Over the years I have preached a couple of different sermons about a certain flock of sheep and their shepherd. I have to admit that I may have had more fun WRITING these sermons than you have had HEARING them, but I’ve written two of them already, so I felt like I had to complete a trilogy of Sheep Sermons. So here is the Third and Final Sheep Sermon.
Once upon a time there was a young sheep named Lance, who was born of a comfortable sheep family, and who had always been treated well by the shepherd and the other sheep. As Lance grew, however, he became aware of deep flaws in the sheep/shepherd socio-political system.
"Why does the shepherd get to do all the leading? When have WE ever been consulted about where to go, or what to do? I’m sick of being herded around by a guy with a stick, just eating and wandering and waiting to be sheared. Well, no more."
NO LONGER would he listen to the commands of the shepherd, or ANYBODY for that matter. NO LONGER would he listen to ANYBODY who dared to call him a sheep. No longer would he be just one of a wooly, complacent flock. That very night, Lance determined that he was NO LONGER going to be a sheep.
From now on, he would be Lance the Leopard. He would become a sleek, solitary, hunter -- Death on four well-muscled legs, wrapped in sleek, spotted fur. Lance stood up, held his head high, and, as quietly as he imagined a leopard would, he crept away from the flock.
As Lance pursued his destiny, striding with determined feline grace across a meadow, he began to feel a little hungry. He looked around him at all the tender, green grass that surrounded him, but it only made him want to laugh. "Grass!," he thought to himself. "I can’t believe anybody really EATS that stuff!" No grass for HIM, thank you. He knew what he wanted -- a ZEBRA.
The next few days didn’t do anything to dim Lance’s passion for being a predator, but they probably should have. He spent two whole days trying to climb a tree, so that he could practice pouncing on things, but after all his struggles, he couldn’t even make it to the first limb.
After all his efforts had made him hungry, he looked with disgust at a grass-covered hillside, but then, after checking to make sure nobody was looking, he ate a large quantity. Still, he assured himself that it was just to keep his energy up during this transitional period.
After weeks of practicing his hunting skills on imaginary prey, and getting no better at any of them, he had a sudden revelation: "LEOPARD IS AS LEOPARD DOES." He was going about this business all wrong. If you want to be a leopard, BE A LEOPARD. Don’t PRACTICE IT, DO IT! So he did.
Lance found a little bluff overlooking a small road, and waited. He had discovered no zebras since he had become a leopard, but twice daily,a farmer and his mule passed by on the way to work in the fields. That would do for starters..
Soon, the farmer and the mule happened along. Lance launched himself off the bluff, and landed on the mule’s back. The mule threw Lance off, and Lance was temporarily stunned when he hit the ground. The terrified mule began bucking and kicking so fiercely that the wagon detached from him and began to roll down the hill. But not before the farmer’s shotgun went off and killed the poor mule stone dead.
When Lance came to, he saw before him the reward for all his struggle to throw of the shackles of sheepdom and embrace the life of a leopard. His kill lay before him -- hundreds of pounds of rich, red, meat, just waiting for him to sink his teeth into it.
So Lance went up and began to feast. It was disappointing. He looked where he had bitten and found out why: his teeth had just scraped away some of the hair from the mule’s skin. He hadn’t taken out a big, satisfying chunk of meat, he had just given a few square inches of the dead mule a shave.
He continued trying to eat the mule, but to no avail. And as he tried, the farmer, who had leapt from the runaway wagon, came back with a piece of rope, put it around Lance’s neck, and dragged him back to the shepherd. There were no hard feelings -- the farmer figured that Lance was a lost sheep and the poor little guy must have simply FALLEN from the bluff. The idea of a sheep deliberately attacking a farmer and his mule was so ridiculous that it never even entered his mind. And so Lance returned to the flock.
So, what have we learned? Number one, we have learned that it is often frustrating and annoying to be one of a flock. The flock doesn’t always do what we want it to do, and it doesn’t always listen when we complain.
We’ve also learned that it is always possible to throw off the burden of the flock and strike out on our own, abiding by any rules we choose, making up our own rules as we go, or having no rules at all.
There are plenty of things in life that are worth leaving behind. And there are plenty of rules in life that are worth changing or disobeying or ignoring. But Lance learned -- and maybe we should take a hint -- that when we start looking for new ways of doing things, we need to be prepared for the consequences of leaving behind the OLD life. And in the end, even if we get exactly what we’ve looking for, it might not be good for us, or even very enjoyable.
Jesus told his detractors, "You do not believe, because you are not of My sheep." And my guess is they didn’t have any problem with that. After all, who wants to be a sheep?
But Jesus went on -- "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." Sure, nobody wants to be a sheep, to be one of the flock. Still, the fact remains, THE SHEEP are WITH THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEPHERD IS WITH THE FLOCK. And when we get separated, things can get very strange very quickly.
But if we follow the shepherd, we can expect his guidance, and his care. And it is the care of one who knows our troubles and our fears better than we know them ourselves, and one who will always lay down his life for ours. Our shepherd Jesus says, "I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and NO ONE shall snatch them out of My hand." ✢