Poem- we are all sheep

One of the problems
with the modern way that church
is done
is that there is a hierarchy
of minister
and congregation,
of leader
and led,
of shepherd
and sheep.

Jesus wants us to feed his sheep,
not be them.

Jesus wants us all
to be equal,
to be strong,
to do the will of God
together.

There is no lesser-than.
We are all servants.

Our only leader is God,
not a minister,
not a bishop,
not a pope.

We must remember
to never let any human
get between us
and God,
even if that person
says
they follow God too.

If s/he really did follow God,
s/he’d remember
that Jesus said
we were all to be equal,
that we weren’t to be
above each other,
that we weren’t to have
titles of authority.

For anyone
to lead in Jesus’ name
is to prove
that they do not know
the message of Jesus
at all.

Jesus came to give us back our power.
Jesus came to teach us
that we are all
equally worthy
before God.
Do not follow anyone
who says
otherwise
through their words
or actions.

Do not give away your power.

Go, feed people.
Clothe them.
Heal them.
Visit them when they are in prison.

But don’t join them in the prison
of following a person,
of feeling second-class,
second-rate.

Your freedom was bought at a high price.
Don’t give it away.

Jesus as the Shepherd

The ideal Shepherd.

“Truly, anyone who tries to get into the sheep pen by any way other than the gate is a thief and a robber. The shepherd enters by the gate. The gatekeeper opens it for him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls each of them by name and leads them out of the pen. He walks ahead of them after he has brought all of his flock out. The sheep follow behind him because they recognize him by his voice. Sheep will run away from a stranger rather than follow him because they don’t recognize his voice.”

Jesus gave this example but they didn’t understand what he meant.

JN 10:1-6

The good Shepherd.

Jesus said, “Truly, I am the gate. All those who came before I did are thieves and robbers, but the sheep ignored them. I am the gate. Those who enter by way of me will be saved and will be able to come in and go out and find green pastures. Thieves are there only to steal, kill, and destroy. I am here so that my flock may have life in abundance.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd will sacrifice even his own life for the sheep. A hired man will run away and leave the sheep defenseless when he sees a wolf coming. He doesn’t own the sheep and doesn’t care about them like the shepherd does. The wolf will enter and savagely attack the sheep.

I am the good shepherd. My sheep know me, and I know them, in the same way that the Father and I know each other. I sacrifice my life for the sheep. But there are other sheep that belong to me who are not here. I must gather them as well, and they will recognize my voice. Then the flock will be together with one shepherd. The Father loves me because of this, because I will sacrifice my life so I can take it back again. No one steals my life from me; rather, I sacrifice it voluntarily. I am empowered to lay it down, and I am empowered to take it back up again. The Father has given me this order.”

The Jewish leaders were divided in their opinion about him after hearing these words. Many said “He’s possessed or insane! Why listen to what he has to say?” Others said “He doesn’t sound like someone who is possessed. Can someone who is possessed heal someone from blindness?”

JN 10:7-21

Jesus at the Feast of Lights.

It was winter, and Jesus went to the Feast of Lights (Hanukkah) celebration that was taking place in Jerusalem. Jesus was walking in a part of the Temple complex known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked him “How long are you going to make us wait? Tell us openly if you are the Messiah.”

“I’ve already told you and you didn’t believe me,” Jesus answered. “All the miracles that I do in the name of my Father speak to the truth about who I am. But you don’t believe because you are not part of my flock, like I’ve said. My sheep recognize my voice. They follow me and I know them. I give eternal life to them so that they will never ever perish. No one will steal them from me. My Father has given them to me and is more powerful than anyone. No one can steal them from the Father. I and the Father – we are One.”

JN 10:22-30

Renewed efforts to stone Jesus.

The Jewish leaders again picked up rocks to throw at Jesus.

He said “You have seen me perform many good works that are from God. Which one of those are you trying to stone me for?”

