My apologies to those who regularly follow Love Letters. This month of fallow has been a time of restoration, consultation and discernment. Over the next weeks and months there will be a number of new formation initiatives that will complement this weekly blog that I hope you find helpful. Thank you and stay tuned!
I have the privilege of being in a different church every Sunday. Every one of them is filled with beauty, colour and love. Every one of them has its own distinct features and a few oddities, but all of them have one thing in common…a Good Shepherd window! As a matter of fact, these stained glass windows are so common I rarely photograph them.
Why is the Jesus shepherd image so popular? What does it say about Jesus, and ourselves? And why does it speak so profoundly to our soul?
I wonder if it is because of what it says about intimacy and belonging. If we were honest, we would admit that we often feel a little lost and distant—out of step. We gaze from the outside in at the happy, sparkling lives of others and wonder what’s wrong with us. This is never so acute as when we are in times of suffering and change. Of course, it takes a while to realize that others are looking back at us wondering the same thing about themselves.
“I know them and …they will never perish.” Jesus’ ultimate message was that we belong, we are claimed, we are cherished and we are loved. Take a look at the picture above, painted by artist Geri Adams. Notice the confident care of the shepherd. Take note of the trust that comes from the ewe who leans into the shepherd with familiar fondness.
“My sheep hear my voice.” But do we? Do we know this voice and the kind of intimacy we are invited into? Following Jesus is only possible if we hear and know his voice. Otherwise, our spiritual certainties begin to sound suspiciously like our own vain imaginings.
Here are some questions to ponder this Good Shepherd Sunday: Do we want to be known? What stands in the way of an intimate relationship with God? If you are not following Jesus, who or what are you following?
JOHN 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
ACTS 9:36-43 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
PSALM 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake.Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
REVELATION 7:9-17 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”