Fourth Sunday of Easter
Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why 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 on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father." John 10:11-18
My dog’s name is Milo. He’s 5 pounds, a yorkie/maltese mix, just about the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. My heart melts every time I come home and I see him running down the stairs to greet me. In the morning he runs up to meet me, I sit on a chair, and he stretches his tiny legs up to my knee. I lay my head down to meet his and we just sit with our heads touching in total peace. He cries on the other side of the door if I’ve gone into the bathroom without him. He’s the best cuddler and is always ready for a dance party.
…He’s also a jerk. He hates everyone who doesn’t live under our roof. If you even so much as linger for a second too long while walking by us to smile at him or say hello to us, he will make it his goal to kill you. He demands a treat every time he goes to the ‘bathroom,’ as if he’s doing you a favor. He pees on your things if you leave the house too long as punishment. If he is sleeping next to you and you decide to move your leg an inch to the left, prepare yourself for his wrath. We refer to him as our very own Norman Bates, just as sweet as can be to us, but then in the blink of an eye, he turns into a murderer. I can’t tell you how much I love this dog though.
Most people say that they understand the love of God so much better after having children. I don’t have children, but I do have a dog. And God referred to us as sheep, so I figure I’m allowed to connect the love of the Shepherd to His Sheep with the love I have towards my 5-pound dog. In babies or domesticated dogs, it’s their helplessness that makes us love them so much. They can’t survive without us and they know it. There is a relationship we have with them, a special relationship. Mothers can pick out the cry of their baby. At times or over time, they can even tell what that cry means. I go for walks on the beach and pass 20+ dogs every time. They are cute, but my heart doesn’t melt like it does for MY dog. We have a relationship.
Sometimes I lose my identity outside of being a sheep following the Shepherd. I try to cling to roles: musician, wife, organizer, dancer, Christian, you name it. Kimberly Dunnam Reisman says it well, “If we are not careful, we can forget that it is the relationship that is primary, not the role.” God doesn’t love me because I’m organized. God doesn’t love you because you are successful. God doesn’t love us because we’re musicians. God doesn’t love you because you follow all the rules. God doesn’t even love us because we’re Christians. He loves us because we’re His sheep. I could even be like Milo, the cutest but meanest sheep there is, and He’s still going to love me.
Donald Miller talks a little bit about this in “Searching for God Knows What”:
Contrasting this idea, I recently heard a man, while explaining how a person could convert to Christianity, say the experience was not unlike deciding to sit in a chair. He said that while a person can have faith that a chair will hold him, it is not until he sits in the chair that he has acted on his faith.
I wondered as I heard this if the chair was kind of a symbol for Jesus, and how irritated Jesus might be if a lot of people kept trying to sit on Him.
And then I wondered at how Jesus could say He was a Shepherd and we were sheep, and that the Father in heaven was our Father and we were His children, and that He Himself was a Bridegroom and we were His bride... and yet we somehow missed His meaning and thought becoming a Christian was like sitting in a chair.
Donald Miller goes on to say it’s a relationship, a relationship with our Shepherd. I remember walking by a shepherd outside of Bethlehem, next to Solomon’s Pools. He was a young boy walking with all of his sheep. He looked at them with this peaceful smile and it was clear there was love there. A relationship. It was a powerful moment for me, watching those sheep following the young shepherd. They recognized their only job was to remember that they are sheep and they need to stay as close as they could to Him.
We walk with God one day at a time, at a step-by-step pace set by the Good Shepherd himself. (The Way of Serenity, Father Jonathan Morris)
I once worked for a priest named Fr. Henry. He started the house in Calcutta with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Somehow he ended up in a rural town in Arkansas. And he said a prayer so often, I began to memorize it.
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst the encircling gloom. Lead Thou me on. The night is dark and I am far from home. Lead Thou me on. Keep Thou my feet. I do not ask to see the distant scene. One step enough for me.
May we remember this week that our identity is as sheep in relationship with the Shepherd. May we stay close behind Him. There is no need to see the distant scene, just one step at a time, eyes fixed on the Shepherd, and He will lead us home.