Building Bridges: Pens and Pastures

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Vicar Kyle Seibert of Zion Lutheran Church

Many churches around the world follow the same lectionary, or schedule of appointed readings on a three year cycle. So even though millions of Christians around the world gather to worship in different languages, in different countries, and are part of different denominations, many are united in their common use of the scripture texts which form and shape the community. This past Sunday, Christians gathered around a series of texts that used lots of imagery of sheep and shepherds, and which describe God as a shepherd. I was deeply drawn to the imagery that Jesus uses in John 10:10.

In this passage, Jesus talks about sheep being held in a sheepfold, a fancy name for a pen that keeps the sheep in. Sheepfolds kept the sheep close to the home so that the owner might be able to keep an eye and an ear out for any wolves or thieves that might try to steal the sheep in the night. So while the sheepfold was intended to keep sheep safe, that safety came at a cost: cramped quarters, muddy ground, and poor nourishment.

Then, however, Jesus calls himself the gate by which the shepherd calls the sheep through and out of the sheepfold. So while the sheepfold kept the sheep safe, it was not a full life. Instead, the sheep had to leave the safety of the sheepfold to go to pasture. For the sheep, the pasture was where life could be found. There would have been streams for the sheep to drink from and green pastures to feast upon. It was out in the pasture that the sheep truly had life.

Often, our own lives are patterned like that of the sheep. Perhaps it is safe and familiar in our own sheepfolds of the monotonous routines of daily life, but we crave more. True life can be found in the pastures of our lives. It is in the pastures that we are really and truly nourished, that we are free to be ourselves and to grow. And yet, these spaces also require some risk and breaking of the monotony of our everyday sheepfold lives. So perhaps there is an invitation wrapped up in all this talk of sheep, sheepfolds, shepherds, gates, and pastures. As the seasons change and new life springs forth from the ground, we are invited to new ventures and to new pastures, that we may have lifeā€”and have it abundantly.