Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.
James Rebank is Twitter’s most popular shepherd. He lives in the Lake District of England in Matterdale. His story is fascinating. Oxford educated and now an accomplished author, Rebank gives insight in the life of a real shepherd in a modern world. Helen MacDonald writes about Rebank’s book The Shepherd’s Life, “It’s not a romantic retreat to a blurred, vague, green, imagined nature. Working with livestock is real and unsparing and beautiful and hard. It’s a book full of mud and blood and groundedness and community.”
I have no idea what it meansto be a shepherd, but Rebank gives me some insight I never would have imagined. No longer is the shepherd this type of artificial, nostalgic carved wooden figure in my nativity or some awe-struck, wage earner of the first century staring in the sky as angels sing. The are real and gritty…and teach some lessons we all should learn.
Shepherds are KEEPERS. They keep watch over their flock. They keep the flock fed. The keep the flock from danger. They keep them bound together. Psalm 121 says, “The Lord is your keeper.” In Hebrew, the word can mean “to have charge of, to guard, or to protect.”
On Thanksgiving, all I could think of were the shepherd “keepers” of my life. In addition to God the Shepherd Keeper, I thought of my “mema”, my mother in law, and other people in my life who have ‘kept’ me connected to my family, my faith, my friendships, and my responsibilities. They have had ‘charge over me’. They ‘guarded’ me. They ‘protected’ me.
I am not one who naturally longs to be ‘kept’ by anyone, but I find that this characteristic of God is vital in our spiritual lives. With all the “mud and blood and groundedness and community”, I find that havinga ‘keeper’ in my life is vitally important to my well-being.