We’re Shepherds All!

When I heard familiar voices outside, I grabbed my hoodie and headed to the front door. Neighbors had been marooned out of town since the onset of our stay-at-home attempts to control the Corona Virus. They’d finally made it home and were wearily, but happily unpacking their car. I yelled from across the lawn to welcome them back to the neighborhood. My neighbor Kathy had come out to do the same. In the midst of it all, she looked in my direction to say, “You know, I don’t know what day it is any more. Since we can’t go to church, I’ve lost my bearings. Sunday used to be my anchor day. Now, I don’t know. It’s tough.” At first, I was surprised by Kathy’s comment. Because I’ve continued to post on my blog every day, I’ve adhered to a schedule of sorts. The writing, the online liturgies streamed from so many of our churches, as well as my ongoing conversation with our patient God have apparently kept me more grounded than I realized.

After bidding my neighbors farewell, I returned to my keyboard to begin this writing. When I reread today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 10:1-10), I recalled that Jesus’ contemporaries had lost their bearings as well. They had also lost access to the anchor which should have kept them grounded. This passage tells us that Jesus was angry as he spoke on that particular day because his troubled neighbors had no one to turn to in their suffering. They should have been able to go to the temple to pray for consolation and to seek counsel from the priests and scribes there. The people should have found comfort simply by being in that holy place. Rather, the Pharisees had manipulated The Law to own their benefit. They had imposed rules of every sort which limited the people’s access to their worship space, to the temple staff and to God. The virus which threatened in Jesus’ day had replaced compassion with control and had denied God’s comfort to those who needed it most.

Jesus responded to the situation by calling those who truly wished to serve the people to emulate shepherds. Though the temple authorities looked down upon shepherds because their jobs prevented them from adhering to the letter of The Law, Jesus held up shepherds as ideal examples of leadership, caring and love. The shepherds of Jesus’ day spent long hours in fields with their herds. Though they lacked education and power of any sort, they were key to the prosperity of wealthy sheep owners. Jesus reminded the people that shepherds dutifully guarded and nurtured the sheep in their charge. Every sheep knew its keeper’s voice, keenly aware of the special call only he could produce to beckon it to his side. When it came time to be led in or out of the pasture, each sheep followed the voice it had come to know and to trust. Whether a flock numbered in the hundreds or could be counted on the fingers of one hand, the shepherd’s guidance was essential to each animal’s survival. Jesus expected no less of those entrusted with God’s people. Jesus lost his patience in the temple that day because the Pharisees and their company had lost sight of their mission to anchor God’s people by lovingly shepherding them.

I think my neighbor felt that she’d lost her bearings because she thought she had lost access to the anchor she’d found at her parish church. It occurs to me that, without realizing it, Kathy has become the anchor she longed for. She listened compassionately as our friends described their lengthy isolation in cramped quarters. In the midst of admirable social distancing, Kathy and her husband provided refreshments since the returning couple was greeted by both an empty house and an empty refrigerator. Kathy had certainly provided the welcome which Jesus expected the temple staff to provide two millenniums ago. What a great example of shepherding Kathy was!

It seems that Easter Season 2020 will continue to be filled with moments of uncertainty and solitude for us all. The good news is that we will endure these difficult times in very good company. Our Good Shepherd reassures us all that none of us suffer alone. Kathy felt that she’d lost her anchor because it has come to her in a different form these days. Rather than finding solace and peace in the church building and the people whom she’s come to love there, Kathy has become the anchor where those things abide for others. In the rare event that she falters in her new role, Jesus will lift her up onto his shoulders and carry her through. You and I are invited to be anchors for one another as well. If you’re wondering how you might proceed, think of Kathy’s kindness and respond as she did to those you’ve been given to love. However we support our loved ones though this COVID-19 ordeal, as he does for my dear neighbor, Jesus will be with us to shepherd us every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Shepherds All

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

An unexpected conversation with an unexpected friend left my heart heavy with compassion for this suffering person. A loved one is critically ill and the only consolation I could offer was my promise to pray for him. As I walked away, I began my prayer. “Dear God, give them strength,” I begged. Though my own sons, their wives and our grandchildren are happy and well these days, I’ve experienced enough health scares in their regard for me to understand this person’s pain too well. So it was that I reached for the image of our loving God which consoles me most when I am in asking mode: The Good Shepherd.

