November 9, 2014
- Peace Sunday
- Donna G. Joy
In her book Claiming Ground, Laura Bell refers to her experience as a sheepherder in Wyoming after graduating from college. For three whole years Laura was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, tending 2,000 sheep. All this time she was completely alone except for her horse, her dog, and the sheep. Once a week someone rode out to the distant hill country, where she pastured her sheep, to bring her food, mail, and rifle shells.
Laura makes the point that serving as a sheepherder taught her a lot about herself. The long hours alone gave her the time she needed to reflect on her future, her doubts, her dreams. They also gave her the time to clarify her values and to set her goals. But this experience did more than teach her a lot about herself. It also taught her a lot about the Christian faith - and in particular, Jesus the Good Shepherd, because as we were reminded through our Gospel reading this morning, the Bible uses the image of a shepherd to describe Jesus. For centuries before the arrival of Jesus, the Bible used the image of Shepherd to describe God, and Jesus is the fulfillment of this image.
And with her first hand experience as a sheepherder Laura learned firsthand what the qualities of a good shepherd must be. First of all, a good shepherd is a totally committed person. A shepherd lives for the flock day after day, week after week, and month after month. Sheepherding isn't just another job which begins at 9 in the morning and finishes at 5:00 Sheepherding isn't a job at all; it's a vocation; a way of life. You don't shepherd sheep because it's a job to earn a living. You shepherd sheep because it is something to which you are drawn; something that you love. When Jesus called himself a good shepherd, he meant that he was committed to his flock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In other words, all of his energies and concerns were for the flock entrusted to his care. Every moment of his life was dedicated to it.
This brings us to the second quality a shepherd must have. Besides being deeply committed, a shepherd must be a person who has the capacity to deeply and selflessly care; a person whose compassion runs deeply through to the very core of their being. A shepherd's sense of satisfaction and fulfillment is tied up with the welfare of the flock. When the flock is happy, the shepherd is happy. When the flock is in pain, the shepherd is in pain.
There's an old Jewish legend that explains why God chose Moses over everyone else to shepherd his flock, Israel. This legend suggests that one day Moses was shepherding some sheep that belonged to his father-in-law, Jethro. Suddenly he spotted a lamb darting off through the underbrush. Moses dropped everything and ran out to search for it to save it from either becoming lost, or being killed by a wild animal. He finally caught up with the lamb at a tiny stream of water, where it began to drink feverishly. When it had finished, Moses scooped it up in his arms, saying, "Little one, I didn't know you ran away because you were so thirsty. Your tiny legs must be tired." With that, he placed the lamb on his shoulders and carried it back to the flock. When God saw how caring Moses was, the length to which he would go to recover those who were lost, he said to himself, "At last, I've found the special person I have been searching for. I will make Moses the shepherd of my people, Israel." And, of course, as I have already pointed out this quality of love and compassion is fulfilled and embodied in Jesus who loves and cares and searches for each and every member of his flock.
This brings us to the final quality a good shepherd must have. Besides being committed and caring, a shepherd must be courageous.
There's a story in the First Book of Samuel about how young David volunteered to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath. The king refused to let David do it, because he said that David was young and somewhat scrawny while Goliath was known far and wide as a warrior. David responded, saying: "Your servant used to tend his father's sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would go after it and attack it and rescue the prey from its mouth . . . The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from . . . this Philistine." And, of course, we all know how that story turned out. David defeated Goliath.
And so Laura Bell's unusual job taught her a lot not only about herself but also about Jesus the Good Shepherd and why he was given this title. It was because he had to a perfect degree the three qualities every shepherd must have. He was committed, compassionate and courageous. His sole concern was the well being of the flock entrusted in his care. And today, his sole concern is the well being of this flock; the well being of each and every one of us.
It taught her why Jesus is a model for all parents, all grandparents, all teachers, and others who have people entrusted to their care. And today, as we reflect on Jesus' commitment, compassion and courage, we recognize that this commitment to and compassion for his flock culminated in him courageously laying down his life on the cross so that we may have life eternal.
As we remember this we do so with an awareness that in two days we will join with the rest of Canada in remembering all those who have laid down their lives in the hope that we may live in peace. Anyone who is willing to lay down his or her life for others so that others may live exhibits those same characteristics that Laura Bell recognized in a shepherd: commitment, compassion and courage.
This coming Tuesday we remember/honour those who have made and continue to make sacrifices on our behalf. And so in anticipation of Tuesday, we remember. We remember all those, in various different contexts, who make extraordinary sacrifices in order to build and promote peace.We remember and we pray for those who sacrifice so much – all so that others may live in peace.We remember those who have sacrificed their comfort, safety and often their lives within the context of the terrors of war.We remember and we pray for those who currently lay down their lives so that others may live.We remember and we pray for their families and their friends.We remember and we pray for those who make sacrifices in order to build peace in various different ways We remember those who are committed to building peace within the context of their own families, their communities and neighbourhoods and work places; within the life and ministry of their church…
In a moment of silence, let us remember and give thanks and pray for all those, past, present and future who sacrifice so much in order to help build a more just and peaceful world…..... For those whose lives have been sacrificed so that others may live in peace, may they rest in peace......... May we, as followers of Jesus the Good Shepherd, sacrifice for others as He has sacrificed for us. May his commitment to peace, his compassion and his courage empower us to go forth to become and do the same within the context of our families, our neighbourhoods, work places and our communities (locally and beyond); within the life and ministry of our church. Amen