September 14, 2019
Playing It Safe
by John Crabtree
Clergy of First UMC Mountain City-Trade (Mountain City, TN)
Three Rivers District
Safety is a topic of major concern for everyone. Our news daily brings dangers, disasters, and tragedies from all across the globe right into our living rooms, or even into our very pockets if our cell phones are set for breaking news notifications. Politicians and pundits gleefully point out these dangers and promise safety and protection if we’ll only do as they say. We worry about our loved ones, ourselves, and what the future might bring. It’s no wonder that everyone seems to be filled with anxiety and stress.
This anxiety is why the imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd resonates so strongly with us. The image of Jesus as a nurturer and protector is very comforting. In a world of uncertainty, it’s good to know that someone is looking after us. Wolves are prowling and storms are blowing, but our Shepherd won’t run off and abandon us to our fates. God is with us.
Is it our calling to only remain safe in the fold? Did we as Holston not covenant to love with “risk-taking love”? How then do we reconcile these ideas?
First, we should note that as followers of the Crucified One, physical safety and earthly protection are not our top priorities. As we follow our call to love our neighbors and make disciples, we are going to have to step out into uncertainty and sometimes danger. Granted, for most of us, the greatest danger that we will face is people looking at us funny when we talk about Jesus, but that can be a terrifying hurdle for many Christians.
Secondly, we should pay closer attention to what Jesus said in this passage. He is the one who “lays down his life for the sheep (v.15).” We should also be willing to lay down our lives if needed, knowing that this world cannot kill us in any way that truly matters. Again, most of us won’t be called to make that full sacrifice, but we are constantly called to make smaller ones. Listening when we want to speak. Not insisting on having our own way. Working quietly and faithfully even when we don’t get the recognition we feel we deserve. These small ego sacrifices, while difficult, are both good for us and good for the Kingdom of God.
So then are we cast out forever from the safety of the fold? No, never! There are many times when the stresses, the sacrifices, the anxiety, and yes, the dangers send us running back into Jesus’ comforting presence. We gather as the community of faith to heal and be healed, to rest and recover, to nurture others and be nurtured ourselves. As Jesus put it, “bear one another’s burdens.” We rest in the safety of the flock, then follow our Shepherd out into the wide, wide world. Knowing then, as always, God is with us.