The leaders replied “We aren’t stoning you because of good works. We are stoning you because you are committing blasphemy because you – a human being – are saying you are God.”

Jesus replied, “Isn’t this written in the Law ‘I said, you are gods’? The Scriptures are never false. Since God called prophets ‘gods’, are you really accusing me of blasphemy – me, the one sanctified and sent into the world by God – because I said I am the Son of God? Don’t believe in me if I’m not doing my Father’s works. If I am doing them and you still don’t believe in me, then believe the works. Through this you will understand and know that the Father and I are one.”

They again tried to arrest him but he slipped out of their hands.

JN 10:31-39

Many beyond the Jordan believe

Jesus left and stayed at the site across the Jordan where John had earlier baptized people. Many people came to him there and said “John never performed a miracle, but everything he said about Jesus was true. There were many people in that area who believed in Jesus.

JN 10:40-42

Feed my sheep!

After they ate breakfast, Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others?”

“Of course, Lord,” Peter replied. “You know that I love you.”

“Feed my lambs.” Jesus said.

Then a second time he asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answered “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

“Shepherd my sheep.” Jesus said. Then Jesus asked him for the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was upset and even a little sad that Jesus had asked him three times if he loved him. He said “Lord, everything is revealed to you! Surely you know that I love you.”

“Feed my sheep.” Jesus said. “Listen to me closely. When you were young, you could do anything you wanted to do however you liked, but when you grow old you will reach out your hands and others will take you where you don’t want to go.” In saying this, Jesus indicated how he would die that would glorify God.

Then after saying this he said to Peter “Follow me!”

JN 21:15-19

The parable of the lost sheep.

Tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to listen to what he had to say. The Pharisees and scribes complained about this saying “This man welcomes sinners and dines with them!”

LK 15:1-2

(People also questioned why Jesus would bless small children.)

“Be careful that you don’t belittle young children. You need to know that their angels constantly see my Father in heaven. The Son of Man has come to rescue the lost.”

MT 18:10-11

“Consider this, if one of you has a flock of 100 sheep, and one of them wanders away and gets lost, don’t you leave the 99 on the hillside to go find the one who wandered away? I assure you, if you find it you’ll joyfully put it on your shoulders and come home, calling your friends and neighbors together to rejoice with you that you have found your lost sheep. You’ll celebrate over that one sheep more than you will about the 99 that stayed. In the same way, your Father in heaven will celebrate more about one sinner who returns to Him than over the 99 righteous people who never turned away. It is not the will of your Father in heaven that anyone should perish.

MT 18:12-14, LK 15:3-7

Sheep.

There is the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus as the shepherd goes after the one. Every one is important. This lesson is used to remind us of how much God loves us. He cares for us personally, intimately, wholeheartedly.

There is a concern I’m hearing about me leaving church. It is the concern that I am the lost sheep. The only problem with that is that I’m not a sheep. Or maybe I am – it depends on your definition of sheep.

Most people feel that sheep are very docile. They are seen as soft and sweet. In the cartoons they are depicted with big smiles. Sheep need a shepherd because they aren’t smart enough to get where they should be on their own.

In that sense, of course people should worry about me. In that sense, I’m a danger to myself if I wander. I could get lost. I could get hurt. I could fall into a ravine. Or worse, I could wander around aimlessly and never return.

This image of sheep is a false image. Have you ever gotten face to face with a sheep? They are not fluffy and sweet. They are fierce. They will face you down if you dare to get in their area. Sheep are not what you think. They are so much more.

When I went to Great Britain with my aunt we spent a lot of time in the country. We saw sheep from afar mostly, but one time I wanted to see a Roman ruin that was in the middle of a pasture. Those sheep were not happy with me being there. They faced me off. Sheep don’t smile. They glower. That was a terrifying experience. And an enlightening one. It let me know from personal experience that everything I’d been told about sheep wasn’t true, in the least.