I prayed on… “Where would I be today, Lord, if I had not been in your care through the trauma of my own life? Sometimes, you came out of nowhere to assure me of your presence. You came in the kindness of your servant-shepherds who kept hope alive for me. Please, do the same for my friend and that family today.”

Truly, no one would be where he or she is today if not for God’s relentless love and care. Sometimes, this comes in our own awareness of God’s presence. Sometimes, that care comes in the efforts of the shepherds God has asked to care for us. Each instance of nurturing feeds our hope and empowers us to carry on. What an awesome responsibility and privilege it is for us to do the same for one another!

Good Shepherd, be with us as we share your nurturing ways through our loving care for one another .

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Called To Be Shepherds

I truly enjoy the scripture passages we share throughout the Easter Season. They celebrate Jesus’ life among us by echoing his most important lessons. While Jesus’ message regarding God’s love for us is best taught by his example, his parables and discourses run a very close second in illustrating God’s affection for you and me. This is especially true this Mother’s Day. Today’s passage from John’s gospel (John 10:27-30) is a mere sixty-two words in length. It’s among the shortest gospels we read throughout the church year. Still, in spite of its brevity, these few lines offer a powerful account of God’s love for us. This passage portrays Jesus in his preferred role, that of a shepherd. The shepherd-mom in me understands completely. When Jesus said, “I know you,” he confirmed that his love reaches to our very cores and that nothing will ever change this. His followers understood completely as well. Just as I understand the relationship between mother and child, they knew the significance of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep.

Still, some of Jesus’ contemporaries resented shepherds. These hired hands had little education and even less money than their needy neighbors. The temple authorities looked down upon shepherds because their work made it impossible for them to fulfill The Law’s demands. Shepherds often failed to keep the Sabbath and to eat within the dietary constraints of their faith because they remained with their sheep most of the time. At the same time, wealthy sheep owners found dedicated shepherds to be indispensable. In spite of their meager wages, shepherds dutifully and lovingly guarded the sheep in their care day in and day out. The sheep knew their keepers’ voices. There was never any confusion when it came time to be led in or out of the pasture. Sheep spent their days in the peace that came with their shepherd’s diligent protection. Whether a flock numbered in the hundreds or could be counted on the fingers of one hand, their shepherds persisted in protecting them. Sheep in the company of a good shepherd lived their entire lifetimes contentedly and completely unaware of the danger which lurked beyond their pasture.

I find this Mother’s Day reading of John’s gospel to be well-timed. It encourages us to acknowledge the relationship between Jesus’ work of caring for us and our own work of caring for one another. What a comfort it is to be nurtured with selfless love! As for me, I find great consolation in God’s presence. Jesus’ words and works have convinced me that God walks with me everywhere regardless of the danger which lies ahead. Being cared for so completely has empowered me to try to do the same for those I meet along the way. The same is true for us all. Whenever we recognize that we’re cared for, we can’t help moving beyond our roles as sheep to the challenge of shepherding one another. We can’t resist sharing what we’ve been given. Fortunately for you and me, we needn’t look far to see how Twenty-first Century shepherds care for those they’ve been given to love. Role models of every sort surround us.

For most of us, these lessons begin with our mothers. From the moment we make our homes in their wombs, we change our mothers’ lives forever. In spite of the physical symptoms of pregnancy, these courageous women reorganize their homes and their lives to make places for us. Their persistent fatigue is no match for the persistence of their love. They love us and nurture us for as long as it is necessary and for a long time thereafter. God’s incapacity to forget us is mirrored splendidly in the shepherd-mothers among us. And what of our shepherd-dads who stand with our moms to offer us their love? We’re also blessed with shepherd-friends who consistently respond with just what we need. Consider the friend whom we see far too infrequently, yet who always picks up the conversation as though it began just minutes earlier. Whether it’s a bad hair day or a bad weight phase makes no difference because our friends love us. They attend to the needs of our hearts. Shepherd-coworkers support us in kind. When the tedium or the insanity of our jobs threaten to drive us to the unemployment line, these even-tempered and dedicated colleagues urge us on. Their smiles in the midst of trauma, their steady hands upon our drooped shoulders and their willingness to try just one more thing before giving up make all of the difference to us. Their company on the road to Friday makes our work week tolerable and even enjoyable. We accomplish much more than we might have because they are with us. Yes, this life offers endless opportunities for us to share our shepherding skills.

