I had an unusual experience last week as I was driving into church. Down the road and at the bottom of the hill from my house lies a sheep farm. As I was driving by, I noticed a lone sheep in the pasture, just standing there with a plastic feed bag over his head and down around his neck. How in the world does that happen? I assumed the sheep’s appetite got the better of him and his head and neck just followed his mouth into the bag! Almost simultaneously with that thought there was another realization, “That poor thing is going to suffocate in that plastic feed bag!”
Well, I couldn’t let that happen, so I turned my car around, and drove into the driveway of the farmhouse, behind another vehicle. The lady in the car ahead of me saw the sheep as well and was there to help if she could. We knocked on the door of the farm house and no one was home. The poor sheep in the field was without a shepherd!
So, there was only one thing to do. Hop the fence and see if I could help the poor critter. (After all the root meaning of “pastor” is “shepherd” so now was my chance to literally take up my vocation!)
Now you must realize I did not grow up on a farm, but rather grew up in suburban Baltimore. I did know enough to carefully watch my step as I walked across the pasture (I was wearing my dress shoes after all) but I was not real sure how to approach a sheep. Do you talk to it? “Nice little sheepy, just stand still, I’m trying to help you…” or, since it was not only suffocating but blind-folded as well by the feed bag, do you just sneak up to it and grab the bag? I chose the former. “Nice little sheepy… .” The poor thing stood still and didn’t move. I was amazed that the sheep was not shaking his head trying to get the bag off. Suffocating and blind-folded, he could not seem to save himself. He was probably exhausted having tried this and that and now was just in a stupor with a “what should I try next?” kind of puzzlement.
I grabbed the bag. The sheep abruptly pulled away six or eight feet and the bag tore free from my hand – it was still firmly around the sheep’s head and neck. Fortunately the sheep did not run far away – blind-folded by the bag, it would have no idea where it was running. I approached again and grabbed the bag firmly with two hands. Again the sheep promptly pulled away and this time I held on to the bag and the sheep was free! It wandered off without giving me a second look - the ungrateful wretch!
Now as I thought about this incident, I figured, there has got to be a sermon illustration in this somewhere! Chasing our appetites can get us in trouble? Caring for the lost? The perils of sheep without a shepherd? Sometimes you have to walk thru the mud to be a witness? Blinded and suffocating in our sin? Unable to save ourselves? How do you talk to a lost sheep? Ungrateful for our blessings?
Yep, there’s a sermon illustration in there, but I just can’t figure out which one!
-Pastor Larry Steen, Westminster Baptist Church, Westminster, Md.
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