I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10:11 (NRSV)
Have you ever thought about the parable of the Good Shepherd and wondered about its implied values? The Good Shepherd is good because he is willing to die for his sheep. This raises practical questions: for example, what happens to the sheep after the shepherd dies? Another good shepherd comes along to die when necessary, too?
Then there are questions of the value of sheep lives. Are they really worth more than the life of the good shepherd, or worth enough to justify this sacrifice?
We understand, of course, that the parable isn’t about literal sheep or a literal shepherd. It’s an unpacking of God’s perfect love toward imperfect us. The Good Shepherd is good because he sees his smelly, stupid, unpredictable sheep and responds with self-giving love. This is good news for all of us.
Something about the convergence of the main storylines of the past year makes me particularly grateful for the way Jesus loves you and me today. The jury handed down a verdict in the case of George Floyd’s murder, and while that can’t bring George back or save him from the ordeal he suffered, the verdict brings some long-denied justice to the all-too-common police killings of racial and ethnic minorities in America, particularly Black people. It’s also justice that only came because one 17-year-old shared a video of the encounter that contradicted to official report made by the officers after Floyd’s death, a chilling reminder that this could have all played out very differently.
The conclusion of the trial also comes as we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel in our struggle against COVID-19, but that light too comes as most of us can’t even look back and agree about what we’ve lived through. As the think-pieces on how to return to “normal” keep coming, 1 in 3 Americans have mourned the death of a close friend or family member due to COVID-19, even as cases keep increasing in parts of the country. 1 in 3 people who recover from COVID experience severe, long-lasting consequences from the disease from scarred lungs to poorly understood psychiatric side effects. 8 million fewer people are working today than in February 2020. I could share sad statistics all day.
There is pain layered on pain all around us, and we, naturally, are choosing denial. Those of us who lived through this without the prolonged suffering of illness ourselves or the raw pain of reopened wounds of racism in everything from healthcare and policing to who is an “essential” worker are able to avoid looking back over our shoulders at what we went through, pretending the months ahead will only be a boom of optimism. Don’t forget, however, that denial is only the first stage of grief. There is much more to come.
Yet Jesus is the Good Shepherd still. He lays down his life for we sheep, we who are undeserving, prone to wander, ungrateful, and unable to change. Please, if you’ve read this far, take a moment to check in with yourself. We have all, ALL, endured differing levels of trauma this year. The pandemic killed millions, made tens of millions sick, kept kids home, isolated seniors, and exacerbated social inequities in our world. It’s also not over yet. As we wander around seeking greener pastures on our own, Jesus is still calling to us to remain in the fold, to remain connected, and to remain faithful.
Keep the Faith,
Family Promise Food Donations Needed
Last week, Family Promise put out a notice that they needed food ASAP. Clinton UMC and Flemington Presbyterian both filled the need at that time. Our turn could be this week or soon thereafter too. Are you able to provide food items from a list Family Promise shares? If so, please let Walter or Pastor Ben know.
Did you know that Flemington UMC has worked to welcome a preschool in the lower level of the building? There has been extensive work to prepare the space for all the necessary inspections and approvals required to have the space licensed for children to attend. Beginning two years ago with the Trustees and continuing this year in the combined Leadership Council, there have been issues to address from stubborn moisture, heating/cooling, leaks, and more. This week, one of the most stubborn issues involving plumbing, took a promising turn when blockages like flushable (or non-flushable) wipes were discovered in the waste pipe.
Serving on the Leadership Council of FUMC gives you a front-seat view of all the different ways we as a church seek to share the light of Christ with our community. If you would like to learn more or find out how you can share your gifts too, please respond to this message.
Continuing Coffee Hour Over Zoom – Time Change!
Laura Newton will host a weekly time of conversation and connection at 11:45 am after our worship service each week. Login is available at 11:30 am or conclusion of worship, whichever is later.
Here is a link to that time –
If you have questions or need help, you can ask Pastor Ben or Laura. Don’t be shy, you are missed and a part of this church family, too!
New Upper Rooms are Available in the Church Office
The new Upper Room Daily Devotionals are also available now. If you’d like to pick yours up, Gretchen is in the church office from 9am-noon Tuesday – Friday each week. Please call ahead so she can set whatever you are picking up out for you.
You will find every newsletter, worship service, devotional, and additional material posted on our Facebook page:
Even if you don’t use Facebook, you can access everything we have there. If you do have a Facebook account, “like” to follow our page and be notified when new things are posted or when videos are about to go live so you don’t miss anything.
Coffee Hour is a time of sharing after Sunday morning worship hosted by Laura Newton at approximately 11:30 am. All are welcome!
If you have any difficulties accessing any of those links, please reply to this message or call the church office at (908)782-1070 and we will get you connected right away.