My sheep hear my voice, says Jesus

I’m working on a sermon for Sunday, and pondering these words of Jesus:

Bon_pasteur_BnF_Ethiopien_389_fol_1v-large--Good Shepherd--Vanderbilt

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”
                                                                      –Jesus (in John 10: 27-28a)

I know almost nothing about sheep. They give wool and go “baa..” Children play sheep in Christmas pageants. I may have petted a baby lamb at the zoo sometime, maybe (I’m not even sure!).

People of biblical times, however, would have been familiar with sheep, shepherds, and the sheep-herding process. Their meals included sheep cheese and lamb. Their clothing and blankets were woven from the sheep’s wool. The lamb also was a symbol of God’s deliverance during Passover, and associated with other religious rites.

Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice…” and the sheep follow that voice.  In those days, as the shepherds grazed their sheep, the sheep from various flocks would intermingle while the shepherds chatted or lunched at the watering hole. When it was time to return home in the evening, each shepherd had a special way of calling or whistling to his sheep, and they would quite naturally separate into the right groups.

Below is a video of a modern-day shepherd, calling to his sheep. Notice how the sheep magically appear out of the hillside mist. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and come running:

Here is another current-day shepherd. She has her own way of calling her sheep. Notice how the sheep are reluctant to cross the little patch of water, but her constant calling reassures them it’s safe:

When Jesus calls us, where will he be leading us?  We might have to come down off the mountainside to be feed in the meadow. We might have to jump over little puddles or even walk through the “darkest valley” (Psalm 23), but even then Jesus is with us, leading us beyond, to a better place.

Jesus knows us well, each one of us individually. This knowing is not a mere intellectual knowing, but an experiential knowing  from being with us, and loving each one of us, all along the way of life’s journey. Jesus is lovingly present in our midst at all times, so he knows our special talents, challenges, past joys and future hopes.

Jesus calls to you, and to me:  Come here, my beloved… Come!

Where is Jesus leading you (and me)  today?  That is, what might Jesus be inviting you to do in your life?  Anything new? Anything needs changing in yourself?  Any way you might assist another?

Dare you go where Jesus leads? Will you trust that the Good Shepherd will be with you, lovingly, through thick and thin?  (I’m preaching to myself here…)

Amiens26-large--Good Shepherd image-- Creative Commons licence--Vanderbilt Library

 

Will you follow?

 

 

Image credits: 

Top image: Unidentified. Jesus as shepherd with the lost sheep, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55688 [retrieved April 15, 2016]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bon_pasteur_BnF_Ethiopien_389_fol_1v.jpg.

Bottom image: Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Jesus the Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51560 [retrieved April 15, 2016]. Original source: Collection of Anne Richardson Womack. 

Carrots, Lent, and New Life

In Minnesota, winter has been easier than usual this year, but despite that, last week the gray skies got to me a few days. I was sick of everything, and for no particular reason. I read about how people in the days before electric light slept long hours in the winter–and I thought, that’s me: I want to crawl into a cocoon and sleep until spring.

Then the weekend came, and we were out of carrots for making lunches, when I remembered something tucked away in the coldest part of our basement. I brought it up to the kitchen, opened up the box, and suddenly their was a lovely burst of the scent of … are you ready for this? ….  SOIL!

Box from cold, dark storage

Box from cold, dark storage

Before I lived in the Upper Midwest, I did not realize what a treasure this is… In the March/April thaw, one of the most pleasant fragrances, often at an unconscious level, is the scent of the soil drifting on the warmer spring wind. The ground is no longer completely frozen, and this scent of soil brings to mind thoughts of gardens and flowers and mowing and sweet corn–and the heart skips a beat with excitement.

Soil: catch the scent in winter!

Soil: catch the scent in winter!

However, there was something else, there, too. Something we had packed away in the sandy soil last October. We dug out these messy-looking cylinders, scrubbed them up, and voila! Fresh carrots!

Yummy carrots!

Yummy carrots!

We think of winter as a time when “nothing is happening” in that soil, when everything is “dead”… and indeed, there is a lot of death happening–but not all is lost. The soil is rejuvenating itself.

Ancient peoples in northern climes must have been in awe of spring returning, a kind of miracle of sun and warmth. The seeds sprout and the cycle of life circles around again.

It’s no wonder Lent, Passover, and Easter are celebrated at this time of year. Indeed the word “Lent” means “springtime”… and all those Easter eggs, baby bunnies and lambs are symbolic of life renewing itself, once again, in the springtime.

