What little I know of sheep, other than that they are incredibly cute and wooly, is that they are not very bright and easily wander into trouble and danger. Thankfully, we also know God loves sheep, and He loves shepherds. Psalms 95:7 and 100:3 proclaim He is our God and we are His people, the people of His pasture, and the flock under His care.
David, a seasoned shepherd, in his later years reflected on how he lacked nothing because the Lord Himself was his shepherd. Jesus picks up this same imagery in John 10, referring to Himself as the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep by name and whose sheep recognize His voice. He offers His very life to protect His sheep from those that would seek to harm and devour them.
Yet I drift. I am easily distracted. I am prone in my pain to seek solace and satisfaction in places other than in God’s presence. Recently, I was deeply moved listening to Dr. Jim Wilder connect sin to false attachments—things other than God that we hope will provide us with a deep sense of secure loving attachment. In a new way, I saw why God hates sin. He knows it means death. His longing is for us to securely connect with Him and experience lasting satisfaction in the secure loving protective presence of our Good Shepherd. This is the vision of Psalm 23:6 where His goodness and love are pursuing us all the days of our lives and we live in the assurance that we will dwell in His house forever.
I was not raised in a liturgical tradition and so had little understanding or appreciation for the season of Lent. Then I was introduced to the image of Lent being a time for the prodigal child to return to the loving embrace of his father running to welcome him home. I have come to treasure this season as an opportunity to come home from my many distractions to where my true heart’s satisfaction lies.
Now part of my Lenten rhythm is to set aside a day to participate in an annual Coracle Lenten retreat in Baltimore to realign my heart with God’s. The theme this year was “Returning to Our Heart’s True Home: Attuning Our Hearts to the Good Shepherd’s Voice of Love.” Three of our shepherds for the day were a poet, a painter, and a singer-songwriter. I offer their gifts to you now for your own journey home in four movements. Holy Spirit would you draw us further up and further into Your strong, secure embrace as we take time to reattune to You.
MOVEMENT #1: "The Lamb is My Shepherd" by Rick Mastroianni
I invite you to sit for a few minutes with Rick’s poetic response to Psalm 23 and Revelation 5 and 7:17.
- What words, phrases, and/or images draw your attention?
- Is there a need or desire that you long for the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, to meet?
The Lamb is My Shepherd
By Rick Mastroianni
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
The Slain-Lamb Lord is also my Good Shepherd.
What more could I want?
He makes me rest in his green grass of grace.
He quenches my thirst with his cool waters of mercy.
He restores my soul to its right place in him.
He leads me from my broad Dead End Highway
to his Right and Narrow Way
to make his name known.
It’s your voice I hear,
your presence I cling to
as we travel through Death Valley’s shadow.
I’m safe with you because you know this Way all too well.
Your rod and staff fend off foes and
keep me close to your comfort.
My enemies scoff at (but secretly envy) the bread-and-wine feast
you prepare for me at a table overlooking the abyss.
You fill my cup to overflowing.
You soothe my wounds with your healing balm.
All my days your goodness and relentless love
will follow me like it follows you.
Today and forever I join the vast heavenly flock
that dwells in your presence.
We cry out:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!
To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
MOVEMENT #2: Moses on Holy Ground by Melani Pyke
I now invite you to turn your attention to Moses, who was himself a shepherd tending his father-in-law’s sheep, being drawn by God to come close. Let Melanie’s painting guide your reflections:
- Do you sense a place in your life where God is inviting you to come?
- Are you willing to say “Here I am!” as He calls you by name?
- What are you sensing He desires to share with you about your life and identity?
MOVEMENT #3: John 10:1-18
Read this passage slowly and reflectively, allowing God to invite you into a secure connection with the Good Shepherd and His care for you. Notice your heart’s response to Jesus’s invitation.
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
MOVEMENT #4: "Attention" by Shannon Smith
Lastly, I invite you to let Shannon Smith’s response of worship to God’s invitation wash over you, drawing you in, helping you recognize you are even now enfolded in His loving presence.
“Attention” by Shannon Smith