“Herding Cats”

  1. Jn 10.11-18

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Our Seminarian Assistant owns a Border Collie.

For centuries, this breed of dog has been a tremendous help to shepherds. If a border collie approaches a field, and he sees sheep wandering around, he will naturally start circling the flock to bring them together.

I once met an owner of this breed who worked out an arrangement with a sheep farmer in her rural town. The farmer would let the owner’s dog come onto his property every few days; the animal could then run around the sheep and exercise his herding instinct.

In fact, if the Border Collie sees a group of toddlers in a playground, the dog will circle them as well and try to get them organized!

I’ve been thinking about these marvelous animals because today is the day in the church year known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Our Second Lesson is one of the passages in the Bible where Jesus describes himself as “the Good Shepherd.” The Good Shepherd knows his own sheep and cares for them and strives to bring others into his fold.

Christ notes that shepherds aren’t mere hired hands. Because shepherds own their flocks, they will go to any lengths to protect their sheep.

And this image Jesus gives of God as the divine caregiver is memorably seen in what is probably the best-known of all the 150 Psalms, Psalm 23. The 23rd Psalm begins, in the current Prayer Book translation:

“The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul

and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.”

Yet comforting though this psalm may be, it may not always be what we want to hear. After all, we modern people don’t think of ourselves as sheep. In reality, we would probably think of ourselves as more like cats!

If you have ever been acquainted with a housecat, you will know that they don’t like to be told what to do. They are very individualistic; they have their own minds.

That’s why the very idea of “herding cats” is a joke. These pets never see themselves as members of an organized group.

So the peaceful scene of well-trained Christian souls being led by still waters having their souls comforted by the divine presence—this scene has little relevance to most of us most of the time!

But let’s pause for a moment and try to look at our human situation from God’s point of view. Think of what God sees when he looks at us.

First of all, to be brutally honest: he sees a lot of two-legged animals! We modern people prize our independence. But in our pride, we forget that we are members of the animal kingdom. While humans are a different species from other animals, we share many traits with our four-legged friends.

We are subject to wild passions and lusts. We will push and pull and grab to get our own way. We will cling to our personal desires even when they make us miserable.

Yet we humans resent being classified as “animals”. Many Americans particularly resist the notion that they might be susceptible to what sociologists call, a “herd mentality.”

We hate to think of ourselves as blindly going along with the crowd, like lemmings following their pack over a cliff! No: we see ourselves as “special.”

In fact, the very word, “special” is symptomatic of our modern era. Because I’m special, I don’t want someone else to tell me what to do.

So from God’s point of view, we hardly look like ideal disciples! Even given God’s infinite patience, our rebellious nature must not be fun to contemplate!

Yet here’s an interesting twist: one of the most frustrating things about our disobedience from God’s point of view must be the way we resist God’s blessings. After all, God created us in the first place not to make us miserable but to make us happy!

In other words, God doesn’t look at us like a cowboy looks at a herd of cattle that he’s got to move from one field to another. The goal for God isn’t passive submission to divine commands.

Instead, he is looking for us to use our time on earth to learn and to grow and to flourish—to drink deeply from the streams of living water.

And as we attempt to use our freedom for God’s Kingdom, we will surely be “comforted” by the thought that the Good Shepherd is always watching over us. As another Psalm reminds us, the “God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”

Of course, we won’t be protected from every bad wind that blows across town. God isn’t a helicopter parent! Helicopter parents are obsessively protective of their child – they hover over them like helicopters.

God, though, doesn’t hover over us to tell us what child to play with on the playground; he lets us make our choices about who should be our friends.

In other words, God gives us a lot of freedom. And isn’t this where we began? Cats love to do exactly what they want—which is why they will snuggle up to you only if and when they feel like it! We humans like our freedom, too.

I know this has been a very philosophical sermon about what’s usually a sentimental theme, The Good Shepherd. But bear with me for another minute or two.

Think about this: we humans like being free. We want to be able to make our own mistakes. But that means that we need to learn to be happy.

If you have ever had a cat, you’ll know that on a fair day, he’ll look for a spot of sunlight and bask in the warmth, and then settle himself down for a nice nap. These animals naturally know how to take it easy; then enjoy being alive!

But we two-legged creatures need help enjoying life. We need to be pointed toward the green pastures where we can relax and rejoice and restore our souls.

We need a Good Shepherd to lead us beside the still waters. We need a Good Shepherd to teach us to be happy.


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