering passages like Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). If we’re to follow Jesus then we need to be in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with the rest of the New Testament, and then seeking to read the rest of the Bible in light of that.

We must leave the noisy din of this world behind us. It’s not like we should withdraw and not be involved at all. But at times we indeed should shut the noise off and take a break from it all. It ends up being a matter of just how we engage. Are we doing so intent on continuing to hear the good Shepherd’s voice? And ready at a moment’s notice to take a different path?

Just because something has some value doesn’t mean we’re to give ourselves to it. Instead we need to listen to the one voice, and set ourselves to be followers of the good Shepherd. Along with other sheep. In and through Jesus.

we’re just “sheep”

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

John 10:11

The Bible likens us humans to sheep. I don’t know much about sheep. I do know that their existence has actually been used as evidence for the existence of God, since they’re said to be essentially defenseless. And that they are easily misled or lost. We all like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53).  Scripture also calls God the shepherd of his people. Psalm 23. God identifies himself fully with us as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Bearing our sins and their consequences.

When it comes right down to it, we’re just sheep. Yes, humans made in God’s image, but in the mix and maelstrom of life, just sheep. We shouldn’t feel bad then that we feel bad. Or that it seems like everything is going crazy, and that our reactions aren’t necessarily the best. We’re always and forever in need of a shepherd, indeed the good shepherd himself, Jesus. That’s where we’ll find the help, comfort, and peace we need. In that relationship. Battered and broken though we are. Ongoing in this life. In and through Jesus.

more cushion

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

Jesus is our shepherd, and he knows each one of us. A good pastor knows his people. He understands their felt needs, their propensities, what they need to realize their full potential- what God created them for, to be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ. And it comes out of a heart of love. Pastor is another word for shepherd, and Jesus knows us, his sheep through and through. Out of a heart of love, he gives us the cushion we need, grace to continue on in spite of ourselves and all the troubles we face. We then pass that same love to each other, as we continue on in our quest to follow him.