Monday, April 30, 2012

This Week’s Focus: Crying Wolf

"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 

Dear Friends,

To his listeners, this story was taken right from real life. They were farmers and fishermen, craftsmen and laborers, maybe even a few shepherds. They related immediately to the long hours, the vigilance and the dedication required to protect the livestock from predators. They knew the damage wolves could do if they ever got in among the flock. They lived on very thin margins and they understood that the loss of a single sheep could make a big difference. The message, its meaning and the pivotal role of the messenger were all self-evident.

Not surprisingly, things have changed a lot in two-thousand years. We don’t run into many shepherds on the streets of Bay Shore. The wolves we see are on the Animal Channel. And our pride bristles at being equated with sheep. Has the Good Shepherd lost its relevance? Has the parable outlived its usefulness? Not a chance.

Look around you; the wolves are out in force. And they are howling for our souls. From relentless economic and social pressures to a coarsening of community standards; from a growing lack of civility to increasing insensitivity, isolation and alienation; from purposeless personal drift to depression and despair; from enslaving addictions to family violence; from ubiquitous internet porn to the horrors of child abuse… we are under constant assault. And before these merciless demons, we are as helpless as sheep. The world, the flesh and the devil know exactly what buttons to push … the poor me button … the I deserve it button … the grass is always greener button … the get even button … the  nobody ’s looking button … the everybody does it button ... the just this once button. We are wired from head to toe with vulnerabilities. And undefended, we don’t stand a chance.

Enter the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for his sheep. No one took it from him. He gave it in perfect sacrifice as a timeless example of unconditional love. Under assault he is our protection. In our sins he is our redemption. Know with certainty, that at some time in our lives every one of us will be the lost sheep. Every one of us will be sought out and called for. Every one of us will need to be carried back to the fold; to be nursed and restored. For some of us it is a regular round trip. But as long as we have the will and the grace to cry out, the Shepherd will be there. That’s not an invitation to abuse God’s love. The Shepherd knows his sheep. We should know him. He is all merciful, but he is all just. If we prefer the company of wolves, we might get what we wish for. We may deserve it, but: “Good riddance to bad rubbish” are not the words or the wishes of the Good Shepherd. To our last breath, he is listening for our cry. Let’s not make ourselves hard to find. Stay close. Live in his love and protection. And keep an eye out for wolves.

God love you!

Mighty God,
in whom we know the power of redemption,
you stand among us in the shadows of our time.
As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life,
uphold us with knowledge of the final morning
when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son,
we will share in his resurrection,
redeemed and restored to the fullness of life
and forever freed to be your people. Amen.

Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers copyright © 2002 Consultation on Common Texts admin. Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission. A complete edition of the prayers is available though Augsburg Fortress

Image: Mauve, Anton, 1838-1888. Landscape with Shepherd and Sheep, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved April 25, 2012].

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