Having served often as a “consultant” and having contracted often with consultants, I know a lot of consultant jokes. What has that to do with today’s texts on this “Good Shepherd Sunday”? I’ll tell you a “consultant” joke to explain.A high-powered consultant was driving his top end Jaguar out in the country and came upon an overwhelmingly beautiful valley. Verdant hills were in the background and a shepherd boy with a large flock was in the foreground. Stunned by the bucolic scene, the driver stopped, jumped out of the car, and said to the young shepherd, “This is all so beautiful. I’d like to preserve something of this for myself. Tell you what, if I tell you the number and location of all your sheep, may I have my choice of one to take with me?” The boy thought this odd, but said okay. So the consultant pulled out a computer, portable printer, added a satellite uplink, and immediately took a satellite photo that translated everything into number and location. He told the shepherd boy of the data and the boy said, “You’re right. Take your pick.” The consultant happily did so. But as he was getting into his car, the shepherd said, “Hey, before you go, if I tell you what you do for a living, how about you give back your choice?” “Okay,” the man replied and the boy said immediately, “You are a consultant.” The consultant replied, “You’re right. That’s amazing! How did you know?” The shepherd answered, “1) you stopped to propose to answer a question I did not ask. 2) You used all sorts of expensive and needless equipment to answer the question I did not ask. 3) I want my dog back. ”
The point? There is much about sheep…and shepherds…that we who are away from the farm do not know. And there is much that we romanticize about being a sheep and a shepherd. It is not all bucolic. It is not all warm fuzzy loving, like the image of the sheep held close against the shepherd’s breast. Indeed, the sheep might chase the dog as much as the dog chases them. The sheep might know the master’s voice and still stubbornly graze on its own. Sometimes the shepherd will break a lamb’s leg to keep it from wandering away again. And while the shepherd will leave the flock to find the lost sheep, if the flock would be in danger the shepherd will finally leave an insistently wayward sheep for the sake of the whole flock.
The shepherd knows the noise sheep make and discounts the noise when apt. To mix metaphors, if sheep are like the church, the church is also like a swimming pool. Most of the noise comes from the shallow end (John Shelby Spong). Back to the shepherd, the shepherd knows when and when not to respond to the noise. And the shepherd must be ready always to name the enemy, know the enemy’s patterns, and to take out the enemy in a moment, even if it means endangering his or her own life. The shepherd cares for the health of all the creation around the flock; for the shepherd every day is an Earth Day and all the creation is in his stewarding. Deeper yet, the shepherd knows and treats each of the sheep as individuals with their differences. They are not and need not be all alike. They are at their best when grazing safely as a flock. And the sheep individually and as a flock will be all the healthier when gathered with their differences.
Sometimes I do not understand this. When I do I am captured all the more by the limitless love the great and good shepherd has for me. I understand beneath and beyond words that the shepherd lays his life down for me like a soldier throws himself in harm’s way to protect his buddy; like a mother jumps in front of a car to save her wandering child; or–as with 1 John 3 today, like a Christian gives readily from his own basic necessities–not merely from his or her largesse–to care for the neighbor in dire need. I am here because Jesus laid down his life for me and so did many others, though not so literally, not yet, against their own self-interests so to welcome and shape me. This is the lifestyle of Jesus the Good Shepherd. This is the way real Christians live. Just as it is far removed from the distortion of hateful evangelicalism today, it is far removed from the distortedly romantic image so many hold of Jesus today, which includes the image too of themselves simply as sheep kept close and blessed as they are. There are seasons for bleating and being cared for. We are intended above all for seasons of standing on our own two healthy legs. We are not just sheeple, lazily basking in blessing. We are associate shepherds charged to love Christ’s sheep near and far. Remember, the Eastered Jesus asked Peter three times–recalling Peter’s threefold denial –if Peter loved him. Each time, when Peter answered yes Jesus instructed him to care for Jesus’ sheep.
Once you were sheeple. Now you are associate shepherds. We all are. And we have different Easter jobs to do. It is precisely because Christ’s love is so beyond understanding that we are urged to share and amplify it. Oh, the world outside our little sheep pen and pasture is so in need of it. So many need shepherding care with all its realism, dirt, and wet woolen smell. There are many, too, who claim they follow the shepherd, but by their evident fear and unconfessed hatefulness show they do not. Their souls track with the Dow-Jones average;”…their hearts leap only with new tax breaks. They claim Jesus but obsessively troll others and manipulate the PR when their own unacknowledged insecurity buttons are pushed. Fear and hatred consume them; if they utter Psalm 23, it is with the shaking shoulders of the unconvinced voices of the superstitious. They do not sing with the salved confidence of those who know they were lost and broken but are now rescued and restored.
Only those who have seen and recognize that we were saved from a deadly hand grenade by the Lord’s throwing himself on it, then dying, then rising, only those know that our call as his distributed shepherds is to do the same as his own people now, once sheep, who are madly in love with him and the new reality.
Here at Christ the King Church we are in the thick of imagining how we shall do this work as a uniquely gifted part of God’s flock. We’ve identified compelling new goals for our ministry that will require all our dedication. Exciting goals include new forms of faith formation (education) that will serve many people through interactive digital technologies, like bringing a seminary into our space and our worship and education into high rise millennial and bedridden spaces. We are speaking of medical mission work here and far away with our church partners in Peru. We’re talking about us newly dedicated to becoming known as “a gathering and healing place for mind-body-spirit.” We’re imaging how each and everyone here will be further en-spirited with fresh vision as the eyes and ears and hands of Christ in whatever you daily do. We’re talking about how God through and with us with throw God’s healing grace over the traumas of our common and solitary lives so that the very meaning of salvation will make sheep human again.
This shepherding life “for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people… who believe in something, who hope like mad in something, who love something with a love that surpasses understanding” (John Caputo). So impassioned with Easter faith, we care for the creation and each other. And we are gathered, fed, and healed for the purpose of amplifying this beautiful work–which can so much look like lambs at play. It is for the healing of each other and all people in body, mind, and soul, that we are called, inspired, and equipped here. Thanks be to God.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston TX April 22, 2018