My Bible study squad and I have been talking about sheep. The talks started when we saw Jesus’ declaration that He is the “Good Shepherd,” and His sheep will know and follow Him. He says if one of His sheep wanders off, He will go find it and rejoice as He carries it home. This has me pondering; why do His sheep wander away?
Sheep are notoriously dependent animals that need constant tending. Not known for being deep thinkers, they are usually content eating grass and following their shepherd. But sometimes, they are so busy grazing that they don’t realize their flock has moved. In these cases, the sheep got distracted and lost sight of what was most important.
In my business, I see a lot of wandering sheep who got led astray by busyness and forgot Jesus. Then, it was easy for them to fall prey to the wolves of lust, greed, addiction, anger, or arguably the worst wolf of all, apathy. They can forget they need, or even want, a shepherd. But it’s not always the sheep’s fault it’s not with the herd. Sometimes the other sheep in the flock are cruel and drive others away.
Sheep are sensitive creatures. If a lamb gets rejected by its mother or the flock, it’s called a bummer lamb. Without acceptance, the lamb will die. It will literally grieve itself to death if the shepherd does not intervene. We people are the same way. We need love and acceptance; if we don’t find it at church, we will find it elsewhere. Bars are friendly places full of acceptance. We have a problem when the local tavern is more welcoming than most churches. Most of the wandering sheep I meet have purposefully left Jesus because they didn’t feel accepted by His flock.
Being part of a congregation where you feel loved and accepted is a blessing. But sometimes, we can become so entrenched in our church relationships we don’t realize we have formed an impenetrable clique. I know this is happening because the lost sheep come and tell me about it. They tell me about the Facebook “friends” that never acknowledge them but are full of “likes” for the in-crowd. They tell me about the countless little snubs that occur each Sunday. I listen with sadness while those Jesus would have referred to as the “least of these” tell me how they don’t fit in. Jesus has a serious soft spot in His heart for those that don’t quite fit in. He wants us to see things the way He does and act accordingly.
Jesus lives inside us, meaning we are simultaneously sheep and shepherds. We are responsible for listening to His voice and following His lead. One thing He will never, ever lead us to do is snub one of His beloved sheep. We are responsible for loving everyone and paying extra attention to “the least of these” that may be falling through the cracks. Dismantle your clique! Invite folks to sit with you or take them to lunch. Give them a “like” on Facebook. What may seem like a little thing to you can make a huge difference in the life of someone who is struggling to fit in.
Cain once asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper.” The answer to that is a resounding yes. Love seeks His lost sheep and rejoices when they are found. But wouldn’t it be so much better if lambs felt so warm and welcome that they never wanted to go astray? We can do that! Let’s give our Good Shepherd a day off from sheep hunting and love one another the way He wants us to.