I picked a text. Of all of the texts that I could have chosen to focus upon this week, I chose this lesson which seems to be picking at my very soul. That happens from time to time. There are times when certain words will seize your attention and demand that you acknowledge that this is really happening. This week, I have Jeremiah to thank for that. Unbidden and and unwanted, this week, Jeremiah has invited me into the intensely frustrating analysis of my own leadership.
The passage itself points to it. It directs us toward that one leader that will solve all of our problems. That leader that will govern with justice. That leader that will always impart wisdom. That leader that will make sense of all of the things that have happened. Jeremiah has one version of this story between the kings that complicate his day. He wants a shepherd. That’s the vision of leadership that seems to be offered — this pastoral and protective presence — that will allow for new possibility. Then, when this new leader comes, the sheep will be safe. The shepherd will make it so. They “will fear no longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing” (Jeremiah 23:4). That sounds nice. I’d really like that. But, there’s a problem. When I read this text, I don’t see myself as a sheep.
I really wish that I was a sheep. I really, really, really wish that I could see myself as a sheep but I don’t. For some reason, I see myself as a shepherd. I don’t think it’s because I’m a pastor. No. I don’t think it’s only because I’m a clergy woman. I think there is more to that reading. I think it’s deeper than that. I think it’s rooted the part that is Elsa — not necessarily the part that gets to be revered. (That’s why they call me “Reverend.” It’s an adjective. However misused, it’s an adjective for my office.) But, that’s not the part of me that isn’t a sheep. “Pastor” has the same origin as shepherd. It’s the same concept. I know they are interrelated. Heck. You knew that too. That’s too obvious.
I think it’s more than that though. I’m not a sheep because I’m Elsa. Elsa is the girl that was always, always, always told that she could do anything she wanted to do. It was my parents that offered me this blessing. It was reinforced in other places. I was always too old for my age. My grandmother used to chide that I was 11 going on 35. I have no idea how old that makes me now but I never fit in the normal wisdom of my age. I was always pushing. I always wanted more understanding. And even more than that, I always felt I was responsible. I was taught to believe that I could do something to change the world around me. I could make a difference. I could affect change. And I did. I would. I do. Unfortunately, that means that I don’t get to be a sheep. I see my part in the whole. I see that I have some ownership for what has gone wrong and what could be. I have responsibility.
|Happy Sheep by David Masters.|
This makes me the shepherd. I don’t know how to be any other way. I can’t blame God — though I understand the reading that God has some fault. God was responsible for the scattering and destruction. God made it happen just as God gathers the remnant (Jeremiah 23:3). The problem with that is that I think we’re co-creators with God. My parents can be blamed for this. Or perhaps my seminary professors. Somehow, my imagination has been captured in such a way that I see the work of justice as my own. I see God working beside me. I imagine God with me. I accept responsibility for the failures as much as I celebrate the possibilities. Maybe it’s naive. Maybe it’s arrogant. I’ve been called both — but I still don’t see myself as a sheep.
I don’t see myself as an innocent bystander waiting for God to give instructions. No. I’m beside God trying to figure it out. We’re tending the sheep together. We’re trying to figure out where the next source of food will be. We’re consulting each other’s wisdom on predators. Together, we’re trying to make the best decisions we can. Now, the only problem with this is that I serve people that think they are sheep. They’re waiting for some leader to tell them what to do. They’re waiting for something to make sense. Or so they say. That’s what I heard in Bible study this week. I really wanted to hear something else because I see them active in this work. I see them doing the work of justice. We’re doing it together. But, it’s different. I see God as my partner. They seem to see God as the King. I don’t really know what to do with that. I don’t think they’re wrong. I mean, it’s not true for me but who am I to tell anyone that their theology is wrong? I can only tell my truth. And that’s what I’m trying to do. More and more. Each day.