A Place in the Flock

May 9th, 2011
Image © Rae Whitlock | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

If you’re a lectionary preacher, it’s going to be difficult to avoid the subject of sheep and flocks this week. The best known of the Psalms, the 23rd, reminds us that “the LORD is my shepherd,” and Acts 2 gives us a glimpse of what the first Christian community (flock) looked like. The John 10 passage is Jesus talking about a sheep pen, a gate, and characteristics of a shepherd and sheep. Then there’s 1 Peter 2:19-25. It talks about unpleasant things like suffering, pain, and sin.

Four weeks into the Easter season and we’re dealing with uncomfortable stuff again. Thieves are breaking into sheep pens, David is walking through dark valleys, and now, Peter wants us to endure suffering. But all four passages end on an encouraging note:

  • Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. (Psalm 23:6 NRSV)
  • They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47 CEB)
  • The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. (John 10:10 CEB)
  • Though you were like straying sheep, you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your lives. (1 Peter 1:25 CEB)

To really get a sense of how Christians are like sheep, let’s consider some characteristics of these animals for a moment. Sheep are social, and they tend to flock together, mostly because there’s protection from predators in numbers. Those who try to be Christians without help from other Christians, or those who don’t believe in a literal devil should consider this carefully in light of 1 Peter 1:25. I believe that the term “straying sheep” doesn’t refer only to backsliding Christians, but also to “loner” Christians. And a sheep who isn’t with a flock is the one most likely to be attacked.

Without a shepherd present, sheep tend to follow the first sheep who makes a move, even if it’s a foolish move. So for believers, this means it’s equally important to stay with the flock and to stay connected to the shepherd. 1 Peter 1:25 says Jesus is both a shepherd and a guardian. The Greek words for shepherd and guardian are poimen and episkopos, respectively. This is also where we get the words pastor and bishop (or overseer). Jesus is like our pastor and our bishop. He both shepherds us and he appoints other shepherds for us. He may even appoint us on some level to be a shepherd over others. Our Christian faith is both individual and corporate, and I believe anyone who downplays either one is missing the point.

This is why it’s important for believers to find their unique place in the Body of Christ. Although Pentecost won’t be here for several weeks, now is still a good time to think about spiritual gifts and about how each Christian is uniquely equipped to serve other believers. Ministry Matters has partnered with the Church of the Resurrection to offer a free, online spiritual gifts assessment. After answering a series of questions, you’ll find your most dominant gifts and perhaps get a better sense of where you fit into the church as a whole.


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