Sheepishly Resolved

New Year’s Eve is my least favorite celebration. Too often in my younger years it meant staying out too late in high heels that were killing me and wearing a silly hat. The parties were always too noisy and too crowded. I really didn’t mind the hat, but the shoes … ugh! My husband and I adopted the tradition of his parents after awhile. We stay up as late as we can and go out on the front porch in our pajamas at “midnight” (which might be 10:15) and pop an air-filled brown paper lunch bag. Boom! Welcome New Year.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t my favorite thing either. Researchers tell us that within six weeks, most of our resolve fizzles out, and we are back to our old habits. Why bother?

I am much more in favor of making life changes based on the Scriptures that speak to us. In that vain, look at today’s lectionary passage. This calls us to change our lifestyle immediately in response to the Gospel … and become sheep.

Now for those of you who follow a certain political rhetoric that implies that sheep are mindless, subpar creatures who blindly follow what their leader tells them, you are right. And I, for one, just want to be a sheep. A Gospel sheep.

Matthew 25 (The Message)

The Sheep and the Goats

31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

And BAM … there it is. There is the only New Year’s resolution you need. There is the Master’s instruction for self-improvement for 2022. Visit the prisoners. Drop in on the sick. (wear a mask!) Clothe the cold people. Volunteer and support your community homeless shelter. Feed the hungry through your community food bank. Be the change.

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

Just as following the voice of the Master brings blessings into your life, refusing to do as he bids will result in consequences you don’t want to face. In the end, we will all be held accountable to the Gospel demands.

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

Let us covenant to do better in 2022 in all of these sheepish things. May we give of ourselves in ways we never have before, and may others be blessed by our efforts.

Happy New Year from At Water’s Edge!

Sun Setting on 2021

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