Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Do you know why humans are like sheep? Because we can be completely stupid at times.
Once I spent a week on a 330 000 acre property that ran ten thousand sheep, and I learnt a healthy contempt for how stupid sheep are. Why when God talks about separating the sheep from the goats did he not throw the sheep away and keep the goats? They are smarter, they are smarter in yards, they eat all the rubbish and weeds and leave the nice grass until last, they aren’t stupid enough to fall into places that they can’t get out of as often as sheep will.
Goats will survive in places where sheep will do their very best to die, and in my opinion, they taste just as good, too. The most widely eaten meat in the world. Now, those goats that we were chasing on the property always seemed to know where they were going. Maybe it was because they had lived amongst those hills all their lives, but they knew where the water was, and when it rained, they would disappear, because they knew that they could find water anywhere. They knew when it was safe to wander off, and when it was not.
When it was dry, their instinct or memory for finding the water was amazing, and they would travel kilometres each day to get there.
Sheep, I am told, do not have such a keen homing instinct. If goats get lost, if they get out, they might be miles away, and can cover a lot of ground. Sheep don’t wander so far away thank goodness, and will be somewhere reasonably close to home, because we know they would never find their way back.
Why are we like sheep, because we will blindly follow the crowd even into danger. I am told if a lead sheep accidentally goes over a cliff, the rest will too. I don’t know if I want to believe it. Surely they can’t be that stupid. Can they? I suppose I should believe it, because humans can.
We will blindly go over a cliff because everyone else does. Human beings drink themselves into oblivion and then get behind the wheel of lethal weapons, killing themselves and others, because the lead sheep think it’s cool, even though we know it is stupid.
We all do these things. We know we have such a high rate of violence, crime and murder, yet we let our children watch television filled with some of the highest rates of violence in the world, and we wonder where they get these violent feelings from? The rest of the sheep do it, it must be alright. We can’t tell the right way from the wrong, and even if we can, we are not strong enough to follow it if others are going the other way. We have no sense of direction.
Why are we like sheep? Well the range of hills that we hunted on my trip was pretty big, I thought, with gullies running in all directions, cliffs and slopes and bluffs, and it all looked pretty similar.
I left the 4wd one day and walked along a fence-line “over the hills and far away” until I saw some white specks on a hillside, goats. Then I went right around them, over the backs of two other hills so they wouldn’t see me, and managed to get downwind and harvest a small nanny with the bow. The leg actually roasted up superbly. Then I had no idea where I was. Luckily, we had borrowed a GPS, and it pointed me straight back to the vehicle, and I was home and in a hot shower.
The next day we went back out, and after walking along a gully and up a hill about 500 metres away from where we parked the 4wd that day, one of my hunting partners informed me that he had just seen the nanny I shot the day before. “Impossible”, I snorted. She was way up the back of the ranges, kilometres away over the roughest country in these hills.
“Well, I saw the photos, it’s your nanny”. It can’t be. Hang on, this country does look familiar. But this can’t be the place, I can see the track from here… Oh no. The day before I had walked for miles parallel to the road over the hardest hills and sharpest rocks. In fact I had destroyed one pair of boots in the process. Not a very strong homing instinct, was it?
Now I am still saving for a GPS for myself, as I very obviously need one, for when I wander away.
But in the time before GPS’s were invented, how did a sheep find it’s way to water, to pasture? When it wandered, it was lost. It could wander around never knowing what was out there, either.
And don’t we wander? Sheep back then didn’t leave their shepherd intentionally. They might put their head down to feed, see a tuft of greener grass, run to it, then to the next one, and the next one, and before they knew it, the others had moved on, they were out of sight of the herd, and lost.
In the same way, I don’t come across too many people who have said “I don’t believe in the faith I once had. I renounce it as a load of rubbish and I am going looking for some other way to live my life.” Instead for most of us it is a gradual slide, a step away after some sort of pleasure, a missed communication here, a Sunday in bed there, a forgetting to pray, while still thinking we are okay, and before we know it, we are out of sight, our faith is out of our mind, and we are lost, too.
We don’t have a built-in GPS. Maybe there is another more useful tool that we need form the modern-day shepherd.
While on the property we were given a hand-held UHF radio, to get back in touch with the base in case there was a major problem. Snakebite, breakdown, broken bone, etc. God has given us such lifelines in our faith, some things to keep building us up in our relationship with the shepherd.
They are prayer, to make that urgent call to the boss for help, and his word, that helps us to lift up our heads and keep our eyes on him, and other Christians, sheep who know the right way for us to go, so we can follow the right crowd. He feeds us with Holy Communion, and gives us to drink in the waters of our baptism, in which we find life-giving water in whatever rocky country we might find ourselves.
We need all this, because like sheep, we have no homing instinct. Once we are gone, we cannot find our way home. We don’t want to. We so quickly forget that there ever was a home, and we are happy to slowly die in the desert. We need to let him, the good shepherd, lead us home. Take us home. To his Father’s house, the place we don’t know the way to, but he does, our home in heaven.
The Lord is my shepherd, my GPS, my UHF, my life support. There is nothing I shall want.