By: Staci Stallings
I bring a very small notebook with my to church. Unlike when I was back home, our church now does not provide the readings for the day. Instead, you just get to listen. Well, frankly, I like reading the words along with the person reading. I like that visual (*wink*) help with absorbing the information. So I put a pen and a small notebook in with my readings book so I have it in case a sermon is particularly good.
Recently, I went to a Mass without my notebook. Thankfully, this sermon was so vivid, I didn’t need my notebook to remember it.
It went something like this.
Jesus is our Shepherd. We need a shepherd because on their own, sheep would never survive. They are not fast. They are not wily. They are not even particularly smart. In fact, they are quite weak and defenseless. But they are very tasty for the wolves and other predators. In fact, they make a great meal because the predator doesn’t even have to do much to catch one. Great tasting and low calorie, very little effort. What wolf wouldn’t want that?
So when the Shepherd takes the flock out of the pen and into the meadow to eat, He stays with them, counting them, keeping them together, making sure no predator can even get close.
But here’s the problem. Sheep often get so caught up in their meal, they don’t often pay attention to anything around them. “Oh, that grass over there looks really tasty…” Sheep are wanderers. They tend to wander off. Without the Shepherd there, they would quickly get separated from their flock, and then singled out for dinner.
In the field, the Shepherd must watch not only that the predators don’t get in, but that the sheep don’t wander off.
Jesus says in the reading that He is both the Shepherd AND the Gate. He is the way. You have to enter through Him to get back into Heaven. But when you’re out in the field, He’s the Shepherd, watching over you, protecting you and guiding you. When He calls, you should listen. You need to spend time listening to Him so you know His voice. The more you do that, the more you will trust Him. Makes sense, right?
At the end, the priest said the whole reading could be summed up this way (pay attention now. This is good.)
1) Follow the Shepherd.
2) Stay with the flock.
Follow the Shepherd. Don’t be that sheep who is constantly looking for an out, a place to hang back and get lost. Don’t test the Shepherd. He will come after you, but it’s better if you’re at least TRYING to follow Him. Your chances of not getting lost by doing that one simple thing are much greater.
And stay with the flock.
I once heard another preacher who talked about going to a wayward Christian’s home. This man hadn’t been to church in many Sundays and the preacher finally went out looking for him. As they talked, the man explained that he really saw no need for church. He could sit at home by his fireplace and read the Bible just as well. So the preacher grabbed the fire iron and reached into the blazing fire. He pulled out a single charcoal and set it on the hearth. Then he looked at the man and said, “Go on.”
Puzzled, the man looked at the red hot charcoal for a moment and then went on. “Plus, I have so much to do on Sundays. The kids whine when we say it’s time for church. And the truth is, I kind of like to sleep in. Besides, I don’t think God is only found in church, do you?” The preacher nodded as if he was genuinely following what the man was saying, “Please, go on.”
“God is in the trees and the grass and the flowers. Why I can get as much God from those things as I can from sitting in some pew for an hour.”
“Interesting. Go on.”
“And the other Christians at church. I mean, they are such hypocrites. Who can stand them? There isn’t a perfect person in the bunch. For people who say they follow God, they are sure getting a lot of things wrong.”
“And, I mean, okay, it’s not like I’m an out loud Christian anyway. I’m more quiet about it all. I really don’t see the point of going to church.”
At that the preacher reached over with the fire still blazing behind him, and he picked up the bit of charcoal. He examined it for a long time and then handed it to the man. “Would you agree that when it was in the fire, this charcoal was hot?” The man was puzzled. “Why yes, of course.” “But it’s not now.” “No.”
The preacher lifted his chin. “Why not?”
Flummoxed, the man shrugged. “Because you took it out of the fire.”
When we are taken or take ourselves out of the fire by not staying with the flock, our faith becomes cold just like that charcoal. We bring no light into our worlds, and we become darkened and hard and cold in our spirits.
So if you ever find yourself feeling darkened, hardened, and cold–lost, alone, afraid, preyed upon by things beyond your control, it would be wise to call out for the Shepherd. Make an effort to find the flock back. Don’t stay lost. The Shepherd’s coming. I promise. But don’t persist in your lostness. For though we are sinners and though we are sheep, through Him and with Him, we have been made more than conquerors.
Those are more than just words. They are our shield from a world of predators intent on separating us and taking us out. Do not be fooled. This is no game. It is eternally serious. That’s why the Shepherd is so adamant that He will not lose even one He is given. Take that message to heart and never, ever allow yourself to be removed from that fire.