Tag Archives: sheep

Consider, Little Flock

Jesus said to his disciples…
“Do not worry…
for life is more…
Consider the ravens…
Consider the lilies…
Do not be afraid, little flock…
Your heart will be…”
(from Luke 12:22-34)

Soul Duties

One of my favorite images of God is that of a shepherd over sheep. This is perhaps my favorite term of endearment in all of the gospels that Jesus calls his friends — little flock.

Do not be afraid, little flock, of what will become of your life. Do not be afraid of having too much — you do not need extra storehouses. Do not be afraid of having too little — you are more than ravens and lilies. You are more, and life is more.

Instead of worrying, Jesus tells them, consider. You need not solve, you need not discuss. Just consider. Julian of Norwich writes:

The soul must perform two duties:
the first is to always wonder and be surprised.
The second is to endure, always, taking pleasure in God.

I think of this as I consider the lilies and the ravens. Always wonder, be surprised, endure and take pleasure in God.

Hoarded in Storehouses

There are so many things I have been hoarding in storehouses, desperate for security.

Things like excuses for my behavior, moments of self-righteousness, sentiments of those who think like me. Those excuses, moments, and sentiments are stacked so high, I will never run out.

Unless I return to find them unexpectedly rotten. Unless this very night, my life is demanded of me. Unless I am confronted with the words of Jesus, “Do not worry. Life is more.”

Then more stores will be nothing.

What I Cannot Lose

I remember, for now, that I am sheep, a creature created to yearn for safety and peace, and if I cling too desperately to what I cannot keep, I will be blinded to what I cannot lose.

It is the Shepherd’s pleasure to provide guidance and goodness, treasures beyond the simple protection of planning and hoarding. My heart will be turned in the direction of my treasure, drawn like moth to flame, so what will I chose?

Will I worry? Will I build more storehouses?

Or will I consider? Will I endure in wonder and surprise?

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When blessing comes in quietly

A season of quiet blessing

I wrote earlier about what it means to be blessed, about the richness of life that comes through memories and forgiveness and small pleasures.

This has indeed been a season of blessing for me. Not the kind of blessing that runs through your life with extravagance — no miraculous late-life pregnancy like Sarai’s, no new name rewarded after an epic night of struggle like Jacob’s — but the kind of blessing that comes in quietly.

It has been a season of blessing more like the one God gives to his sheep in Ezekiel 34:

I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land,
so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely.
I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing;
and I will send down the showers in their season;
they shall be showers of blessing.

The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase.

I love how gentle and open this blessing is: the very hills around the sheep are a blessing.

Why? Because they receive rain and yield fruit. That’s it. The land does what it is meant to do, and that is blessing enough to keep the sheep safe.

There is no overturning of religious or political systems, no supernatural force of change, no whirlwinds or fiery chariots — there’s just the abundance of the land. That is the blessing.

Breaking the dependence

Notice the text says God sends the showers of blessing in their season. They don’t come all the time. They come in appropriate balance: dryness and rain, sunshine and dark. That balance is life-giving blessing.

I imagine those sheep may have not even noticed the blessing of their safe, abundant hillside. They may have mistaken the showers of blessing for showers of normalcy.

In other words, they may have taken their blessing for granted.

I can relate. Sometimes blessings come into my life so quietly, I almost miss them — as though I’m too dependent on those supernatural fiery whirlwinds to mark the blessings that come in without them.

There is a deep importance around breaking that dependence, around noticing the balance, the abundance, the showers of blessing that we experience.

May we continue to be attentive to our sense of gratitude, our safe places, and the moments of goodness in our lives — no matter how subtle.

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Shepherds and their sheep

For thus says the Lord God:
I myself will search for my sheep, and I will seek them out.
As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep,
so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places
to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness…
I will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them with good pasture…
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep,
and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God.
(from Ezekiel 34:11-15)

Ending the year with sheep

Today marks the final Sunday in the liturgical year.

Next Sunday begins the season of Advent, and the cycle of readings and hymns that mark the passing of the church year will begin again.

I am delighted that the final lectionary readings for this church year are about one of my favorite scriptural topics: SHEEP!

I learned a lot about how to think like a sheep back around Easter. But this passage from Ezekiel focuses more on the role of the shepherd.

How to know a sheep

We know that sheep are easily able to recognize their shepherd — they know the shepherd’s voice. (I learned this week that sheep are also adept at recognizing human faces!)

We learn here that the shepherd is able to recognize the sheep as well! He knows each sheep well enough that he could pick out his flock from a scattered collection of sheep.

I assumed that shepherds were able to know their sheep because they would mark them. But I did some reading about shepherding and learned that most sheep keepers actually recognize their sheep as individuals – they know their unique faces and their personalities.

The whole flock has a dynamic that is familiar, like a family. It doesn’t feel the same when one of the sheep is missing.

God, our shepherd, knows us as his flock. But God also knows each of us as who we are, our very hearts and desires, our very ways of being.

How to rescue a sheep

Ezekiel 34 opens with a scathing critique of the “shepherds of Israel” who have failed to take good care of their sheep. God is not satisfied, however, to leave his people in such poor care. “I myself will search for my sheep,” he declares. “I will seek them out.”

Because the Shepherd-God knows each sheep well enough to recognize them, his promise here is that he will go find them and re-claim them when they have been led astray by these less conscientious shepherds.

The Quaker Isaac Penington wrote:

Oh come to the fold; Oh scattered sheep, come to the fold. Wander no longer from mountain to hill; but remember your resting-place, the old resting-place of Israel, even the mountain of the Lord’s house, where Israel may lie down and feed in peace, and no ravenous beast can disturb.

Here’s the thing about sheep: they can’t find their way home. They’re not stupid, they’re just not very good with directions. They might even know they’re lost, but they can’t remember the way back to their safe pasture without the guidance of their care-taker.

The Psalmist writes:

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant! (Psalm 119:176a)

When the sheep have been scattered, the shepherd comes to them. He comes and stands in the midst of their chaos and calls out to them. They recognize his voice and re-gather. He will not leave to guide them home until every one of them is accounted for.

Even in places of darkness, the shepherd and the sheep can hear one another and find one another.

We cry: Come get us, God! Come rescue us when we have wandered into dark places and cannot find our way back to safety. And Shepherd-God hears us. If we listen, we will hear the call to re-gather with our brothers and sisters. If we watch, will we see the way back to richer pastures.

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
(Psalm 95:6-7)

What do you know of God’s intimate knowledge of you as an individual? How do you seek to deepen your relationship with the Shepherd-God, that you both may know each other better? In times of darkness and scattering, how have you found your way home?

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