Sheeples

The phrase “sheeples” has become the dirty word of 2020. Used when people have opposing views, it is a derogatory way of saying one group is vapid enough to believe things that the other group finds offensive, false, or ridiculous. In this mindset, if you are “so stupid” that you hold a particular opinion, you might be called a sheeple by someone who holds the opposite opinion.

The underlying thought behind this put-down is that sheep are supposedly simple-minded. Come on now! Y’all are giving sheep a bad name. Sheep may be dumb, but they would never be mean enough to engage in name-calling. I’m here to stand up for the sheep!

In all seriousness, there is beautiful language in scripture that uses images of sheep-like behavior in a very positive ways. If you look closely, these scriptures usually end up being more about the shepherd than the sheep. When people are compared to a flock that is ready to follow the care and concern of a Shepherd, it is a comforting image and a humbling lesson.

Most Bible readers are familiar with the Good Shepherd imagery that Jesus used in John 11:

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 

But today’s lectionary takes us back to Ezekiel, well before Jesus arrived. This was written during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon, when the people were scattered all over the place. Note the connections between the prophet’s writings and Jesus’ own words:

Ezekiel 34 (Common English Bible)

11 The Lord God proclaims: I myself will search for my flock and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out the flock when some in the flock have been scattered, so will I seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered during the time of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will gather and lead them out from the countries and peoples, and I will bring them to their own fertile land. I will feed them on Israel’s highlands, along the riverbeds, and in all the inhabited places.

Call me a sheeple, but this is exactly where I want to be. I want to be in the care of a gentle leader. I want to be sought out when I stray. I want to be rescued and led into the fertile land.

I want to be fed.

 14 I will feed them in good pasture, and their sheepfold will be there, on Israel’s lofty highlands. On Israel’s highlands, they will lie down in a secure fold and feed on green pastures. 15 I myself will feed my flock and make them lie down. This is what the Lord God says. 

16 I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak. But the fat and the strong I will destroy, because I will tend my sheep with justice.

Your Shepherd is calling you, too. He himself is ready to feed you and provide you with rest.

Is the Lord seeking you? Are you lost? Wounded? Weak?

All you have to do is follow. God tends his sheep with love, mercy, kindness, and justice.

I don’t know about you, but I just wanna be a sheep.

He Leads Me Beside the Still Water by Wende Pritchard

Let Loose

I apologize in advance, but today’s devotional begins with a tragic and bizarre story.

My sister-in-law once owned a rental home in the town where I lived. She had a faithful older gentleman renter who was always on time with his rent, and liked to do small repairs to her property. So when months went by with no rent check, and calls to his home went unanswered, she contacted her brother (my husband) and asked him to meet her at the house so she could check on her renter.

The rest reads like a Twilight Zone episode.

As they approached the house, one remarked to the other that if they saw a convergence of black flies on the inside of the windows, they would know the worst had happened.

Cue the black flies.

However, the lawn was mowed and there were no newspapers on the lawn, giving them hope. But a quick trip around the back revealed that the nice lawn guy had been stacking the papers up on the back porch as he mowed every week.

Cue the unnoticed, over-stuffed mailbox.

Beginning to put two and two together, they called the non-emergency line for the local police station and asked for assistance.

Cue the young officer in a full Hazmat suit.

You can probably guess the rest of the story. The gentleman had perished inside the house two months earlier. When the officers opened the front door, it was obvious.

Cue the horrific smell.

The retelling of this sad story is offered to put into context what you are about to read. In the book of John, the story is told of the death of Lazarus. Jesus had been informed of his illness, but elected not to go in time to heal him. (Which, being Jesus, he could have easily done.)

Ever wonder why?

John 11 (The Message)

5-7 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days. After the two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

11 He said these things, and then announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.”

12-13 The disciples said, “Master, if he’s gone to sleep, he’ll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap.

14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”

You see, up to this point, Jesus had performed many miracles of illness-healing, lunch-multiplying, demon-casting, storm-calming, and water-walking. The disciples had witnessed all of it. But they didn’t know the one thing that was the most profound of all of Jesus’ miraculous powers: he had power over death.

37 Others among them said, “Well, if Jesus loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”

38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”

40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And with that, the stone was removed and Jesus called Lazarus to walk out of the tomb.

The power of the resurrection is the greatest miracle of all. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The glory of life after death was on display for all to see, and all who saw were invited to believe.

Do you believe? What needs to die in you so that you can see the glory of God in your life? Where is God inviting you to walk out of the stench of your decay and shed your grave clothes?

When Lazarus walked out, Jesus instructed his friends to “let loose” the burial strips of cloth that had bound up his body.

The invitation is the same for you. Let loose everything that is constricting your faith, confining your life, and walk free.

Child of God, COME FORTH.

The Light of New Life by Cheryl Smith