Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
I have struggled with some religious issues throughout the past year. As I talked to my priest about a few of them (over and over, in different words every time, but ultimately about the same things), he suggested that I google "spiritual abuse". I thought that was harsh, but as I did, I realize that I have had some of those abuses happen to me. Without delving to much into the specifics, but staying with the general ideas, here is an excellent article.
Today in church, the scripture (above) in Jeremiah was read, as was Psalm 23, and Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.
David, our Postulant, gave the sermon. He said that as he read these scriptures, he saw that Psalms gave the example of a good shepherd, Jeremiah, a bad shepherd, and Mark, people without a shepherd.
He said that he had always thought that a bad shepherd would be no worse than no shepherd at all, but as he read the scripture in Jeremiah in preparation to the sermon, he realized that a bad shepherd can do a lot of harm.
I don't think that a shepherd sets out to "destroy and scatter the sheep of [God's] pasture". I think that it happens when we forget that the highest law is this:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
I firmly believe that once someone feels loved and valued by God, just by their very existence, they will want to do good and be better people. You cannot be filled with God's love without it exuding from you, it's just the way the fruit of the Spirit works.
There is one thought that I hear over and over and over and over in the Episcopal Church that I love: God love you just as you are.
Bishop-elect Michael Curry said this in his sermon at the Episcopal Convention regarding the theme, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."
"Max Lucado who’s a Christian writer says 'God loves you just the way you are, but he [doesn’t intend] to leave you that way.'"
"We are all different. Some of us are black, and some of us are white, some of us are brown, but I like that old song that says, 'Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.' I don't care who you are, how the Lord has made you, what the world has to say about you, if you have been baptized into Jesus, you are in the Jesus Movement, and you're God's. And therein may be the gospel message of hope for the world.
There is plenty of good room for all of God's children. For in the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me; as he died to make men holy, let us live to set all free, while God is marching on. Glory, glory hallelujah God's truth is marching on. Now, go!"
We are all responsible to be our brother's keeper. We all have the power to "destroy and scatter" God's sheep. We can each take a look at the spiritual abuse article to see if we are doing anything that may be harming someone's relationship with God (as far as the church can, anyway). Then we need to stop it.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf is one of my favorite religious leaders of our time. He reminded us to "Stop it." And he also reminded us of this great gem of advice:
"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." ~ Pema Chodron
We need to deal kindly and compassionately with our fellow travelers. After all, it is what God has told us to do.