Every once in a while, a ewe will give birth to a lamb and reject it. If the lamb is returned to the ewe, the mother may even kick the poor babe away. Once a ewe rejects one of her lambs, she will never change her mind.
These little lambs will hang their heads so low that it looks like something is wrong with its neck. Their spirit is broken. These lambs are called “bummer lambs.”
Unless the shepherd intervenes, that lamb will die, rejected and alone. He takes that rejected little one into his home, hand-feeds it and keep it warm by the fire. He will wrap it up with blankets and hold it to his chest so the bummer can hear his heartbeat.
Once the lamb is strong enough, the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock. But that sheep never forgets how the shepherd cared for him when his mother rejected him.
In this passage of our Gospel Jesus speaks of protecting His flock. He states that He lays down His life for the sheep. As a matter of fact, He states three times that He will sacrifice Himself for His flock. He speaks to His sheep, and they know His voice. He speaks to us and we know His voice.
We’ve talked about this before…how Jesus communicates, I mean. Jesus speaks to us through Scripture of course. But, He also speaks to us through our beloved friends who remind us of our true nature, of our true passion. Jesus also speaks to us through music and nature and stillness and the writings of others whom we read. Like the hymn says, “softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.”
But there’s another thread within this Gospel passage that needs a bit of teasing. Only two sentences long, Jesus says there are others that are not within the flock. He says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” There are others who are not a part of the present community who need to be brought in. There are bummer lambs who have been rejected and need a welcoming family.
Last Sunday the Bishop’s Committee met for a retreat. We spoke of several things, but one idea that we began speaking of is what our mission is here at All Saints. This last year we’ve worshiped as a community quite differently than we have in the history of the church. Many have been scattered — in fear, in rejection of protocols, in isolation and necessary self protection. As the barriers that have protected us this last year are loosening over the next months, the Bishop’s Committee is taking to heart what our responsibility is in the church and in our community. We have an opportunity, as we resume engaging together, to renew ourselves as well. To encourage and to restore ourselves with one another.
And here is where the truth of what Jesus speaks (“I must bring them also”) will foster how the leadership of All Saints shapes our own core of mission in our community. If we take what Jesus says seriously, there are those whom Jesus calls who are not here right now. They, like many of us have been this last year but perhaps because of different reasons, are scattered. Lost. Wandering. Wondering. Perhaps they are the bummer lambs. Those individuals or families or groups who have been rejected or pushed away. Those who are hurting. The marginalized. The ones who need to hear the heartbeat of the Shepherd.
The All Saints leadership will continue to discover who we are as a community, a family of believers. And as that family, what is Jesus calling us through the truth of our faith into action to do? How will we pull those who are scattered into our flock? Taking the question and the charge from John’s epistle this morning: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” How can we see someone suffer from hunger, from hate, from hopelessness and not offer a hand. John continues by saying that we should be willing to lay down our life for them. According to John, that is love in truth and action.
Returning to those lambs who have been rejected: When the shepherd calls for the flock, the bummer sheep run to reach the shepherd as quickly as possible. The lamb knows His voice intimately. It is not that the bummer lamb is loved more, it just knows intimately the one who loves and nurtures it.
When we allow Jesus to speak through us to those who are outside of these walls, the bummer lambs, make no mistake: He will act. And the beautiful part is that not only will they find food and shelter here, but that we will be changed as well.
*this initial sheep illustration came (from Facebook) at the perfect time of the lectionary readings for the week.