Sheep need a shepherd? No. Sheep are able to get by just fine on their own, thank you very much. It is more honest to say that the shepherd needs the sheep. The sheep are his livelihood. He trains them to be dependent on him so that they don’t get ideas about wandering.

Jesus says that his sheep know his voice. They come to him when he calls. Have you ever thought that when a person leaves a church it is for that very reason? They don’t hear their master’s voice in that church. They leave because they want to follow Jesus, and they realize they aren’t hearing him while stuck inside a building, going through the same old rituals that have been performed for 2000 years.

I’m not saying that folks in my old church aren’t getting what they need there. I’m saying that I’m not. I’m saying that the closer I get to Jesus, the further I want to run from church. All church. The entire idea of church. But I don’t want church as it is. Church as it is feels dead. The Body is on life support. It isn’t alive.

I want community. I want sharing. I want natural growth and support. I want there to be no leader. I want everybody to participate. I want no money to be used for this. I want people to work hard on their faith and their life. I want people to listen to each other honestly and with caring. I want dialogue. I want people to feel free to share their different viewpoints.

Hurray for sheep. They aren’t what you think they are. They are much more.

Dependency

I think it is important to teach people how to take care of themselves. I’m concerned with the number of agencies that just seem to rescue people. This is the “give a fish” mentality, versus “teach a person to fish.” If you give to them, but don’t teach them how to provide for themselves, then they will simply have to come back for more help from your agency. They become dependent, rather than independent.

There are two resources at my church that are great outreach services. They are Second Harvest and Room in the Inn. Second Harvest provides food boxes to needy families so that they can eat. Room in the Inn is a partnership with a homeless agency that provides a safe place to sleep and a meal to homeless people. These are both very labor-intensive services that are essential to the community. They help people in our community, giving to them what we as Christians are called to provide our neighbors.

While I support the idea of Second Harvest and Room in the Inn for alleviating the symptoms of poverty and homelessness, I wonder if there isn’t more that can be done? Why are we addressing the symptoms and not the cause? Why are we catching people when they fall off the cliff and not when they are moving near it? It also takes away a person’s dignity to make them have to beg.

They need to be trained to provide for themselves. They need access to health care. They need education. They need job counseling and training. They need to learn how to take care of their children so they won’t grow up poor.

I think this way about church too. I think that the entire structure of church these days makes people dependent. It doesn’t teach people how to connect with God directly. In a way, I’m envious of my Jewish friends who have rituals about everything, every day. They are reminded with every moment that they are part of the People of God. I feel like the current structure of church encourages people to stay sheep. They don’t ever learn to take off the training wheels to the bicycle. I find it interesting that I’ve had more how-to advice on how to connect with God through my spiritual director than through any priest I’ve ever known.

Now perhaps I’m over-reaching, and I’m not seeing things in a helpful way. Perhaps this is part of my problem. There is a Jewish concept that refers to the “evil inclination” that says if you can’t do the whole mitzvah, don’t even do a little bit of it. So instead of focusing on the thing that can be done, I want to work on the thing before the thing. I want to dig out the root. Perhaps that force is what is at work here. Perhaps there is a mix of all the other big heavy stuff I’m dealing with right now mixed into it.

Because right now I’ve got a lot of my past and my future catching up with me. Right now I’ve got issues I’m dealing with that concern my childhood – issues that I’ve not faced. Issues about neglect and abuse. I’ve got issues with my parents in law and their impending deaths and how they treated my husband when he was growing up. I’ve got issues with what I’m called to be and do in this world. I don’t want any of this, and I certainly don’t want it all to be happening together at the same time like it is, but there you go. We don’t get a lot of choice sometimes. So sometimes things don’t come out the way they should. But they do. And that is part of this messy business that is life, and living in community.

But perhaps I’m on to something, and the fact that I can see it means it is something that I have to work on. I do want to wake people up, but yelling at them isn’t always the best way.