“The Lord is my Shepherd…” Psalm 23:1
Before everyone became a little bit afraid of Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and being manipulated into being divisive, one could imagine a post — from a friend on Facebook — saying “Huh. I am a Poodle! I would have thought I would have been a Golden Lab or a Boykin Spaniel!!” Below that comment would be a place where one can click and discover what type of dog he or she would be. It all sounds like fun – harmless fun.
My wife and I have always been fascinated with border collies. How they corral and herd sheep is really quite amazing. They have been bred to function splendidly as a shepherd’s assistant. I would like to think I might test out as a border collie – Scottish/Northumberland, pastoral, energetic, obedient, etc.
Recently, a video was posted with the caption “this dog has no idea what it is doing.” (The video can be found on YouTube under World’s Worst Sheepdog.) The dog’s name is Nelson. He resides in New Zealand. He’s a mix, a mutt but has some Norfolk terrier in him. Apparently, he had seen a real herding dog and tries to be like one. He tries; he fails. The (hilarious) result is that he ends up being herded by the sheep – they chase him. Nelson is not so good (in fact, he’s awful) at aiding the shepherd. You might see where I am going with this….
Not to long ago, at a Jewish funeral, the 23rd Psalm was read. A less-than-informed attendee was impressed that the rabbi had used “One of our Psalms.” I was not sure what the best pastoral response would look like. (I trust you know that this person had “Nelsoned” the scriptures. “We” got it from “them.” Not vice-versa.)
The 23rd Psalm is a beloved Psalm. If you attend a church that shares the use of certain scriptures on any given Sunday, you will most likely hear the 23rd Psalm on Sunday. Sunday’s technical description is the Fourth Sunday of Easter – Year B. And, the Fourth Sunday of Easter in Cycles A, B, or C is called Good Shepherd Sunday. You can see why the 23rd Psalm is the quintessential choice for the Psalter reading all three years. You can see why John’s Gospel, Chapter 10, is excellent source material. (Spoiler alert – Jesus says he is the good shepherd.)
I think logical questions to come out of Good Shepherd Sunday are: Am I a good aid to the shepherd?” Am I working like a border collie? Am I seeking disciplining to not end up being like Nelson? Am I in an accountability group that keeps me from functioning like Nelson? Is our church seeking spiritual leadership or Nelsons?
I did a little research on border collies. In some ways what I saw sounded like many Presbyterian congregations. (But I am sure that other mainline denominations can self-recognize.) Border collies do not cope well with change. They “get stressed when meeting with others not like their own.” They do not cope well with the presence of strangers or visitors. They don’t like loud noises (praise music?) and are sensitive to movement (hand raising/swaying?). Wikipedia says they have destructive behaviors when their needs aren’t met.
On the plus side, they have been bred for intelligence and mental stimulation. And when they are at their best, they consistently look back to their master for instruction and signals. They long to please their master and protect the flock.
People love these wonderful, energetic dogs and try to make them indoor dogs, when they were made to go outside. The church, can equally, slide into forgetting to go outside and be inward – at its peril. Pew chewing can happen.
Four questions: What type of dog would you be? Could you be trained, coached to welcome those who are different? Are you getting outside (being “missional”) or fighting spiritual DNA and staying enclosed? And most importantly: Are you following, and serving, the shepherd?
Have a Good Shepherd Sunday! And don’t be Nelson!
Jarred Hammet is a Presbyterian pastor living in Middle Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.