Imagine a flock of sheep grazing on a picturesque hillside under the watchful eye of a shepherd. The sheep are useful to the shepherd; they prevent overgrowth of vegetation, reproduce and grow the herd, and offer milk and wool. Each sheep is known by the shepherd, lovingly named, given its own unique call. (John 10:3-4)
Around the pasture runs a stone wall; in one spot, it has crumbled, leaving a gap. The shepherd, aware of the dangers beyond, had filled the opening with wooden pickets interwoven with fallen twigs and branches, even propped up a placard painted in brightly-colored dyes . . . all to clearly convey: Do. Not. Pass.
When an ewe approaches the breach, the shepherd cries out, “No! Stay here! Trust me!”
The sheep meets the shepherd’s gaze, quirks an eyebrow. She places a hoof on the barrier. “Don’t do it! You’ll be lost!” the shepherd warns again. She bleats belligerently, and scrambles over. (Isaiah 53:6)
Instantly, she is careening down, dashed over boulders, flung through thistles, choking on grit. The sunshine of the pasture is replaced by utter blackness. When she finally comes to a stop, she can’t distinguish sky from ground. Everything hurts. A terror she has never known settles over her.
She tries to struggle to her feet, but her injuries are far too great.
She tries to call for help but manages only a wheeze.
Her special, shepherd-given name has been shattered in her fall.
Now, she is Lost, Helpless, and Powerless.
Shame and despair join hands with terror, specters dancing around her.
“You’ve done this to yourself,” they taunt.
“You knew not to cross the breach, and you did it anyway.
You certainly can’t get back to the pasture.
You’ll never enjoy its abundance again.
You’ll never contribute to the growth of the flock, never share your milk or wool.
You’re Useless; you’re Hopeless.
You’re already dead.”
Her tears soaking into the bracken beneath her, she waits for the death in her spirit to overtake her body.
Suddenly, she hears her name. Not her death-names, but her true name. Her shepherd-name.
She opens her eyes . . . and there he is.
Her shepherd, emanating light into the darkness, crouching before her. (John 8:12)
His body is more broken and bloodied than hers, yet he lives. (Luke 24:1-8)
Gentle as a whisper, he gathers her to his chest.
“Sweet lamb,” he murmurs, “I’ve made a way back. Do you want to come home?”
Friends, this shepherd is Jesus, our Good Shepherd.
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11)
And this sheep?
Her name is mine, which means strength.
Her name is yours, which means ____________.
Her name is Philemon, which means loving.
Her name is Paul, which means humble.
Her name is Onesimus, which means useful.
Well-versed in the oratorical practices of his time, in today’s passage, Paul purposefully uses the meaning of Onesimus’ name (Philemon 1:11) to describe the transformation believers in Christ undergo when we are rescued and redeemed by Jesus.
Like the sheep in our story, we have all chosen to abandon our Shepherd and pursue our own way, leading to death.
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked[.]” (Ephesians 2:1)
Lost in our sin
like the sheep in our story,
like Onesimus before he met Jesus,
we are Useless. Powerless. Helpless and Hopeless. (Titus 1:15-16)
But not worthless.
For our Good Shepherd’s love is unbroken.
So He pursued us, bore the eternal consequence of our sins, and defeated sin and death, rising back to life. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us–not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy–through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit [. . .] I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone.” (Titus 3:4-8)
When our identities are renewed and regenerated through God’s loving mercy, we are transformed from useless to useful. God calls us to actively live out our faith through good works, works that bless and grow the body of believers *and* serve as living proclamation of the good news of the Gospel.
Sisters, in closing, I leave us with 2 action steps.
Redeemed and commissioned, we are transformed into useful sheep of His flock!
We will demonstrate our faith through our works . . . our faith is active together with our works, and by works, our faith is made complete. (James 2:18, 22, paraphrased)
Philemon Day 9
But Christ has a different goal. His goal is for the truth of the Gospel to move forward and build His kingdom. Christ redeems, renews, and rebirths.
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