I am the Good Middle Manager. The Good Middle Manager asks for reports on time. The Consultant, who is not the Good Middle Manager, sees the buyout coming and leaves the employees and runs away and the corporation calls them in and fires them. The consultant runs away because a consultant does not care for the employees.
The Good Middle Manager doesn’t quite have the same ring as The Good Shepherd, does it?
The image of a shepherd is a romantic one. We think of Heidi in the Swiss Alps, and those sentimental paintings of Jesus with a baby lamb in his arms. While the life of a shepherd might be far removed from our experience, to the crowds that followed Jesus, the idea of someone being a shepherd would have been as familiar as someone being in management is to us.
And not only that, but Hebrew Scriptures are filled with shepherds. Abraham was a shepherd, Jacob was a shepherd, Moses was a shepherd, and of course David was a shepherd.
What about being a shepherd makes a person so likely to get called into service by God? Why does Jesus identify with this job?
Shepherds must be both responsible and courageous. They must seek out good pasture in which their sheep can feed and they must diligently protect their flocks from wolves and other predators.
Unlike herding cattle, which can be done from behind, a shepherd leads from the front, calling out to her sheep, who know her voice and follow her.
Abraham, Moses, and David all ended up being called to rely on these skills when it was their turn to lead people. Whether they felt prepared or not, each of them became responsible for leading God’s people to new places and new adventures. And each of them had to defend God’s people against various dangers.
Jesus, of course, is more than just a shepherd of us, his followers, he is The Good Shepherd. He is not a hired hand, who is going to run away. He is not a Pharisee who has lost intimacy with God’s people. He is not a consultant, who has professional distance.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus loves his flock of followers and they followed them, and still follow him, by listening to his voice as it is handed down to us in the Gospels. For generations now, Christians have learned that by following Jesus, they are led into rich pastures. Following Jesus leads to intimacy with God. Following Jesus leads to lives rich with meaning.
Lately, I’ve been reading books about parenting. This week I am reading a book called “Raising Happiness” by Christine Carter. Dr. Carter has done a ton of research about what generates happiness. She has carefully compiled this research and thought about how parents can use it to raise well adjusted, happy human beings.
Frankly, she could have titled her book, “Being Sheep: How following The Good Shepherd can lead to a Lifetime of Happiness.” She covers the importance of having deep social connections, practicing gratitude, letting go of perfectionism, learning how to ask for and give forgiveness, serving others, learning self control, even eating together! If that doesn’t sound like life in Jesus’ sheepfold, I don’t know what does.
Dr. Carter describes behaviors that Christians who follow Jesus should be practicing whether we have read her book or not. Our Shepherd leads us into community. Our Shepherd acknowledges our imperfections and chooses to take the fall himself, teaching us about forgiveness. Our Shepherd shows us how God is at work in the world, teaching us gratitude. Our Shepherd is a servant, teaching us to serve. Our Shepherd gives us the Holy Spirit, empowering us to have self control. And, of course, Our Shepherd gives us the gift of the Eucharist, which we eat together every week.
The sheepfold is not a perfect place. After all, it is filled with sheep. But the sheepfold is this amazing crucible in which we sheep can practice all the things the Shepherd teaches us. It is in the sheepfold, this very church, where we can practice asking for forgiveness when we have wronged someone; serve one another, practice gratitude for all God has given us; work on self control of our bodies and speech; and encounter that Good Shepherd as we gather together weekly to partake of his body and blood.
It is in this sheepfold that we try to follow our Shepherd together. We may bump into each other occasionally, step on one another’s toes, get into each other’s patch of grass, but we are all trying to go in the same direction, listening for that voice so we can follow together.
Whether we are a rummage volunteer, Sunday School teacher, grounds beautifier, mission trip goer, St. Nick’s wreath maker, chorister, priest, sexton, usher, verger; we are all in the same flock, following the same Shepherd.
We are a few weeks away from moving into our summer rhythm at Trinity. This is a perfect time to take a few months and for all of us to listen to our Shepherd’s voice. Where is our Shepherd leading us? What new adventures are in store?
Whatever they are, we know we can trust our Good Shepherd to lead us safely on the journey.
Thanks be to God.