Being Led by the Shepherd

“Forget all those paintings you’ve seen where a tall, blond, Jesus carries a fluffy white lamb in his arms. John 10:11–18 is all about business. A flock of sheep without a shepherd will soon be gone – stolen, butchered, or taken by wild animals. And with the flock gone, the families who must depend upon it will soon be gone. And if the families go, society falls apart. Everything is at stake in this reading.” – Seasons of the Spirit

This is a passage about commitment – intense, engaged, full on, not giving up early commitment.  The author of this passage is also using this metaphor to speak to the early church about leadership.  When we talk about Christian leadership, what do we really mean?  For that matter, when we talk about Christian _______ fill in the blank – what do we mean?  To obtain the adjective “Christian” does something simply have to be Christlike?  “Christian music”, “Christian Books”, or “Christian movies” – let alone “Christian values” are no where near as simple or clear as any of them sound.

Christian leadership is a complex topic – but this passage makes one thing very clear – it is about a total commitment to the sheep (people) not about right teaching, right doctrine, right practices – it’s about the sheep.

Paired with the other readings for the day (Acts 4:5–12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16–24) the reader can see the tension in trying to find the “right teachings” in the struggle of Acts 4.  The letter of 1 John reminds believers that as they face these struggles – that it is really in our actions that we truly care for one another -“3:18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”  The 23 Psalm, a favorite of so many faithful people of God over centuries – paints the beautiful picture of the world that God wants for us.

As we come away from Earth Day and a week of looking deeper at the realities of our planet – this image of being led in a pasture can seem all too unreal.  God wants the best for each of us – yet the diversity of gifts and talents show us clearly the best for each of us isn’t the same.  Yet God wants to provide for our needs, water, food, shelter.  Without these basic needs met, one cannot move on to other concerns of life.  The Shepherd provides these for their sheep – not every sheep everywhere, but for their sheep – even when it’s hard.

Do we as leaders allow our needs to be met by God?  Or are we too busy presuming that we must be the shepherd for others in our lives?  Christian leadership is first and foremost about being a follower of the good Shepherd.  Taking the time out of our busy lives to listen for their voice, to follow their guidance, and to allow ourself to be taken care of.  It is out of our healthy selves that we can be ministers to others and fulfill our callings – not out of our callings we will be fulfilled.

We each understand the sacrifice on the cross and atonement through our own lens of experience.  Jesus speaks of many things in this passage – I encourage you to read it over 2 or 3 times –  and consider first what you do in your life to allow yourself to be led by the Shepherd.

The Good Cottonball Sheep and Shepherd

The image of Jesus as the “Good Shepherd” is a very popular one among Christians around the world.  This passage in the gospel of John, brings out some of the attributes that make the good shepherd “good”.   

John 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 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. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 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.”

sheep cotton balls One of my favorite  kids songs: sheep wine cork

“I just wanna be a sheep, ba ba ba ba – I just wanna be a sheep, ba ba ba ba – and I pray the Lord my soul to keep, I just wanna be a sheep.” (You Tube this song for the corniest biblical jokes!  “I don’t want to be a Pharisee…”)

If Christ is the good Shepherd – then we are the sheep.  There are many ways to talk to children about being followers of Jesus, similar to how sheep are followers of a shepherd.  Just as we don’t always listen, sheep also don’t always follow direction.  But a good shepherd really cares about the sheep – more than just a job!

One of my favorite parts of this passage is – “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” I wonder what the author of the gospel of John means by this?

It’s a classic activity to read this story together and glue some cottonballs on a paper plate, add some black paper for a head and legs on top and have some adorable sheep.

However, I also loved the wine cork paint stamping – it’s simple but perhaps a bit more sophisticated for those older children – and a great excuse to finish off that bottle of wine.

Peace, Deacon Erin

Resurrection

Easter week 2 – John 20:19-31 – Lectionary year B

On the 2nd (of 6!) week of Easter Christians around the world are continuing to reveal in the mystery of Easter – the wonder of the empty tomb.  After 6 weeks of preparing and reflecting, as well as an emotional Holy Week, we have 6 weeks to celebrate the hope that we have in our risen Lord.

There is much to be hopeful about in our world today.  Incredible medical advances saving lives, expanding education and equality that reach more people across the world faster (thanks internet!), an ever changing global economy, and so much more.  As a young person, there is much about the world today that brings me excitement and joy.

Of course, there are also many things that bring incredible sorrow – the wealth gap, inexcusable poverty and diseases of poverty, systematic racism and legalized discrimination, and so much more.

It is our faith in God, that helps us to not ignore the sorrows for the joys, that gives us the strength to rise from the things that hold us down and live lives of hope.  It is in the whole incarnation that we see how God continues to enter into the human story.  The birth, the life – teachings, healing, and more – as well as the final death and resurrection are all part of the amazing mystery of the incarnation.

