"I am the good shepherd." Now just in case there's any confusion, that's Jesus, by the way, talking; not the pastor. But I have heard some clergy refer to themselves as shepherds of a flock, to those wandering sheep of a congregation who need mature guidance, heart-felt wisdom, God-inspired direction, love-filled sacrifice. I don't want to disagree with my colleagues, but...they're wrong. Pastors, priests, clergy of any sort have never been, are not now, and never will be any kind of shepherds to any flock whatsoever. There is only one good shepherd. There is only one Whose voice should ultimately be heard over all the others. There is only one Who can lay down His life and actually save the entire flock from the shattered country of Nepal to Baroda and beyond. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not me, nor anyone else wearing a clerical collar or otherwise.
Now I am as guilty as anyone else in the sense of idolizing clergy. I have told people time and time again that if it wasn't for my home church pastor during my junior high and high school years, especially for his sermon the Sunday after September 11, 2001, I would not be standing here as a pastor myself. I have told just as many people if it wasn't for my internship supervisor in Dallas, Texas, for a year filled with the most mature guidance, heart-felt wisdom, God-inspired direction, and love-filled sacrifice for me and my future in ordained ministry, I would most certainly not be here at all.
And yet what those two pastors had in common was a constant reminder that they were not shepherds of any flock. They were just as much wondering, stubborn, helpless sheep as the rest of us. They needed the Good Shepherd just as much as anyone else. It's just that their job was simply to nudge other sheep along: to bring them into hearing distance of the Good Shepherd's voice on their respective faith journey, and even sometimes to antagonize other sheep by nibbling at their hooves to keep them moving forward and follow the Shepherd to different pastures in this life in the same service and sacrifice He gives to all of us.
Nevertheless, the church does have a way of boosting our ego doesn't it (and not just the pastors, but all of us)? The longer we have been members of a particular flock makes us subconsciously think we are entitled to more privileges: we should be listened to more, our ideas should carry more weight on what the flock should be doing, where it should be going forward. And not only that, but it also includes the more money, the more time we volunteer, that somehow that automatically makes us better sheep than the rest; as if the church is as much about status level as how the rest of society runs.
However, when our Good Shepherd goes off talking about His flock, He isn't so much concerned about the placement of the sheep, whether some are under the impression they should be closer to Him than others, as if they did enough work to bring themselves to the front of the flock. Instead, He only cares that they stay together, and that others who are not yet part of the flock, need to be brought along to be immersed into a community that joins together in similar sheepish struggles of wondering aimlessly, looking for a purpose, searching for the Good Shepherd that will guide them to the greenest pastures that they cannot even begin to imagine.
"So there will be one flock, one shepherd," Jesus tells us. That doesn't mean there won't be those who jump the fence, and run away as far as their hooves will take them. There will be some who look in from a distance, from their own valley of questions and doubts, wondering if it's safe to come in and be part of a flock at all. Will they be judged? Will they be questioned as to what took them so long? Will they be ridiculed and made fun of for their unique perspectives from their own meaningful life experiences? Or will they instead be welcomed with open arms, with the same love that the Good Shepherd instills in us through the laying down of His life? Will we invite them all the way up to the front of flock to our Good Shepherd, to their Shepherd of mercy and compassion and forgiveness and second chances? Will we invite them to the front to be part of the most sacred feast for all of us wondering aimlessly sheep; that we will dare believe that the Good Shepherd laid His life down as much for them as He did for us?
"There will be one flock, one shepherd," Jesus tells us: a flock of flaws and frailties, and yet a flock beloved, cherished, redeemed, forgiven, and ultimately worth laying down the most precious life of all time for. Nothing in all the pastures and valleys, not even earthquakes that kill thousands; nothing in all of Creation will be able to separate us, the people of Nepal or anyone, from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd of us all. And so for that sacred honor, to be part of His flock for the rest of this life and beyond, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon