Keeping House with the Shepherd

Today was Good Shepherd Sunday at Church. Worship revolved around the image of God as a shepherd and the 23rd Psalm was a real focus text. That is the one that starts, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…..” I was the vocalist for three of the hymns and I read the Gospel lesson. A few things really jumped out at me through the service. The first came early on when Susan our minister used a Children’s Bible to explore the 23rd Psalm. The translation included the phrase, “I love being part of God’s flock.” I am not sure why that jumped out at me, except maybe that it resonated inside of me. I do love being part of God’s flock and if I wasn’t part of it I am not sure what flock I would want to be with. Where else would I be invited to see and know myself as beloved, where else would I be challenged to live for others as well as myself, where else could I wrestle with my demons and find new beginnings, all with a promise of living water which to me means that mercy and compassion and unconditional love is running through my veins, and I don’t have to whip it up, its simply offered by the Good Shepherd. I do love being part of this flock.

Another thing that jumped out at me was an observation Susan offered. It was that the 23rd Psalm is to the Christian what a paring knife is to a cook or a …..what was the other illustration…..hmmmm……I can’t remember but it was something like, a rope to a cowboy. You can do the job without it but why would you want to? To anyone who takes it in their toolkit this psalm can provide both comfort “he leads me beside still waters” and challenge “The Lord is my Shepherd….I shall not want”……but oh my do we ever want for many things in this life!!! …… when we already have so much. I really enjoyed the mental imagery of tucking a copy of the 23rd Psalm into the kit of favourite tools in this house, which includes many great cooking/baking tools and much cowboy paraphernalia.

One other major thing was just how much the contents of the service today match my own life. I found myself thinking, “of all the people who hear this text today, all over the world, how many are living it in their everyday experience?” (I don’t think this makes me better than others, its more like a “wow, today its my turn to really see myself in this story!” kind of moment). A picture popped into my head that Liz Griffin took, of Russell, with his shepherds crook, my husband the herdsman. Russell gave me an illustration of what it might mean that God is the Good Shepherd just about as soon as I got home. He was telling me about interacting with the cows and that he came up to a cow with certain markings and he said to himself, “Oh there’s Costco” (a few years ago we did a set of replacement tags with names of food brands we enjoy, like Dare, Co-op Gold, Kraft) (replacement tags are necessary because cows can rub their tags out if they scratch up against trees and bushes). When he drew near he read the tag and found out that it was “Gilligan” (we did some replacement tags with names from “Gilligan’s Island” and while we are talking about that group, currently the cow ‘Minnow” (remember their boat?) has mastitis and is causing Russ some extra work…..). Russ had not wrongly identified the cow, in fact Costco had lost her tag and Gilligan was her replacement. I said, “Wow Russ, you remembered Costco’s markings that well?” “Oh yeah” he said, like it was no big deal. I think one of the most remarkable things we are asked to have faith in and take comfort in is that God knows us through and through. Russell’s easygoing knowledge of our cows strengthens my faith that this just might be so.

I used the idea of keeping house in the title for a couple reasons. I wanted to do some “housekeeping” with you who read the blog. I had someone tell me today that they wanted to share a previous blog on social media but didn’t think they should. My feeling about that is that I have chosen a public venue for my writing, it is accessible to anyone who would look for it, if there are things I don’t want the general public to see I won’t share about them here. If you feel like sharing something that is fine. Having the chance to have writing more broadly shared is kind’ve cool actually. WordPress keeps detailed stats about numbers of visitors and views of each post, it is a really nice feature because even if comments or likes are not happening in a big way it is easy to see that readership is steady.

I hope you enjoy these pictures, they are really special to us. Thanks to Liz Griffin who took them all!

A picture we love because it is both artistic and reveals Russ’s comfort level with his cows.
This almost identical picture is more of an action picture in the same set of moments. The Shepherds crook in action.
The gospel text for today (John 10:11-18) makes reference to a hired man, and says that at the sight of a wolf the hired man abandons the sheep (but the good shepherd doesn’t because the sheep are his.) I didn’t like reading that aloud because “hired man” is part of my daily life and our hired man Ron puts himself into dangerous situations all the time. Here he is running the cow gate, Laurie is letting a steer in the gate behind Ron’s and it looks like I have a calf in front of me maybe destined for Laurie’s gate too. Its an action packed moment. I love this picture. It is on display on my desk. This is teamwork. I love teamwork.
That Shepherd’s cane is handy for creating a visual block, signalling the calf in the back to stay back. It looks like I was moving a heifer forward and keeping a steer back.
Walking the steer up to his gate. A great shot of Maddie on the move.
There is a thoughtfulness to this picture, who knows what was on Russell’s mind but work days like this when we have the whole herd in, his family in the corral and many friends on horseback and at the gates involve a lot of worry and care for him. The fact that he was injured at this time led to more distraction and struggle. This modern day herdsman illumines some of God’s character for me.
This was a summer work day, we had a group of cows with newer calves in. Time for tags and vitamins and vaccines. I love the feeling in this picture, for me it arises from what looks like a tender and guiding hand on that calves butt and a sense of relationship.
Russ describes this as a moment when he had to get into the direct middle of the action to avoid a total mess. Cows were turning around on us getting into the gate. Maybe the take away here is that the Good Shepherd is willing to get into the middle of the mess. Sounds very faithful to me.
Russ was up ahead at the trouble at the gate but he was not alone. His team had his back. This strikes me as such a solid picture of steadfast supporters standing at attention. Russ says, “we get by with ALOT of help from our friends.”

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