Last year our Bible teacher shared a video showing sheep responding to the voice of their shepherd. When other shepherds tried to lure them, not one in the herd even glanced up from grass-munching. But how they baa-ed when a familiar voice called their name. And not only that, they trotted over, forgetting the enticement of the grass. This image has stayed with me alongside the verse the teacher was illustrating – Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”
Now sheep are not renowned for their brilliance. They are followers at heart, but this one thing they excel at — they recognize the voice of their protector, their source of food and shelter. These days I need to channel my inner sheep. Other voices remind me of the sudden loss of a beloved family member; they tell me that old wounds will never heal.
As we gathered at the tombstone of our dear family member, my daughter read aloud the 23rd psalm, a more contemporary version that goes like this,
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows.
He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, For you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all he days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
If I am to be a lowly sheep, I want to follow a shepherd who personifies unfailing love, who grants blessings that overflow, green pastures during stressful times, feasts, and who will lead me home at my final breath.
David Foster Wallace said in his commencement address, This is Water, that we all worship something, or in sheep parlance, we all follow shepherds of sorts. He puts it this way,
“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.”
So, fellow sheep, who are you following? Money and looks, likes and comments, the buzz of wine at the end of a hard day? These things are amoral in and of themselves, but beware if they rise to shepherd status.
There is only one shepherd I lift my head to – the one who offers eternal shelter in heaven, and prior to that, grants green grass and peaceful streams. All I need to do is listen and come.
This post is dedicated to Rosemarie Boykin, who listened and obeyed her shepherd, and whose life we celebrated this past weekend. She is now beside still waters, giggling all the while.
Until we meet again.