Faces on Faith: Even pastors need shepherds
I’ve been thinking about this coming Sunday, which is sometimes called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The name comes from the scripture readings assigned to the day, which are drawn from the Gospel of John, and the passages where Jesus uses the metaphor of shepherds and sheep to discuss his own ministry.
Back in the ’90s I served a church in River Edge, New Jersey. The congregation was over 150 years old, but their building was constructed during the heyday of suburban Protestant churches in the ’50s. When the new church building was erected, the leaders of the congregation made sure that a beautiful stained glass window that had been the focal point of the old building was removed intact and reinstalled in the parlor of the new church. It was positioned in such a way as to take full advantage of natural back lighting and was really quite exquisite.
The window, which is about 5 or 6 feet high, shows a representation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He has a shepherd’s crook and there are two or three sheep gathered around him. In his arms, he is carrying a lamb. For many people in that congregation, the window was not only a link to the past, but also a source of real spiritual comfort. It was also a comfort to me. On many occasions, in the midst of a busy day, I would take a few minutes to go and sit in the parlor and simply gaze at the image, often offering up a few words of silent prayer, asking for guidance, for strength, for whatever I needed that day to undertake my work as the pastor, as the shepherd, of my own little flock. Indeed, we preachers are often spoken of as shepherds, in fact the title “pastor” comes from the Old French meaning “shepherd.”
Yet the truth is Barbara Essex is probably right when she notes, “It is more helpful for preachers and pastors to think of themselves as sheep among sheep – all in need of the new life and community offered because of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.” (Feasting on the Word, B:3:453)
Sitting there in that quiet space, soaking up the multi-colored sunlight streaming through that window and saying my prayers, wasn’t so much about my being a shepherd as it was about my being a sheep. A sheep in need of all that the shepherd had to offer.
The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner is the senior pastor at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ.