The story of Dolly Parton’s life has captured the admiration of people all over the world. She has risen from humble roots to become a wealthy super star who has money and fame. Many of us who are poor and ordinary not only admire Dolly we may wish that we might get lucky and also become rich and famous like her.
But do we really want to be rich and famous? We have all seen that money and fame bring their own set of problems. We have seen countless rich and famous people die young from drug and alcohol abuse. We have seen adoring fans quickly disappear as the next rising star comes along. I am a fan of Dolly but I do not envy her fame and fortune.
In fact I want to be a shepherd rather than a country music super start. I know you think this is pretty crazy especially when you think of what it is like to be a shepherd. Spending a lot of time with dirty, smelly sheep whose odor permeates his clothes doesn’t exactly make the shepherd welcome to other people when he comes to the market place to buy food and supplies. He is going to see lots of people move away from him and give him looks of disdain and disapproval. Kind of reminds me of how the kids from town could smell the kid from the farm because the smell of manure clung to his clothes. Aside from the smell is the skill level involved in watching over the flock. It probably took about a day of on the job training to show the new recruit where the water hole and the pasture were. A staff and a sling to throw rocks in case a wild animal tried to attack the sheep pretty much completed the training and then you were on your own to figure out how to deal with the monotony of watching a flock of sheep graze and chew their cud.
Why would I want to be a shepherd? Why would you want to be a shepherd? Because while they were watching over their flocks by night “Suddenly the glory of the Lord shone around them.”. So many questions come to my mind as I imagine that moment. Why did God send His angels to reveal His glory to these shepherds? Surely there were so many others more rich and famous and important than the shepherds. Surely it should have been the king or the governor or some military hero who would have been more worthy of having God’s glory revealed to him. And that makes me think that this is precisely the point. This is not about worth. It’s about grace. It’s a gift. And if its about grace the way you make that message clear is that you start with the lowest of the low. If this message is for all people then you start at the bottom not the top. In fact the lowest of the low are the people who understand grace more than the high and mighty who mistakenly believe they don’t need grace because they have fame and riches.
I think of this every time I sit with a patient in the hospital and the patient ponders the meaning of his/her cancer diagnosis. What did I do to deserve this is a question frequently asked? It’s a question that sounds like why is God mad at me? Why is He punishing me?
Contrast these questions with the words of the angels who said God is not mad at you. He is not punishing you. He is at peace with you. In fact this is the sign that He isn’t mad. You will find a baby wrapped in rags lying in a manger. You see there is no place so dark or dirty or smelly or dangerous or vulnerable than a baby in a manger. So you can be a patient receiving chemo and your hair falls out and you smell and you hardly recognize yourself in the mirror and you can find out that God is not absent He is present. He is there wrapping His arms around you to help you get through. All you need is someone to be a shepherd to tell you this news.
I want to be a shepherd so I can sit with a patient in a hospital room and share the glory of the Lord with that patient. I hope you want to be a shepherd too. Do you have a friend in a nursing home who is ashamed of how they smell because they have trouble controlling their bowels? Do you have a friend who feels worthless now that he can no longer hold a position of responsibility? Do you have a friend that feels changing her baby’s diaper and wiping the snot off his face is demeaning and unimportant? Do you have a friend whose life has been so disrupted by COVID-19 that they despair if they can survive it and recover from it? Then you can be their shepherd to let them know that in the dark and smelly and scary place where they are you have the glory of the Lord to share with them.