[You can watch a video recording of this Call to Worship at the end of this text. To see the entire service, click here.]
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday when we celebrate an image of God and the sacred way that was extremely important to the sheep-herding people of ancient Israel.
There are many kinds of bad shepherding—sheep thieves, or cowards who run when trouble comes, or lazy shepherds who care more about themselves than the flock’s health and safety, or greedy, unethical shepherds.
Each bad shepherd is bad in their own way, but all good shepherds are alike, sharing the same characteristics. Ancient communities came to identify those values and virtues with God or Jesus, or the sacred way of God’s realm on earth.
Good shepherding became a metaphor for the right way to care for any animal or for children or for a church—pastor means shepherd in Latin. Good shepherding is the right way to care for any community or any piece of land or all the earth.
We still know what good shepherding is even though few of us have raised sheep. It means green pastures and still waters, sufficiency and safety, meeting needs and keeping peace. Good shepherding means equity and preferential treatment of the poor or hurting—the good shepherd will drop everything to search for the one lost sheep or to heal or nurture the least of lambs.
Good shepherding means courage, honesty, ethical integrity. It means self-emptying, laying down self-concern, laying down even life if necessary for the benefit of the whole flock, placing its needs above our own.
In other words, good shepherding means having unconditional compassion for all, loving our neighbor as our self even when our neighbor is a sheep or a pasture. It means the Golden Rule, taking care of things the way we would want to be taken care of, gaining the knowledge of what any creature, place or thing wants and needs for their health and wellbeing and helping them get that.
Good shepherding is not just the ethical, moral, sacred and right way to act in this world, it is also the best way economically and socially. Good shepherding is the only sustainable way to ensure the continuation of the flock and the green pastures and clean waters needed to keep the flock alive and healthy. Good shepherding is smart as well as wise.
Jesus added another element to good shepherding, which is the vision that there is really only one flock. Jesus was at the most mature level of human consciousness that can see the world through God’s eyes. The Apostle Paul urged us to have the mind and heart of Christ, to join him at the level that recognizes the oneness of all people and all the earth.
God’s eyes see that we all are on this tiny pasture of a planet together, we are all dependent for our health on the health of earth’s land, sea and air and the health of our fellow creatures.
Good shepherding means, in the words of one of our best good shepherds, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that in the Birmingham City jail, laying down his life for the flock of all humanity.
Billions of people around the world are part of religions that proclaim the sacred way and values of good shepherding, and yet members of those religions have allowed, and even supported, and even practiced the worst of bad shepherding until our planet is undergoing a mass extinction and the survival of humanity is at imminent risk.
The good news is, we know what bad shepherding is and we know what good shepherding is and we still have the chance to put an end to the permission we have given the wolves to ravage the flock, we still can rise up and demand that governments and corporations become the good shepherds they must be for life on earth to survive in health and peace.
So let us worship this ideal, meaning let us hold it up as being of highest worth, and let us worship as well the source, the God whose ways are good shepherding, who gives us models of good shepherding, who created us and gave us the gifts we have so that we would be good shepherds ourselves.
Good shepherding takes many forms, we each have our own calling and our own way through life. The fate of the earth depends on us each doing what we love most and doing it the best we can. Mel Goertz’s haiku for this week is a beautiful image for this. Here it is:
A hairy woodpecker
pecking out his message
to the rising sun.