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Why We Need Shepherds / Away for Awhile

“Why We Need Shepherds” by Frank Rairez
“Away for Awhile” by Peter Andrew Smith

Why We Need Shepherds
by Frank Ramirez
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23

I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD. (Jeremiah 31:4)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters….(Psalm 23:1-2)

In 1869 a friend offered the young John Muir the chance to spend a summer in Yosemite, assisting a shepherd looking after his flock. Muir kept a meticulous journal. He was enthralled by the plants, which he featured in a series of drawings. He had great admiration for the wildlife, including the elusive bears. The natural wonders of the mountains, rock formations, and the many waterfalls led him at last to risk life and limb, climbing onto a slippery ledge just behind the mighty Yosemite Falls.

Once Muir returned from that dangerous perch he discovered he wasn’t as calm as he’d thought. He was unable to sleep for a few days once he realized just how close he’d come to slipping and falling to his death.

In 1904 his lifelong love for the region led him to agree to spend several days in Yosemite with President Theodore Roosevelt, roughing it in the wild. It didn’t take long for the president to come to share Muir’s enthusiasm for the region. The trip was instrumental in convincing President Theodore Roosevelt to declare Yosemite not only a national treasure, but a National Park, preserving its beauty for future generations.

Muir’s journal was published in 1911 under the title “My First Summer in the Sierra.” His vivid description of his adventures remain exciting and inspirational. But one thing is also clear -- Muir, who spent a whole summer in the company of that shepherd and his flock, came to despise sheep.

At one point Muir, the flock’s owner, and the shepherd together tried their best to get the flock to cross the river to green pastures. If they could get one sheep to cross the Merced river then all would follow. First they rushed into the flock, trying to scare them across. The sheep scampered around and back onto the barren shore. They sent their dogs into the midst of the flock, trying to bring the strays back into the midst of their fellows, but they succeeded only in trampling the shoreline into a muddy mess.

They then carried one lamb across the river and tied it to a tree, figuring that its cries would draw the mother to its side, and the rest of the sheep to follow. To no avail.

Then they cut down several slender pines and built a crude corral that they could use to enclose and then force the sheep across the river. When that failed, the flock’s owner decided that they would have to wait until starvation forced the flock to seek the greener pastures on their own.

As Muir would write,

In a few minutes after being thus let alone, an adventurer in the foremost rank plunged in and swam bravely to the farther shore. Then suddenly all rushed in pell-mell together, trampling one another under water, while we vainly tried to hold them back. The Don jumped into the thicket of the gasping, gurgling, drowning mass, and shoved them right and left as if each sheep was a piece of floating timber. The current also served to drift them apart; a long bent column was soon formed, and in a few minutes all were over and began baaing and feeding as if nothing out of the common had happened. That none were drowned seems wonderful. I fully expected that hundreds would gain the romantic fate of being swept into Yosemite over the highest waterfall in the world.

What Muir would call a “calm, cud-chewing peace” descended on all the sheep. “Sheep brain must surely be poor stuff,” he concluded. He thought back to what he’d observed of the ways he’d seen deer, dogs, and squirrels ford rivers and decided “A sheep can hardly be called an animal; an entire flock is required to make one foolish individual.”

So when David sings about the good shepherds seeing out green pastures in Psalm 23, or when Jesus speaks about shepherds, perhaps we ought to look into just what it means for us to be sheep.

(Want to read more? This passage is taken from “My First Summer in the Sierra,” by John Muir, pp 111-115.”

* * *

Away for Awhile
by Peter Andrew Smith
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Denise grabbed a pile of papers from the printer and started reading them as she headed back to her desk. Terri had to step aside to let her pass.

“Oh, sorry,” Denise said noticing her supervisor. “I’m trying to get a jump on the agenda that you talked about at the meeting yesterday.”

“Yes, things are rushed to get everything ready in time.” Terri tilted her head to one side. “Have you eaten lunch yet?”

“I’m eating at my desk.”

Terri narrowed her eyes. “Have you finished the brochures for the Mission Conference that need to go to the printer.”

“I certainly have.” Denise nodded. “I’ve also confirmed the speakers, their accommodations, and the venue.”

“What about the caterers?”

“They emailed this morning and while there are a few last minute things to iron out it looks good.”

“Perfect,” Terri said. “Leave that paperwork, grab your lunch, and follow me.”

Denise dashed to her desk and caught up to Terri as she opened the door to the stairs.

“Where are we going?”

“I have something important I need you to do,” Terri replied.

 Denise frowned as they headed down two flights of stairs and around to the back of the building.

Terri pointed at two chairs set up beside a small patch of flowers. “Have a seat.”

“Okay. What are we doing here?”

Terri sat down and closed her eyes. “Tell me what you hear.”

Denise sat beside her and looked around. “I don’t understand.”

“Listen for a moment.”

Denise sat back and concentrated. “I can hear the wind.”

“Can you hear the bees?”

“I guess I can if I try hard enough.” She looked over at her supervisor. “I still don’t get why we’re here instead of upstairs. There’s lots left for us to do to get ready for the Mission Conference we’re organizing for the area churches.”

“What do you see?”

Denise let her eyes wander around. “Flowers, some grass, and our building.”

“Is that all?”

Denise double checked. “Yes.”

“Take a deep breath.”

Denise took a deep breath and waited. When Terri simply sat in the chair Denise started to squirm. “Um, is there anything else?”

“What’s the Mission Conference about?” Terri asked.

Denise frowned. “The Conference is about revitalizing our efforts to spread the gospel in the world. The surveys and conversations with area churches show that everyone is exhausted, frustrated, and discouraged.”

“How do you suppose we’re going to energize the people in our churches?”

Denise shrugged. “I guess the speakers and pastors we’re bringing in are going to share that.”

“Do you know what Jesus did to revitalize his disciples?”

“He taught them about God.”

“He did teach them.” Terri smiled. “Sometimes he even used words.”

“I don’t follow.”

“There is a passage in Mark’s gospel about how Jesus took the disciples off by themselves to rest and recover after a time of exhausting work.”

Denise furrowed her brow. “So you think I need a rest?”

“I think we all need a rest.” Terri looked at the flowers. “Sometimes I think we get so busy in doing things for God that we forget to connect to God.”

“There’s still a lot of work to be done before the Mission Conference is ready.”

“The truth is that there is always lots of work to be done. In fact if I remember correctly as Jesus got the disciples some quiet time there was a flood of people looking for help and to hear the gospel.” Terri tapped her chin. “Jesus took pity on them and healed and taught them.”

Denise started to stand up. “So I guess I should get back to work. There is still lots to be done.”

Terri shook her head. “Sit down for a moment. I think the point for us is that there is always more work for us to do then we can possibly do.”

“So we shouldn’t try?”

“No, we should always work hard at what God calls us to do,” Terri said. “However we should also never forget that when we’ve done all we can that the love and mercy of God will still be at work.”

“This is a lovely place to eat.” Denise sat back in the chair and took a deep breath. “Maybe I’ll take a few moments here for lunch. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Take the time you need. If I’m not mistaken you’re not needed upstairs until our meeting at 2 right?”

Denise checked her phone. “Right. There are some other things I could be doing, though.”

“Absolutely.” Terri got up and started to walk back to the building. “Finish your lunch and then sit back, relax, and pray for awhile.”

Denise watched her supervisor disappear and then opened her lunch and for the first time in weeks paused and truly gave thanks to God.


StoryShare, July 22, 2018, issue.

Copyright 2018 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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