I write today as one who has always loved the church. And for the most part, I write as one who has experienced deeply and consistently the kindness and care and encouragement of those who call the church home as well.
Lately, though, I have begun to wonder if this very human institution even comes close to being an adequate conduit for the ‘abundant life’ which Jesus offers now.
I imagine that at one point or another, you have wondered this as well. And maybe now more than ever.
For in the account immediately preceding Jesus’ reflections on the shepherd and the sheep, we hear about the one blind from birth whose sight was restored, a healing which was at the very least, not understood by the Pharisees, the religious leaders, whose protests are woven through the whole telling of that remarkable story.
And so, I do wonder now if the institution which, while nurturing some of us well, has not necessarily been a place of sustenance for far more than we will ever even know. Perhaps in actual number, far, far more, than those of us who may have known our own ‘coming and going’ to be a way of being fed by the ‘green pastures’ of which Jesus speaks today. I wonder if the Pharisees were the thieves and bandits of whom Jesus speaks. Or at least if those were the voices they were heeding. Something we, perhaps, to often fall prey to as well.
Indeed, I find myself considering now the voices of those ‘thieves and bandits’ which too much threaten to drown out the voice of the Shepherd, whether within the church or not:
- I wonder if the ‘thieves and bandits’ have been voices of fear. (Of who knows what, but fear nonetheless…)
- Or despair.
- Or nostalgia for a time that likely never really existed at all. Or at least not as our too often faulty memory would have us believe.
- I wonder if the ‘thieves and bandits’ are those voices which encourage us to just move on and not deal with the losses which run deep.
- Or that tell us that if we just work harder, if we just do more, it will all work out.
- Or which would want us to believe that it all rests on us.
- Or which have us wanting to be like someone else instead of living into the unique gifts and callings which have marked our lives each one. This can be true for us as individuals. It can surely be just as true of congregations as well.
Now this is so. I do not always know what the voice of the Shepherd sounds like or what it means to say. But I do know that it sounds like none of these nor like any number of others you and I could name today. I do know that each one of these voices of ‘thieves and bandits’ would and do rob from us what the Shepherd intends. For each one leads us in directions which do not offer the abundant life which has been intended for us all along. And collectively, in our congregations, each one, once followed, surely does not open the way for others to experience that abundant life meant for them either. Indeed, each one of them would rob us of all that God intends.
Now I know that I, for one, have too often listened too long to those voices of ‘thieves and bandits,’ both for myself and in my capacity as leader in the church. I have not always listened well to the voice of the Shepherd which means for us only abundant life.
Life, even as we hear in the words of Jesus now, which is marked by:
- A sense of belonging.
- And the experience of community.
- Being fully known and being known by name.
- And experience a sense of safety.
- Having more than enough of whatever we need.
- And of always, always being watched over.
But back to where I began.
As I say above, I am not certain that the church as we know it has always been or often enough been the conduit for the abundant life of which Jesus speaks today.
- And I wonder if this would be different if we, as leaders, could somehow tune our own ears to no longer listen to the voices of ‘thieves and bandits,’ and instead listen for what the Shepherd intends.
- I wonder if we could or would then lead differently.
- I wonder if then we could not then help but being open to help clear the way so that the Shepherd could shape whole communities which are able to hear differently as well.
- I wonder if then we could receive more fully the gifts of God which were intended all along.
Now I know that I, for one, cannot always seem to do that on my own. Indeed, we were created for community and connection (even as were the sheep of which Jesus speaks today) and we need one another sometimes to hear and speak aloud what we cannot always yet hear, and to help us tune out that which was never meant for us to hear and heed at all. For ourselves alone, yes. And without a doubt for the people among whom we are called to live and serve.
And so I wonder with you now…
- What needs to happen so that you and I no longer listen to the voices of all those ‘thieves and bandits?’ What needs to happen to make this more fully possible? And how can we be with and for one another as we seek to do so?
- And what might it look like to build communities of faith where this is the most important thing that happens: this listening for the Shepherd’s voice, for the sake of all of us, for the sake of the world?
- Indeed, how do you hear the Shepherd speaking to you today? What voices of ‘thieves and bandits’ need to be tuned out so that you can more fully hear what God intends?
Well said. Good words to contemplate and take to heart. Thank you!
Thank you for a thoughtful message.
I love this! Thank-you! Much to think about!
So appropriate in a world of division where the church often views itself as welcoming. Thank you.
You’re welcome, Linda…
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