|FPC PC(USA) Starkville, MS||
|FPC PC(USA) Starkville, MS||
For some reason—perhaps it is coincidental to this being the weekend leading up to Mother’s Day—My Mom loved, mainly because she loved my Dad, and at 92 still watches Gunsmoke. Perhaps in honor of her, but probably because as I get older I become more like my Dad and Mom (It happens!), I’ve become a fan of some of those ‘Westerns’ that Mom and Dad loved. As I worked on the sermon for this Sunday (May 3rd) I‘ve caught myself tuning in to “The Big Country” and “Nevada Smith”. (Lonesome Dove is still my favorite!) In between the soaring musical themes and sweeping vistas of the West...As I studied about a ‘good Shepherd’...not on cowboy heroes...it gave me a chance to think about the difference.
Behold a hero of the West: The Cowboy.
He rears his horse to a stop on the rim of the canyon. He shifts his weight in his saddle, weary from the cattle trail. One finger pushes his hat up on his head. One jerk of the kerchief reveals a sun-leathered face. A thousand head of cattle pass behind him. A thousand miles of trail lie before him. A thousand women would love to hold him. But none do. None will. He lives to drive cattle, and he drives cattle to live. He is honest in poker and quick with a gun. Hard-riding; slow-talking. His best friend is his horse, and his strength is his grit. He needs no one. He is a cowboy—our hero!
Behold a hero in the Bible: The Shepherd.
On the surface he appears similar to the cowboy. He, too, is rugged. He sleeps where the jackals howl and works where the wolves prowl. Never off duty. Always alert. Like the cowboy, he makes his roof the stars and the pasture his home.
But that is where the similarities end.
The shepherd loves his sheep. It’s not that the cowboy doesn’t appreciate the cow; it’s just that he doesn’t know the animal. He doesn’t even want to. Have you ever seen a picture of a cowboy caressing a cow? Have you ever seen a shepherd caring for a sheep? Why the differences?
1-The cowboy drives (wrestles, brands, herds, and ropes) the cattle. The shepherd leads (guides, feeds, and anoints) the sheep. This alone would be enough for most of us to say, “Give me a shepherd!” But it is strange when the church buys into ‘cowboy models’ of leadership and even organization. I knew of an extremely popular and what we would call ‘growing’ church that ‘fired’ their small group minister, because he had not “rounded up” enough small group participants and leaders! Jesus would have failed as a ‘cowboy’ because he started out with thousands and ended up with a handful of scared sheep in the upper room! I won’t even go down the ‘branding’ issue lane: Can you say Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, etc.
2-The cowboy knows the name of the other cowboys. The shepherd knows the name of the sheep. A herd has dozens of cowboys. A flock has one shepherd. The cowboy whoops and hollers at the cows. The shepherd calls each sheep by name.
3-The cowboy leads the cattle to slaughter. The shepherd leads the sheep to be shorn. (And the shepherd himself is “led like a sheep to the slaughter” for His sheep!
This is so rooted in our theological understanding of who our Good Shepherd is and what He offers us in the way of life. Perhaps it is a bit strong to say the cowboy leads the cattle to slaughter. Most of the images we have of cowboys on the ‘cattle drive’ give little indication of where the cattle are going to end up—see stockyards of Fort Worth or Chicago for the final destination. Suffice it to say, they treat the animals differently. Jesus solves the way of how each ‘sheep’ will be viewed, not as some weak or lost and others healthy and worth saving, by telling us stories of the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost one while the 99 are safe. We are not a product to be sold, but a people for whom Christ died! This point might help us in how we care for and treat each other; how we approach those ‘outside the gate’.
Aren’t we glad Christ didn’t call himself the Good Cowboy? But some do perceive God that way. A hard-faced, square-jawed ranch-hand from heaven who drives his church against its will to places it doesn’t want to go. But that’s a false image. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and lays down his life for them. The Shepherd who protects, provides, and ‘keeps’ his sheep.