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Hoisted onto divine shoulders1 month ago
Anne Roberts reflects on Jesus' parable of the lost sheep and talks about God's resolute love for her own father after a moment that set his face against God, until the Good Shepherd found him.
I am writing this Blog, sitting in the garden on a blue sky sunny day. The birds are singing, there is the sound of children playing in the paddling pool next door and the bees are busy in the lavender plants. On the surface all seems perfect, yet in the background I can hear the siren of yet another ambulance racing to the near-by hospital.
Scratch the surface even a tiny bit, and you find anxiety and fear close by. These are dangerous times, uncertain times, unimaginable times for our nation and for our world. All of us are affected, yes, some more than others, but all of us are trying to navigate unchartered waters. It is scary.
Back in 1944, on the 6th June, on his 18th birthday, my Dad Tom, found himself on a landing craft approaching Omaha Beach for the D-Day landings. What he, and thousands of others saw and experienced was beyond imagining. They were dangerous times, uncertain times, saturated with anxiety and fear. Tom survived physically, but he was never the same. For the next 70 years he carried a deep-seated anger; he was angry with the world and with God (if there was one). The mental anguish of wartime and the years beyond skewed his perspective on life and gave him a short fuse. He did his own thing, made up his own rules, and looked our for Number 1, as that is how you survived.
As a small child I had a picture on my bedroom wall of Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying a small, white, fluffy lamb on his shoulder. I had coloured it in very carefully. The text was Luke 15: 4 – 7
"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
It took me half a century to work out that I should have coloured the lamb differently. I should have made it messy and covered in briars. And if I picture it like that, I can see my Dad. Despite him having ignored God for more than 80 years, Jesus the Good Shepherd went after Tom, to carry him safely home. He left the 99 and went to scoop up Tom and show him a different reality. Why? Because he had died for Tom and he was going to make sure that he knew about it.
Tom developed vascular dementia in his 80s and it progressed rapidly. His view of the world radically changed, and amazingly he became a funny, generous and sociable old man.
He forgot to be angry. He also forgot that he didn’t do God. One day he told me that he belonged to the Salvation Army. Well, I wasn’t going to tell him that he didn’t! So I started to take him along, and the Carlisle Salvation Army Corps were so welcoming, kind and patient. They simply oozed the love of God and Tom was drawn to it and wanted to share in it. He started to worship and to pray and God met with him. He forgot the awful things, stopped picking at the scars and found a peace. On his last day he was at the Songs of Praise gathering, conducting the band (in a fashion!) from his wheelchair and singing “when the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there”. And later that evening he was, and he met with the Good Shepherd face to face.
It took a long time for Tom to find that peace. And it was at God’s initiative. The Holy Spirit began to testify to him in ways that we will never really understand. The tiny seeds of faith that had been dropped into Tom’s life when he was young were watered by the Spirit. The Salvation Army band had played on the bandstand in the park and they had been kind to an infant Tom and his siblings. The Salvation Army had met the landing craft as it returned to base, and gave out hot tea and money for a train ticket home. Those seeds began to take root and grow and lead to something beautiful, in God’s time.
In this current pandemic, people will be changed. Many will discover what really matters to them. In their anxiety, some will pray and find God like never before. Some will turn their backs on God and walk away. Some will be simply overwhelmed. God will not lose sight of a single one. In His time, and in His way, perhaps through the church, but more often through unseen ways, the Holy Spirit will chase after them, calling them by name and offering to carry them.
My prayer is that each person would in time, in God’s time, hear His voice and allow themselves to be hoisted up onto divine shoulders, and from that new perspective see the world as He does, and so travel on together.