What to do with a shepherd - Reflections - 4-18-18

 For Sunday April 22

 Fourth Sunday of Easter

 John 10:11-18

 If Jesus used a contemporary (for the 21st century) image in this story to illustrate his point, what might it be?

 I asked that question in a devotion 3 years ago on the 4th Sunday of Easter (same texts). This Gospel text from John tells us that Jesus will risk his life to save his sheep from the wolf. He knows them and they know him; it is an intimate relationship. And, surprisingly, the flock is bigger than we expect; we are connected to other groups of sheep. This flock thing is more inclusive than we think. 

Why ask for a contemporary image?

“The Good Shepherd” tends to be one of those images that go unquestioned for many of us who grew up hearing “the Lord is my shepherd”. I don’t need a contemporary image because this one is a statement of faith at this point. I am held, protected, comforted, guided by the Good Shepherd. The very words “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” comfort me.

But if you didn’t spend time in Sunday School or have to take sermon notes or didn't sing lots of children’s songs about being a little lamb and adult songs that were versions of the 23rd Psalm, or ever even met a sheep for that fact… does the image of Shepherd still mean comfort, intimacy, connections?

This current era we live in is one of discord, controversy, division, of angst, unease, fear, where “the other” is suspected, blamed, mistrusted with every action, misconstrued, misinterpreted and misjudged. Comfort, intimacy, connection and inclusivity are badly needed. 
If not a shepherd, then what/who?

My pastoral care class in seminary emphasized the method of Carl Rogers. The Cliff Notes version of his school of thought: you can listen someone into wellness.  A lot of things goes into “listening” – respect of the individual, a sense of compassion, belief in their capacity to find their own way. The primary skill used is called active listening - the “active” part is responding, clarifying, and reflecting back to the person what it is you are hearing them say.  Active listening is not second nature to most of us so it takes energy and practice.

Putting that together, one idea I had for a contemporary image is a skilled Rogerian counselor, let’s say “The Good Listener”. Such a person can help built trust and intimacy. They also provide comfort as you feel that you are respected and worthwhile. 

Thinking of all that discord, mistrust, and division, another contemporary image I rather like is a mediator. A mediator uses those helpful active listening skills to seek a resolution of a conflict. The process includes help clarify and identify the issues of controversy and the underlying emotions. The mediator, who cannot take sides, summarizes what was heard and helps re-frame issues in a more emotion-neutral way. 

Most importantly, the mediator needs to believe that a resolution can be reached. I taught conflict resolution, mediation, and active listening skills to people in elementary through high school and tried to help them implement them in their day to day relationships. I was always surprised by how well it worked – as in, I didn’t necessarily believe a resolution could be reached. Yikes! I now realize that my expectations could have undone the process. I needed trust and hope. 

I recently learned that the difference between herding cows and herding sheep is that one “drives” the cows from behind, but one leads the sheep from in front. 

My “Good Mediator” then, needs to lead the process of reconciliation with hope. 

And holding that last thought for a moment…that does sound a bit like the one who says “I am the Good Shepherd”, doesn't it?

How about you: If Jesus would use a contemporary image to describe his point, what might it be?

You are always welcome to use the comment section below!

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245