A few months ago I paid a visit to Indianapolis and facilitated a meeting with a small group of Christians. During the meeting, one of the men was clearly in pain. So, we prayed for him.
Just weeks after that, doctors discovered that the pain in his leg was caused by a tumor. He did not have long to live. About a month later, he died.
About six weeks ago, some other friends had a baby. Nine days ago the mother died of cancer.
Yesterday, a friend went to the funeral of a co-worker who was murdered eight days ago and on Friday another friend’s sister just passed away in old age.
I was going to post another quote about the importance of Sabbath today, but instead I decided to write about it myself, as a way of wondering.
Each Sunday this summer I’ve had the chance to tell some stories to both young and old. The stories use objects of different size, shape and color as a way to center attention to encourage us to put ourselves in the story.
Today, I will tell two stories: a story about a Good Shepherd and a story about Communion. Both are united by a figure who “knows how to lead the sheep through all kinds of places.”
One place has a spot that looks clear blue. It could be water. It could be such a still place that, when you look in it, you see a face reflected back.
Another place is green, open and spacious—while another place is defined by numerous ill-shaped dark things. It looks like a dangerous place—a place in which one could get lost easily. There is no light in this place. Only dark.
And another place turns out to be home. It is a safe place. A place from which the sheep are called out and a place to which they are led back.
When the sheep are called out from home, how do they know where to go? Well, they know the voice of the Shepherd and, more importantly, the Shepherd knows each one of them by name. He not only knows their name, he knows everything about them. He knows if they are happy or sad. He knows if they are feeling lonely or loved. He knows if they are courageous or timid. He knows everything about them. So he knows how to lead them.
He leads them to the green places; he leads them beside still waters; he even leads them through dark valleys.
I wonder why he leads them there? I wonder why he does not just lead them to good places?
I don’t know if I will ever know why he does that.
But I do know he does not leave any of his sheep in those dark places. He leads them safely through to home.
When they get home, he counts each one of them and—as his sheep cross the threshold—if he notices one of them is missing or has become lost, he goes looking for them. He leaves the sheep safe at home to go look for the lost one.
He goes to the green meadows. Maybe the lost sheep stayed there.
He does not find them there, so he goes to the water. But the sheep is not there, either.
He looks all over the dark place. And that is where he finds his sheep. He carries her on his shoulders and brings her home.
Sometimes there is a wolf who comes after the sheep. The wolf comes to steal, kill, destroy and tear apart.
The Good Shepherd does not leave the sheep to the wolf. He lays down his life for the sheep, so the sheep are safe.
We remember this when the sheep gather around a table—even when the enemy seems to be on their heels. They gather at the table because here, in the bread and wine, they remember the words of the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep: “This is me. I am with you. I am still able to lead you safely home.”
So, everyone gathers at the table together. Together, they are safe. The table becomes home to the new family. Together, they are safe.
I imagine today I will linger longer at the table than usual. I will look more intently for the Good Shepherd and listen more attentively for his voice reminding me, “I lay down my life for the sheep. The wolf cannot harm any one of them.”
I wonder how this can be?