Our souls, indeed our whole persons, undergo many transitions and “spring times” in life. We seek inner growth and deeper healing from old wounds. We may deepen current relationships even as we form new relationships. We search for new meaning and fresh ways of loving and serving others.

Will you pray with me?

O God,

When the darkness of winter is on us,
inspire us to hope in your springtime.
When the snow becomes drab and muddy,
remind us that new life is just around the corner.
When our hearts are “old” and “dusty,”
plant your seeds of love and
bring us to life once again.
This we pray in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit, 

Amen! 

 

 

Paying Attention . . . to the Holy Spirit

(Note: Below is a reflection I offered recently at our church on Sunday. I was asked to share a personal faith story relating to Matthew 1:18-25.) 

In today’s gospel reading, we hear about the amazing ways God sometimes communicates: Mary has her angelic vision, and Joseph has his remarkable dream. These things are recorded in the bible because they were outstanding experiences –God knew they needed these angelic visions because of their extraordinary calling to become the parents of our Savior.

007-prophecies-birth-jesus--from freebibleimages dot org

I am given to thinking, though, that for most of the time, Mary and Joseph found their inner peace in ordinary ways: in paying attention to the Holy Scripture, in praying, in practicing Sabbath, in listening to their rabbi, in watching the seasons of nature and the experiences of ordinary family living.

I would like to share a time when my husband Terry and I felt that the Holy Spirit helped us in a way that felt extraordinary — and yet others might see as “ordinary”…

Capture--Ely Minnesota 2--from Google MapsWe were fairly new to Minnesota, having moved here from Arizona/New Mexico, and we were excited about camping up in the Northland.  On this particular trip, we were tenting near Ely (EE–lee–rhymes with “really”) in mid-summer, and things weren’t going so well. We came to the place for the quiet, and instead heard loud partying late into the night, just two spaces away. We came for hiking, but the generous use of bug repellent didn’t keep the mosquitoes from swarming around us (it was a cloudy, muggy day, and apparently they knew we were “green Minnesotans” and took special delight in annoying us). Yes, too buggy outside the tent and too humid inside the tent…

In the midst of all this, we had this one night of intense heat, humidity, and unusual stillness… How could this be the frigidly cold Minnesota I’d always heard about?

In the morning, we saw a gray cloud appear in the west (you will recall campers didn’t have “weather apps” in those days). We considered cutting the trip short and going home, but wondered if that would keep us from becoming “hardy Minnesotans”?

In the end, we hurriedly threw our tent in the car and headed home. We were only as far as the city of Virginia, when the darkness hit in midday and the wind and torrents of rain forced us to stop at a restaurant.  Inside, a crowd of people was huddled by the door, talking about how bad this storm was.

Eventually, we made it home okay. The next morning, the news reported that this was a gargantuan size storm– you may remember this storm! It happened on July 4, 1999, and you may recall it took a full week to rescue all the campers in the Boundary Waters due to the millions of trees downed (they couldn’t even hike around all those trees). [Note: You can read about this special, unique storm, called a “derecho”,  on the National Weather Service link: July 4, 1999 storm. ]

U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO -- BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.

U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO — BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.

When I think of this experience, I always think of the Holy Spirit. One could say it was a “coincidence” that we decided to go home, but I think it was more than that. We didn’t have some fancy spiritual experience with “special effects,” but I think the Holy Spirit was our “advocate” on that day, nudging us to pay attention to the signs around us, to pick up our tent and return home.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing BoardSo, yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings us peace through the “special effects” of holy visions and rarified dreams, but other times, I think the Spirit of God reveals things through ordinary, hidden ways, and waits to see what we will do with it. It is in responding to God’s invitation, with love in our hearts, that brings true inner peace.

Until next time, Amen! 

[Photo credits: 1) Image of Bethlehem from freebibleimages.org, 2)Ely, MN from Google Maps, 3)Boundary Waters Storm clean-up from US Forest Service, and 4) Stained glass window from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, AZ–taken by Julie McCarty in 2013, with permission from pastor.]

 

Bible Marathon: Seven Things I Learned In Reading the Entire Bible in (Roughly) One Year

Here’s a reflection I wrote for Easter Praise! blog:

Easter Prays / Easter Praise!