Shepherd-spouses, shepherd-children, shepherd-siblings and shepherd-significant others, shepherd-neighbors, shepherd-priests, shepherd-deacons and shepherd-friends bless us. Shepherd-coworkers and shepherd-grandparents, shepherd-moms, shepherd-dads and shepherd-volunteers nurture us. With them, we muddle through the unhappiness of life and we bask in life’s joy. Again and again, we find ourselves hoisted upon the shoulders of the our Shepherd-God who is present in the good shepherds around us. Afterward, we climb down, fortified with peace and a joy which simply must be shared. We straighten our own shoulders and stand tall, ready to shepherd when we’re called. Today, let’s echo God’s message to us all: I love you! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Shepherding!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Give Up!

God leads me in right paths…
From Psalm 23:3

When I consider the state of this world, I wonder why God bothers. At times, when I consider the state of my own heart, I wonder the same. Why do you bother, Dear God? Your gifts are more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches. Still, we ignore them or misuse them in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my despair long before it morphs into something unmanageable. In the midst of my laments, images of kindnesses great and small distract my thinking. Moments in nature, in the company of those I love, at prayer and at peace with the moment compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from hopelessness to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

The discouragement which I find is this world of ours is a far more perplexing matter. When I find it so difficult to reel in my own frustrations, how am I to repair the far larger messes which surround us all? Did I write, “How am I to repair…?

As I consider Psalm 23 once again, I understand. God will never cease to lead us in right paths because it is in God’s nature to do so. When one loves as completely as God does, one never EVER gives up on the objects of that love! It’s up to us never to give up on the objects of God’s love either. Like God, we need to have faith in ourselves and in those we’ve been given to love. Only God knows the good we can do.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing encouragement in things great and small. Remind me never to give up on this world because you will never give up on a single one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enjoy The Rest

He makes me lie down in green pastures…
Psalm 23:2

Long ago, I dubbed my husband the “travel aficionado” of our family. He takes great pleasure in exploring new places and getting to know the people who inhabit them. These adventures leave him refreshed and ready to tackle our daily routine once we return home. In the past, as Mike planned these wonderful excursions, I wasted away the days of anticipation with my worry about small spaces in airplanes and anything and everything which “might” go wrong. The good news in all of this is that I’ve come to share in my husband’s enthusiasm. These days, I look forward to get-aways near and far as much as Mike does and this is a very good thing.

As I reflect further on Psalm 23, I see that my persistent God is behind my husband’s travel efforts 100%. This very God knows everything and certainly understood my reluctance better than I did. Fortunately for me, I finally attended to God’s desire to make me lie down in green pastures as willingly as Mike has. I finally allowed God to see to it that I get the rest and enjoyment I need by inspiring my husband to plan on. God is attending just as carefully to providing moments of rest for you. I encourage you to embrace these opportunities every time!

Loving God, thank you for caring for us even when we’re reluctant to care for ourselves.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Lambs

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

I’ve shared earlier that I spent the much of October tending to my physical well-being. This effort included eye exams, annual physical, a mammogram… You get the idea. In the end, I discovered that I’m in very good health in spite of some minor adjustments I needed to make to my exercise regimen and my diet. My orders were to change these things for the better and so I have.

I admit that I was slightly disconcerted by my need to tweak my lifestyle. When I recognized this bit of angst, I chided myself. You see, I’ve walked with many loved ones through serious illnesses. I sat at their sides as they processed the scenarios that lay before them. In every case, I was deeply moved by their bravery through their transitions from anger to fear to sadness to practical concern for those left behind to joyful anticipation of the things to come. All the while, I offered frequent prayers of thanksgiving for the grace which allowed these amazing people to manage their illnesses and to embrace their journeys home to God.

The results of my physical exams indicate that my journey home to heaven most likely lies in the distant future. Why then did I bemoan the minimal changes required of me? I admit that I turned to the Psalms where I always find the right words for the moment. Without hesitation, I went to Psalm 23. The image of a happy little lamb elicited a smile as this sweet creature danced through the tall grass in the beautiful pasture that materialized in my imagination. Within seconds, this lamb’s revelry became my own. “The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want…”

With that, I continued to smile as I scheduled my walks for the week and tweaked my menu.

Loving God, thank you for shepherding me so lovingly.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved