I was talking to my brother Jay the other evening and he was telling me about his flock of Kattadin sheep that he is raising on his farm in Virginia. There are 40 ewes (mother sheep)
in the flock and one "very busy" ram. Jay is now sure that all 40 of the ewes are pregnant, which is great! The only problem is that all 40 of the ewes will soon give birth to their baby
lambs within a period of just a couple of weeks. Lambing time can be a lot of work for a shepherd, and my brother is a bachelor farmer (not Norwegian!), so this means he will be very
busy with all of these new-borns.
For my brother's sake, I sure hope all the ewes are good mothers! However, if they are not, Jay said that he'll have a "milk-station" set up for the lambs to drink from in case "Mom"
is preoccupied or otherwise inattentive to her lamb's need to be nourished. For my brother, the "milk-station," a bucket complete with its own simulated teats, will provide a kind of
insurance policy for the vulnerable and hungry little lambs. Our ministries here at Elias may also be compared to my brother's very pregnant flock of sheep! Our ministries here at Elias
are also expanding in many and various ways. Some of the most visible ways in which we are growing may be scene and heard in the smiling faces, laughter and singing voices of the many
children who come to Elias during the week for the Creative Kids Academy program.
We're also beginning to see more visitors and children in church on Sunday mornings. Seeing the flock increase makes everyone glad–and this shepherd is especially grateful! But what
is most important is that new people find an abundance of good food when they come into this "sheep-fold" that is Elias Evangelical Lutheran Church. Are our pastures lush and green? Do
we offer a diversity of ministries where moms and dads, teens and little ones get fed? Are they well attended to?
When my brother begins to shepherd his new-born lambs, he will be watching carefully to make sure the ewes do all the right things that "Momma sheep" need to do. The most important
thing is that the lamb begins to take milk from its mother, and vice versa, that she recognize her own lamb(s) and make herself available to them. Usually this is instinctive, but
sometimes it takes the skillful hands of the shepherd to get the right lamb and its mother together. We must also watch our flock here at Elias and make sure that the new members become
incorporated into our community of faith. We don't want anyone to go unnoticed or unfed by the church's ministries.
Even though my brother works his sheep single-handedly, he has helpers. There are two large guard dogs (actually right now there just little pupies–but they'll eventually grow upto be
big dogs(!) that look like sheep) that live with the sheep and guard them from coyotes. And there's a third dog (soon to arrive) who will help Jay with the herding and moving of the
flock to greener pastures. Fortunately, we don't need "guard dogs" in the church (although some congregations have been known to have some!), but we do need all of us to watch and gently
guide the flock to be fed, nourished and taught the foundations of the faith. Mommies and Daddies need to demonstrate a good example for their young ones -- just like in the wild, the
little ones watch and listen and learn by what they see and hear. We all need to encourage and be gently with one another as the flock grows and moves along seeking the good grass and
ways to remain healthy.
It's a big job, but as we take the lead from Jesus, "that Mighty Shepherd of the Sheep," he will direct us to the green pastures and to the pure waters of his kingdom. During Lent,
let us all be careful listeners and watchers of Jesus. Remember that Jesus comes to us in many ways – sometimes in the person of a brother or sister, sometimes in the person of a
stranger – always by his Word, through the Sacraments and in our midst when we gather.
"Let us not grow weary of doing good" and not be afraid to go where he leads us to love others-- even as he loves us.
The peace of Christ be yours,
more writings of Pastor Jon