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! 

 

 

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! 

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

Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (6)

“It is finished.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus is not only referring to the end of his life, but also the end of his mission on earth.

43 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--It is finished

The very incarnation of Christ as Jesus, son of Mary and foster-son of Joseph, was a sending into the world for a mission. Christ was “called” to come forth into the human dwelling place of flesh-and-blood on earth.  He was also sent by the Father to minister by healing, preaching the good news, teaching us a better way to live, and revealing the great love the God has for all humans.

In John’s gospel, Jesus knows ahead of time that he will suffer torture and death (“my hour”) and yet he continues the work God has given him (the very work that makes others jealous and want to put him to death). Although Jesus’ popularity with the crowds turns from the cheers of Palm Sunday to the cries of “crucify him,” Jesus remains faithful to the message of his preaching and the truth through it all.

Integrity.

Which one of us would have stayed true to the end? Wouldn’t it have been easier to run away from Jerusalem before he got there? To tell Pilate it was all a case of mistaken identity? A misunderstanding of what he meant? To reason with people about why they shouldn’t kill him?

Jesus faces death head on. Stays true to his mission, true to his Father’s will. Willingly submits to other humans who torture and kill him.

“It is finished.”

 

Until next time, Amen! 

Words Jesus said. . . and meant (2)

The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one who scoffed at him and one who respected Jesus. It was this second criminal who admitted his deeds deserved punishment–and then asked, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

In that moment, while hanging on the cross, Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

39 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--This day paradise(click on image to enlarge)

 This story reminds me that Jesus reaches out to all, and welcomes all into his kingdom. The “bad thief” was also welcome, but he wasn’t interested. In fact, he mocked Jesus. It is the “good thief” who welcomes Jesus–and who is received into the kingdom of God.

I also notice that Jesus didn’t make special demands on the “good” thief, in this last moment of his life. Jesus forgave him right then and there–and promised him eternal life, communion with God forever in heaven.

As I think about this today, I think about the symbolism we can apply to our own lives today. Jesus is alive, present in our midst. Do we mock him? Stone him? Crucify him?  Or, do we welcome Christ, ask forgiveness, seek grace and the kingdom of God?

Something to think about.

Until next time, Amen!

 

 

Kindness, Compassion, and Forgiveness–Ephesians 4:32

This week I’m pondering the theme of compassion / love:

31 Lent--week 5--Compassion--Ephesians (click on image to enlarge)

The New Testament is filled with the message of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. These things are not always easy to practice, but they are the way of Jesus. Those who would follow Christ, are called to be “at work” in the ways of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

Until next time, Amen!