Rita Argus (Denver, CO)

Warm-up Question

  • What signs of spring have you noticed this week?

The Good Shepherd

I love going for hikes, especially in the springtime. Even before I moved to Denver, I would go for long walks in nature and soak in God’s creation. There was just something about the budding of trees, the smell of the soil, the rustling of birds or squirrels, and the warmth of the sunshine that would calm my brain and ground me in the moment.

On one particular hiking adventure, the trail led us through a valley dotted with yellows, oranges, pinks, and whites of wildflowers. A slow trickling stream crisscrossed over the path before flowing into a pond deeper in the valley. The trail worked its way up so that we were overlooking the pond and there hanging out in the pond were two grown moose and their small calf. Since we were at a safe distance from them, we took the opportunity to watch them as they waded through the water and grazed on the vegetation. As I took a deep breath, that place felt just as holy as a sanctuary.

With all of the notifications and texts and new stories and deadlines and to-do lists and everything else this busy life throws at us, I find it is so important to take these moments to be in God’s creation and to stop and breathe. These moments not only help me to reconnect with God and fill my spiritual cup, but they also help my mental health and physical well-being.

This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday. While we might think of a shepherd as someone who keeps us out of danger, a good shepherd also leads their flock to places where they can slow down and rest on their journey. So, let’s lean into the calling of our Good Shepherd to slow down and rest a bit this week.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you care for your mental health, physical well-being, and spirituality?
  • Where are places outside of the church building that you find holy?
  • What are ways that you reconnect with God?

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:5-12

Psalm 23

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings .)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

 Jesus often uses metaphors, like being a good shepherd, in the Gospel texts. Sometimes those metaphors can be really unfamiliar to our lives today. Even as a person who grew up on a hobby farm in southern Wisconsin, we didn’t shepherd our animals in the way that Jesus’ original audience did. We had the luxury of good pasture land for them to graze on and the protection of a barn in the evenings. But, we did have one trick up our sleeves: our llama named Becky.

Besides being a fun addition to the barn, Becky also protected our herd. I know, it feels funny to think of a llama as a shepherd of sorts, but llamas develop a deep connection and love for their herd. Llamas see it as their job to protect the herd from any outside threats. If you were to walk into the barn, Becky would immediately lean her long neck over the fence, get right into your face, and smell your breath to determine if she knew you. If she knew you, she would go about her business of eating and watching out for the herd. But, if she didn’t know you, then her intense stare and concentration would be glued to you as she watched your every move and ensured you were not up to any shenanigans. And what would happen if she didn’t like what you were doing? Yep, you probably guessed it: she would spit on you. Yuck.

Gross llama spit aside, Becky’s role was so important in bringing a sense of security to our herd of goats. In the springtime, the mama goats would often be down in the pasture, carefree and grazing to their hearts’ content while Becky would be settled down closer to the barn with all of the little goat kids jumping all around and over her. The mama goats trusted fully that their little ones would be ok with “Auntie Becky.”

While reading this week’s Gospel text, I found myself reflecting on this trust that the goats had for our shepherd llama. One line stood out especially: “I know my own and my own know me.” While I wish this journey of faith was that straightforward, there have been times when I felt like I didn’t know God or what God wanted of me. Times when I feared or had doubt and I cried out to Jesus and was met with silence (or I didn’t recognize or missed hearing him).  Times when I have been so focused and worried about the barrier in front of me that I didn’t notice the Holy Spirit reaching out a helping hand.

 Maybe in all of this, I am trying too hard to be a “good sheep” when really what Jesus is saying is more simple, and therefore, radical. Maybe Jesus is saying, “You belong. You really do! I know you and you are mine. I am here for you. Period”. Because here is the thing, even out here in the wilderness where we roam, Jesus is here with us. Jesus accompanies us, laughing at our joys, crying at our sorrows, listening to our frustrations, and every other moment in between because we are called and claimed children (sheep!) of God who belong and matter more than we can even imagine.

Discussion Questions

  • Imagine a modern example of a good shepherd and describe it.
  • What are ways that Jesus has shepherded you in your life of faith?
  • What does belonging mean to you?

Activity Suggestions

  • Write phrases that remind you that you are belong on sticky notes to hang up in your room or bathroom mirror to remind you of God’s love and presence in your life.
  • Take time to journal or create art around a modern example of a good shepherd that you have  encountered in your life of faith.

Closing Prayer

Good and gracious shepherd of the sheep, you seek the lost and guide us in your ways. Fill our hearts with your love and help us to know you are deeply as you know us. We pray this in the name of the one who creates, redeems, and sustains us, now and forever. Amen.