Monday, April 30, 2012

Abundant Love for Real Sheep

Today’s affectionately named Good Shepherd Sunday. Here in the city, it’s hard to get the whole shepherd thing. But where I’m from, just down the road you could see the sheep in fields-they start out cute lambs, but by the time they’re sheared, they’re kind of a mess. We might think of sheep as looking like THIS:

but in reality, it’s more like this:


Sheep take a lot of work, keeping them in the right place, cutting off all that wool. It takes dogs, fences, sticks, and for shearing, you gotta sit on them, and hold their feet together to keep them there. It’s anything but a perfect and fluffy experience because real sheep aren’t perfect- they’re smelly, with muddy, matted wool, and hard to hold onto. One pastor tells the story of being a little girl helping her grandparents at shearing. Her job was to sit on the sheep, hold it down. But it starts to struggle. She jumps up and this top-heavy sheep wobbles away. As her grandparents are yelling, she throws up her hands and says, “But it WANTED to move” To which they said- “What do you think YOU’RE there for?”  Real sheep are imperfect and wired for struggle. Shepherding means responding to the real needs of the sheep, not the ones they think they want. The Lord is our shepherd.

Psalm 23 tells us this, and I think it's kind of a shame we often only say it in times of dying, when it is so much about life. The kind of life Jesus came to bring- abundant life. Jesus as the good shepherd comes not only to lay down his life. He tells us we are not perfect either. But in God’s eyes, we’re enough. David Lose says- Jesus doesn't die in order to make some kind of payment to God or to satisfy God's wrath or to pay the penalty for sin. Jesus, in John's Gospel, is the One who comes to make the invisible God visible and the unapproachable God real to real people. And to reveal that God loves us and whole world, no matter what. To tell us we are already beloved. We are enough. Worthy in God’s eyes of receiving God’s abundance. The Lord is my shepherd. So I lack nothing.  That’s all there is to say, right?  

Do you really feel that abundance?

I think if we did, we wouldn’t struggle so much. I think the overflowing amount of slogans, infomercials and books about how to "have it all" says alot. That many of us feel incomplete, that it's not enough. This whole abundance thing is hard to believe. Brene Brown suggests that we struggle to believe in God’s abundant love for us, perhaps because to accept this abundance, we’d have to first acknowledge our vulnerability. There is a big difference between perfect and enough.

Today we sang the kids’ song “I just wanna be a sheep”- it’s cute and upbeat, but if we sang what we really think, it might sound more like this: “I just wanna be a creature that is utterly dependent upon someone more powerful than me to care for me because most days I don’t have a clue.” We can spend so much of ourselves struggling to overcome and get enough of whatever it is we think we need. But it’s never enough. So keep trying and end up trapped like that sheep in the mud, in a pattern of living that doesn’t give us abundance or life. And leaves us feeling alone. We want to be THIS sheep,

deep down we know we are THAT sheep.  

In fact we are a whole flock of THAT.

Instinct says, we can’t let that show.
But then we never really know if others love us or who we’re pretending to be. But we fear that by revealing ourselves and others might reject us, or run away.  So we keep running away, chasing ideas, caught in the mire of blaming others, or denial. Yeah,…we’re THOSE sheep. Yet, to gain what we most deeply want, we need to be vulnerable to this deepest fear.

To even begin to be that vulnerable we need lean into realizing that our fears are met by… our shepherd- The Lord is our shepherd. So walk with me in the good news! Let’s journey into God’s abundance here and now- that the psalmist speaks of, abundant life Jesus offers.  Words that declare God knows we are THAT SHEEP but we are worthy. And God provides- even though we’re not sure it’s right. Provides lots of abundance we might overlook.

God tells us to lie down- gives us rest. Do we take it? Or are we too busy scampering off to things we think we need to do, or expect us to do, so we can feel good? Can we accept God’s rest? Some of us need more rest than we used to. God wants us to rest, be cared for and be well. The Lord is our shepherd- we don’t have to self-shepherd.  

We’re taken to green pastures- places where we can eat good things, not just scrappy stuff. God wants us to eat well. Can we be fed? Or do we run off to things that cannot feed us but that we think we want?

We’re led to still water- We’re often drawn to places where the waters are raging, caught in places we don’t want to be. The Lord wants to lead us back to places that are peaceful and bring life. Where we can relax and be our real selves. The Lord wants to shepherd us away from things that take our lives away. To lead us in the right paths to what we really need. This is God’s deepest desire. Sometimes this means holding us back when we’re trying to squirm away, and sometimes keeping us from being distracted by what someone else is doing we think we need to fix. To trust that the LORD is the shepherd- we’re not. So let God show the path.

There will be places of the darkest shadows but there God comforts our nerves, reassuring us we can keep going because the Lord is with us. Ready to beat back things that hurt us, ready to nudge, push, even prod us to where we should go.

To do all that for even one of us, God works really hard! But the Lord is my shepherd, and yours and yours. The Lord is our shepherd, and labors to comfort and to give all of us this abundance. Even when we choose the fast food of life rather than sitting with the Lord at this feast. Even though we tend to take off and have to be brought back, over and over again, God keeps laboring, cleaning us up, restoring, blessing. And it’s all done because God loves the real us. With the deepest love that does more than follow.

Psalm 23 is often translated as saying goodness and mercy will follow us. But God’s love PURSUES us. While we chase so many things, God is chasing US- this is why Christ came, and laid it all on the line. Pursuing us even though we are THAT sheep. Because while we are “imperfect and wired for struggle,” in God’s eyes we are worthy of love and belonging already for all our days. We can’t ask for more than that, can we?
Our shepherd wants to help us accept who we really are- imperfect yet loved and guide us to be the flock who “gets” its identity. Dwelling together in Christ, supporting and embracing our vulnerability AND this abundant life.  Believing in a God of abundant love will open up believing in abundant life. So maybe we should start inviting people to come and be imperfect but worthy with us. Stop struggling- “Come as you are, eat, drink, relax, there’s plenty, it’s for you. Come see the God who loves like this.” It’s too long for a slogan but I am sure it's more than enough for a life.                                                                                                                               

1 comment:

Lynda said...

As always, there is food for thought and much to comfort us as we walk our faith journey.