I only have glimpses of what it is to see as Jesus did — harried as I often am even as those disciples must have been “with many coming and going and no leisure even to eat.” It is far too occasional that I am able to look at the one in front of me — particularly if they are annoying, or hurtful, or rude —- and see them with a heart of compassion as one ‘like a sheep without a shepherd,’ casting about for ways to tend one’s own needs for security and sustenance.
For this is so, isn’t it.
Jesus did not look out and see actual sheep, for they were people and not sheep, of course.
Nor did he see those who did not have a shepherd, for they did, of course. Rather, he saw those living, behaving as they did not. For they were like sheep without a shepherd, the description in Mark says today. And how much, how often, do we behave in the same way: as those who have a shepherd, but live as though we do not.
I do not often enough see as Jesus did. But from time to time I am given the gift of being seen in just this way. And then I am reminded of what difference it makes:
I was checking out at Walgreen’s the other day. The one behind the counter was one I had not seen there before — a black woman of small stature, her dark eyes sparkling above her N-95 mask. As I put my debit card back in my wallet, I looked up and asked her simply, ‘How are you?’ And you know how it usually goes from there, that the one so asked responds with, ‘I’m fine,’ or some mundane comment about the weather or the time. But not this time. No, she paused and her gaze seemed to take me in as she said, “I’m hanging on to hope!” And I said, “Yea. I’m just praying we are on the other side of this.” And she clasped her hands together and holding my gaze said, “You keep praying.”
Tears sprang to my eyes as I stepped away for surely it seemed that she was practiced as Jesus was in seeing what is right in front of her, yes, but seeing with such eyes that she is aware of what others often are not. Indeed, I wonder if she could see in my posture or hear in the tenor of my voice that I needed to see and hear the sort of encouragement she just exuded in a 20 second encounter on a Friday morning. I wonder if she could somehow see me living a bit ‘like a sheep without a shepherd’ and knew to try to put me back on track. I wonder, I do wonder, what it is to have such eyes and such a heart open to the world…
For it is precisely this way of seeing that is so needed right now, especially now, it seems to me, as we attempt to navigate a world unlike any we have known before.
Indeed, I expect in some ways we were so accustomed to things ‘as they were’ that we sometimes, at least some of us, at least some of the time, perhaps forgot our need for a ‘shepherd’ at all.
For isn’t that the human way of things, especially among the privileged and the capable — many of us — who have found our own ways to make our way through the world successfully or at least without too awfully much hindrance along the way?
And we have attempted in these last many months, perhaps, to keep trying to figure things out, often reorienting and reinventing on the fly only now to find ourselves back in a more ‘normal’ place only to realize that what perhaps at first appears the same on the outside is not really the same at all.
Oh, I know that I, for one, came to ‘the end of my own knowing’ pretty early in the pandemic. I found I had little choice but to lean heavily on the wisdom and kindness of others, and yes, recognizing deeply and perhaps more surely than ever before, my own need for a ‘shepherd.’ Even so, if I’m honest, I have to say that I do too much keep trying to do it on my own. And yes, I find that temptation to be especially so now.
Only the world isn’t cooperating. Things are just not quickly rearranging themselves as they were before, no matter how imperfect they were then. They just are not. Perhaps we are simply too stretched. Or too wounded, some of us. Or just to uncertain about what is next. And so more and more I am reminded that there is nowhere else to begin but to at least try to see myself and those among whom I live and serve, with the very eyes of Jesus which with deep compassion recognize what I otherwise too often fail to see:
- that all of this is not up to me or to us…
- that certainly not even the gifts which God has planted and shaped within me or you or even you and me together can begin to offer what the Shepherd does…
- that it seems as though where we are going we have literally never been before, not like this and not here, and surely we will not get ‘there,’ wherever that may be, without the love and compassion and provision of the Shepherd. We just won’t.
It is no easy place for us to be — at least not for those of us who are ‘planners’ and/or who lean on years of experience in doing what we have always done. My deep sense is that this is entirely new territory as we come out of such a cataclysmic shared experience.
- The landscape out there and inside of us is now different. We may no longer know where the ‘green pastures and still waters’ of Psalm 23 are any more. Certainly, they could be in the same places, although maybe not.
- And the ‘shadows of death’ we have already walked through differ from any we may have known before, at least collectively. And we have no idea what such ‘shadows’ may still await us.
- So how it is that we might now see ourselves and all those who inhabit this broken beautiful world, with the eyes of Jesus?
- How can we live as those who know our need of a Shepherd and live like this is so?
- How can we live as those who ‘hang onto hope,’ in the words of the clerk who urged me to keep praying this week, knowing the true source of all of our Hope?
My strong sense is that if we didn’t know it before, we do now know our need for a Shepherd. For as we navigate a world in some ways entirely new to us where the losses have been too many to count and where in the wake of all that grief and all that uncertainty and all that still threatens, it is apparent that many have not yet been fully able are to make sense of it. (As if they, or we, or I ever fully will.) Indeed, our collective state of flux is reflected in all sorts of choices being made in terms of how we steward the gifts of God: precious time and energy to name a few. This especially comes home to many who join me in this wondering now, I know, as we look out at our now open churches and find ourselves missing those who were always there before. Indeed, we cannot help but wonder if at least some of those who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ will ever find reason to make their way back to us in the way they perhaps once did without thinking. And yes, I expect this is only the beginning of our wondering as we seek to move forward in a world that may never be the same as it once was, at least not in the ways we encounter it now, because of all that has been.
So for now at least, I am doing all I can to look at all of this with the eyes of Jesus.
I am doing all I can to be gentle, to be compassionate, in my assessment of what I see and to be slow in my judgment at its meaning at least for this present time. At least until the way becomes more clear.
Indeed, I am doing what I can to lean into the life giving promises of a Psalm many of us know by heart, remembering that while I act from time to time as though I have no Shepherd, I always did and I always will. One who brings rest and restoration, comfort and protection, and whose goodness and mercy are trying to catch up with me even now.
And this as well. I am giving thanks for those along the way who somehow also see with the eyes of Jesus. Even strangers in the checkout line who look long and deep enough to see my need for a gentle reminder that hope is still and always ours to hang on to. For the Shepherd is and always has been and no matter how I act, always will be, too.
- Are you experiencing the world still ‘in flux,’ as I am? What difference does it make to see and to be seen with the eyes of Jesus now?
- Have you been so blessed, as I have been, to have others see you acting like a ‘sheep without a shepherd’ and with maybe just a gentle word, remind you of the ‘hope that is ours’ still? Where and how has this been so for you?
- How do the words of the 23rd Psalm sound different to you now than perhaps they did eighteen months ago? How do the promises ring true? In what times and places do you need to hear and experience them most of all?
Thank you, Janet, for sharing your meaningful insights in this sermon.
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