Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
What I read into these words is that Jesus could see plenty of potential, (the harvest), in the people in the crowds, but he saw that they were lost, and they needed guidance in order to fulfil their potential. This is what he asks his disciples to help him with. Now of course the people or the sheep in the reading were lost in the spiritual sense of the word and needed guidance from a shepherd to help them find their way, to believe and have faith in God.
And I am interested in what we do when we feel lost or “harassed and helpless” to quote the reading. Who do we turn to? What do we do? Who or what is our shepherd, so to speak?
I’ll let you into a secret about myself: I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever. I still have my satnav on when driving to Aldeburgh… and that is after four years of driving to Aldeburgh. But my satnav gives me comfort, reassurance and good direction, just like a shepherd, so I always know that with it turned on, I will reach my destination. And I guess my need for a satnav exists in many areas of my life, and not just my driving from A to B.
When I have experienced upset or turmoil in my life, I have never tried to get through it on my own. Whether I have found shepherds or whether they have found me is hard to know, but in my time of need, I have been able to draw on the wisdom, guidance and experience of others, to help me find my way. Talking things through is amazingly therapeutic and often helps me to work out what to do.
At the moment, I am preparing myself for the emotional upheaval of my oldest child going to university for the first time. I am surrounded in chapel by parents who have also gone through that experience and I am benefitting from their wise advice which has helped me in so many ways. Their overriding message of empathy and understanding I know is going to make a difference after this weekend. Seeking out and then listening to guidance from others has brought me comfort and tangible advice which I intend to follow.
Another form of satnavving or shepherding that I am currently experiencing is my work with a coach. I meet this person and talk through the areas of my job that I want to develop or improve. Through talking about and analysing how I currently approach things, I find that I am able to work out how I might improve what I do. Rather than finding myself stuck and unsure about how to proceed, her clever way of questioning and challenging me is leading me to make better decisions. My coach is an excellent shepherd.
The trick is to be open to receiving support and advice, rather than thinking you have to work it all out on your own. It’s not a weakness to ask for help or guidance, it’s a strength and it is no bad thing to have someone give you their perspective on or their interpretation of a situation that you find yourself in. They might just help you to unlock the way forward, and untangle the confusion in your head. They might just be the shepherd you need to guide you away from feeling lost, harassed or helpless.
And amongst you this morning there will be undoubtedly some brilliant shepherds, those of you who are ready to help someone else, to get along side them, to help them see the bigger picture, give them a sense of perspective and lead them out of their confusion with quiet persuasion, empathy, integrity and courage.
So if you are that person, make sure you do step up and help when the need is there, and if you are the one who needs support or guidance, all you have to do is ask and someone will be there.