Been an amazing pastoral week thus far and today was something of a challenge for a number of reasons - but it highlights the diversity of the 'being in ministry' pastoral role; and what it means to care for the sheep.
I'm often surprised as the ability of people to be wIcked, and saddened by the things others will do to in their pursuit of serving themselves. The potential for people to be good is made real in the majority of the people I meet. The realisation that people are generally nice is something that always cheers and yet that small percentage that are not, still wounds.
I was reflecting today on how I wished I had the modern day equivalent of a sling and five stone to take on the giant before me. I recalled a lecture by police officer on security many years back: motive, opportunity and means was the mantra they repeated as they brought a PowerPoint screen full of caution and challenge. Today as I considered those words and reflected on some of the imprecatory elements of the OT; the calling upon God to 'get the wIcked whilst they still lived' as once they'd died they were home safe. Virtue, and vice, bring their own reward - I believe that - but there's something satisfying in seeing the wicked get theirs in your presence.
My Father used to say that of his many goals in life, after 'be happy', were outliving his enemies and dying owing money. I don't know about the second but the 'outliving' bit certainly shaped and coloured who he was - and yet there was never any need to have harboured this debilitating attitude. Worse still, those he had separated himself from continued to live a happy life without him, undoubtedly a bit sad at the empty chair at gatherings early on but oblivious to it as the years past. Meanwhile, the separation from them being family wounded Him at every step. I see a man I know who lives like my Father did. He's a sad, almost shambling, shell of a man, almost Gollum like; a man whose hope is not in the God who died for him but in a forlorn hope that 'luck' might bring him something that supplies his needs and make him ... I was going to use the word 'happy' but think for him that won't be the same 'happy' I know :-(
So much to reflect upon as the motive of 'self' is made obvious, the means by which we can serve ourselves is shown in our ability to be wicked, cruel, spiteful, scheming and worse - the 'why' and 'how' of the turnstile to a life of being everything God has created us not to be - raise their ugly heads. Which leaves the 'who': the sheep which stray from the shelter of the plain and the enfenced place under the,direct gaze of the shepherd into the presence of wolves.
The human shepherd cannot be everywhere and as the sheep roam there are predators, natural threats and the realities of life and death as found in illness and disease.
How do I keep my vulnerable sheep under my gaze without restricting them and denying them their liberty?
Without trusting our kids to go out and live well we deny our faith in who they are, managing and cotrolljng their lives and refusing to let them live lives of their own. We give them life, care for them and then let them make their own way, being there if they need us, standing back to see whether the wings will open and cause them to soar or the unthinkable might happen. It is one of the may rites of passage!
Cherries on the cake today were found in the shape of home visits - with the niggle of those still to be visited for the first time this year as a stone in the shoe - and they were a blessing (for me and those Imvisied I pray) in a tough day. But isn't this what we should be doing with every act, every step?
Shouldn't we be proclaiming 'family' and of belonging together as one in all our actions and in our payers?
Lord, I pray for the vulnerable sheep - those whose desires take them into the company of wolves. Help me to be a shepherd who cares well for his flock, being watchful and aware of their weaknesses, follies, challenges and needs; never leaving them to the perils unspoorted and yet not controlling them such that they become exhubitts in a zoo!
Lord, I pray for the damaged sheep; those whose feeble legs, shaking hands, broken hearts and unsteady minds gift them the potential to be a tasty morsel in the journey of life. Help me to stand for them, to stand with them, to kneel over them.
A tough day in which I give thanks for your love.
- Use me well tomorrow - bless my rest now I pray,