Cover of The NRSV Daily BibleIn the summer of 2014, I began hearing about a program at Easter Lutheran Church called “Bible in a Year.” The challenge was to read the bible, cover-to-cover, over the course of a year, beginning on Oct. 1, 2014. Outside of the obvious biblical stories, history, and facts I learned, there are a few things I would like to share from the experience:

1. The Old Testament is a lot longer than I realized. Have you ever counted the pages in the bible–with all that fine print? Tried to read the Old Testament straight through?  After the first month or two I found myself positively hungering for Jesus (as did many of us!). The benefits of reading the Old Testament, however, are many. For one thing, I came to understand ancient Middle-Eastern history/culture a little bit better—and that also helped me understand the situations surrounding the life and times of…

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Thought for the day…on God’s love

God’s love is so immense and infinite… beyond our wildest imagination. Here’s a quote I ran into:

Divine love can rake a dunghill--Spurgeon  [Words on image: “Divine love can rake a dunghill, and find a diamond!” –C.H. Spurgeon]

Hope you have a good day and a great week…and that you find God’s divine love in amazing places as you go about your “ordinary” tasks of living.

Until next time, Amen! 

Children Explain Prayer

At my church this summer, we’ve had a sermon series on prayer. One major theme has been that prayer is primarily about relationship–our relationship with God.  In the very first sermon, we explored how Adam and Eve “hid” from God after they sinned, and yet, God still reached out to them. God knew what had happened, and yet called out to them, asking why they were hiding.

Like Adam and Eve, sometimes we “hide” from God, afraid or avoiding prayer because we think we don’t know how to pray, or we are not worthy. Despite this, God reaches out to us in various ways because God loves us, no matter what may have happened.  We think we are “hiding” when all the while God is watching over us, like a loving parent or kind teacher. No matter what we’ve done, good or bad, God still wants to be in relationship with us.

We can trust that God wants to be in this relationship with us because God keeps reaching out to humans again and again in biblical history despite people failing him again and again. God’s love is so unconditional that he sent his son (that is, God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ) and died on the cross while people were still steeped in sin.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

I was thinking about these things when this short video of children explaining prayer appeared in my Facebook feed. Their hearts are open and trusting. Creative. Honest. Compassionate.

Being fifty-something doesn’t stop me from learning from these children. Their freshness and youth inspires me to be a little more honest with God, a little more free-flowing–and less worried about “if I’m getting it right.”

But aren’t we sinners? Yes, but we also God’s children, for it is God who gave us life. Little children don’t worry if their words aren’t elegant or sophisticated–and the loving parents around them continue to value what they say. We don’t stop loving children when they make mistakes or have difficulties. God enjoys having quality time with us, just we enjoy having quality time with our children.

Will you pray with me?

O God,
The next time I try to run from praying
because I am ashamed, guilty, or afraid,
please send your Holy Spirit to remind me
that you are the God of Mercy and unconditional love.
The next time I feel “I don’t have the right words to pray,”
remind me that I can say whatever I want or feel,
or even express myself to you in wordless ways,
trusting that you understand my heart
and love me just as I am.
The next time I want to pray, but feel inadequate,
please remind me that prayer is about
spending quality time together with you,
not mastering fancy words or passing an imaginary test.
Thank you, Lord,
for your constant love and attentiveness to us,
and help us to always place our trust in you.
This I ask in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

A Prayer Poem for Pentecost

Today is the Feast of Pentecost in many Christian churches. Here is a poem-prayer I wrote this morning as I was thinking about Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to spend some time praying and pondering this sacred mystery with me.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board

A Rainy Day Pentecost Prayer

On this day of Pentecost, a cloudy sky dimly shines through the window
while I sit here, sipping my cup of tea,
gentle raindrops falling on a wood
of bright green leaves.
No tongues of fire
or windy skies,
but that is
how it is
sometimes.
God comes
not only
Raindrops on puddle--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Boardin excitement
and special
effects, but
also in a
drop,
in the quiet,
to still our souls
and remind us
that the Divine,
the Holy Spirit,
is Holy Presence,
truly “God-with-Us”
in Spirit form–everywhere–
both near and far
and high and low
and deep within my heart,
and your heart, and the hearts
of people living on the other side
of the globe–maybe even of the universe.
Yes, Lord, pour out your Spirit afresh on us,
on all of us, renewing our lives and the earth,
raining down on us like raindrops, soaking deep
into the soil of the earth and the soil of our souls.
May this rain of the Spirit bring new life, an ever-growing
communion and holiness within and among us, more and more each day.

Flower with raindrops--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board