Theologians offer a variety of different theories of atonement – some Christians understand this hope to lie in death of Christ, others in the resurrections, still others in the birth or the life of Christ.  These next few weeks we have the opportunity to hear again the stories of the risen Jesus among his disciples.  This week – of the scared disciples in the upper room without poor Thomas.  Hearing their stories, he could not believe it.  We find ourselves in the same place as Thomas so often.  Unsure of what is “true” – unsure of things we can never know for sure.  The world today seems as if it would like to paint all Christians as superstitious drones opposed to modern science and anything not found in the Bible – including other faiths.  Yet we know that Christians and their diverse faiths are not like the media portrays.  Through our differences we find our mysterious God.  It is not easy – yet we know that the lives of people of faith before us weren’t easier either.  Together we provide the strength we need to be the people of God in the world – a people of love and a people of service.

The resurrection is about so much more than an empty tomb – and whatever happened in those days.  Some words from a wise Native American storyteller give me strength “It may not have happened exactly like this, but it’s true.”

I wish you joy and happiness through this Easter season – and to know that God provides us with a lot of truth, yet very few details on how things have been or what things may come.  Faith and community both help provide us together with the strength to accept and celebrate these joys without ignoring the sorrows and coming together to continue to work for the kingdom of heaven on earth.

The Journey to Alleluia

I wish you blessings on this Holy Week.  The journey through this week is not easy, and I admit there have been years where I took the express lane from Palm Sunday right to Easter Morning.  Yet, as many of us have heard time and again – all good things take time.

I have been reflecting upon this thought – there is no resurrection, no alleluia, without a crucifixion. No Easter without Good Friday.  The journey matters – the movements of this most sacred time we live year after year.

The 6 weeks before Easter, the season of Lent is a time of reflection and of prayer – a time of preparation for Easter.  Yet, sometimes I wonder if I can really prepare myself to hear this story again.  The mystery of Easter is a very difficult part of my faith because sometimes it seems as if it glorifies violence and suffering more than new hope and life.

Not only the violence, but also I struggle with atonement – I do honestly wonder – did Jesus need to die, and in that way?  Working with children, this currently popular model of sacrificial atonement –  “Jesus bled and died to pay the price for my sins” is a difficult concept to teach.  While there are many who don’t mind teaching children these words of Paul, I wonder – could the death of Christ be more about love than an exchange of debt? There are many other atonement models out there (Check out the book – The Nonviolent Atonement for a great read) where theologians have pondered many questions similar to this.  At the end of the day, I am one who tends to think that there is more truth in many answers than only one, especially when pondering the great mysteries of God.  It’s never been for me about absolute knowing.  It’s been about the process of asking the questions.

Holy Week is a process.  From the excitement and energy of Palm Sunday, crowds waving – hopeful that this man – the one who has done such amazing things and says such wonderful things will bring about new life for them.  Then he visits the temple and turns over the tables, questioning the current systems and angering those who benefit most from them.  As he continues to minister to his disciples, on Thursday he teaches a lesson of humility and service through both an act of foot washing as well as sharing that special meal.  Then quickly come betrayal, courts, beatings, questions, and soon – death.  A horrible, dishonorable, “don’t be like this guy”, “we’ll show you hopeful oppressive masses the power” kind of death.  Yet that is not the end.

This is the story that gives Christians hope – not the “live a good life and God will reward you in heaven” kind of hope.  Hope that says – when all lives don’t matter in our world today, when people are denied needed health care, when children die of hunger and hunger related diseases, when the gap between those who have and those who don’t is growing at an alarming rate, and when our natural world is treated as something simply dispensable – I’m sure we can get some fresh water or air at a super store somewhere – Christians have hope.  Again, not a naive hope that a God sitting in the clouds will say “poof, all better” – A hope that says, even on the darkest days – the day when Jesus the Christ was beaten and hung on a cross to die – that this pain is not the end of the story.

In the Easter text for this year (John 18:1-20) Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds it empty.  Understandably upset, she goes and gets some of the disciples.  After they check it out – believe her story and then… they go back home (? thought they were visiting Jerusalem…).  The author gives us nothing to go off of as to their emotional state – yet the focus is on the distraught Mary who can’t bring herself to leave.  After being asked first by angels “Woman, why are you weeping”, Jesus asks the same question of her.  It is comforting to know, I am not the only follower of Jesus not to get things quickly.  Mary doesn’t recognize her Lord until he says her name.  He then tells her “not to hold on to him” because he hasn’t ascended yet and instructs her to go share this news.

Sometimes, especially when I am most distraught all I want to do is hold on to someone and be held.  While this is part of the journey – some refer to this time as the dark night of the soul – I take to heart Jesus’s words here not to hold on to him, but to carry out our callings.  To share the good news that Jesus, the son of God, came to earth, taught lessons of love and inclusion to everyone, preached about serving each other – especially the poor, was killed for these messages, yet rose from the dead to show the power of God.  Easter is yes for celebrating (that’s one reason the season extends for the following 6 weeks!) AND also – for finding our new life and living it!!

Wherever this Holy Week finds you on your own journey – I pray for you to see the hope that Christ brought through the incarnation to earth.  More than platitudes of suffering being good for us or placing your troubles in God’s care – I pray for you to hear God’s voice calling you by name, just as Mary heard her’s, and to hear what God is calling you to do to share this message of love, acceptance, inclusion, and hope.  Alleluia.