"God is not a sheepdog!" Fr. Brian looked around the congregation this morning, into the still-bleary eyes and repeated himself. "God is not a sheepdog!" I couldn't help it - I almost choked on the laughter bubbling up inside me. Come on! This is the summit of your sermon? God is a Shepherd, not a sheepdog? Very clever!
But even as I crossed my right leg over my left, scrunched my back against the pew and folded my arms in a superior, skeptical stare, Fr. Brian (and the Holy Spirit) smacked me over the head. "With sheepdogs, the sheep obey out of fear and guilt and shame. The sheepdogs bark and corral and bite the sheep. But the Shepherd calls his sheep by name and they follow him. With the Shepherd, the sheep obey out of love."
And my defenses against the Good Shepherd melt into a puddle at my skeptical feet. This seems to be a pattern in my life, this undulation between living in the furious life-giving love I have for the Shepherd, and wanting nothing more than to take my sheep self and hit the road as far away as I can. And Fr. Brian's words hit me fresh: God is not a sheepdog. He calls his sheep by name and they follow him.
God is not a sheepdog. He does not guilt us into obedience. He does not shame us. He does not terrify us with threats or harm us. He does not corral us back into His family when we stray. He goes looking for us. He goes out into the world, out into our hearts, and calls us by Name.
God is not a sheepdog. We do that guilting, shaming, fearing to ourselves. God is not a sheepdog. We run away over the hills and valleys. We hide from the rain of disappointment (but God, I wanted it!) in shadowy caves and He finds us. We hide from sorrow (but God, why did she have to die?) and He searches for us. We hide from doing the hard brave thing (but God, I don't want to have that conversation!) and the Good Shepherd calls out to us. He does not bite at our heels or bark at us to scare us back into the sheepfold. He calls out to us.
And we know His voice. We know it deep in the pit of our heart, but our stubborn skeptical fearful lost sheep-selves can't get back into the sheepfold.
We know the Shepherd's voice. It's the Shepherd we love, the Shepherd we trust, the Shepherd who comes looking for us on the hillside where we're hiding.
God is not a sheepdog. He rejoices when He finds us. He carries us on His shoulders back into the sheepfold, back to the still waters and the green pastures. He lays down His life so that we can live. Through the watches of the night, through the wolves, through the tempests, through the deserts... God is the Good Shepherd.
"O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people;
Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who
calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with
you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen." (Book of Common Prayer, Fourth Sunday of Easter)