Gone Astray

Ash Wednesday 2021

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-everyone-to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him (The Suffering Servant) the iniquity of us all.”  Isaiah 53:6

“(My Shepherd) restores my soul.” Psalm 23:3

Stray animal rescue videos fascinate me, and in particular, homeless dog rescues.  Sadly, many dogs are living on the streets, and humans for that matter, and in time they become almost unrecognizable from their former selves.  Dogs with a lot of fur end up matted messes of filth, disease, and vermin.  The allure of the videos, of course, is the transformation so dramatically seen in the before and after shots.  Rescuers take the dog to the groomer to shave off all the mess before heading to the vet.  After lots of love and a safe place to heal, the dog’s former glory is restored.

Don’t the Scriptures also have their own “rescue videos?” Psalm 23 is an agrarian story in which the sheep are restored from going their own way and rescued from disease and death. A common danger for a sheep is being “cast,” as shown in the picture, when it rolls over on its back and can’t get up, most common with pregnant ewes or stocky sheep with full fleeces. They become vulnerable and distressed and can die in a short period of time. 

Phillip Keller, a shepherd himself, explains the reason for a sheep becoming “cast” in his classic A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23:

When long fleece becomes heavily matted with mud, manure, burrs and other debris, a sheep can become cast, weighted down with its own wool.  They will lie down comfortably to stretch out or relax and their center of gravity suddenly shifts and their feet no longer touch the ground. In the panic and struggle to get up, gasses build in the stomach and expand and cut off the circulation in the legs. The Shepherd must quickly pick up the sheep and rub its legs to get it on its feet again. The Shepherd also must shear the sheep of its heavy load to restore it to good health.

REFLECT. The long, matted wool is a symbol of the condition of our life apart from the care of a loving, wise shepherd. After we have “gone astray” and picked up the mess of the world around us, often the only remedy is “shearing off” all the offensive habits and sins that keep us fat and unhappy on our backs.

What attracts you to stories of rescue and transformation? Do you find yourself wanting to be rescued or to rescue?

IMAGINE. Look at the picture of the cast sheep again. Can you relate to being cast, on your back, flailing because of guilt, grief, or being unable to forgive or be forgiven?

MEDITATE. Spend some time now in Psalm 51.  As you read, ask the Spirit to show you where your life has turned upside down with dangerous and unhealthy ways.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

PRAY.  O God, my shepherd, it is painful to see the mess I’ve become by my own neglect.  I’ve sat in this sad state too long, unable to get up.  Forgive me for being too comfortable, too heavy with sin, to even cry out for help.  Although, I resist and cry, please shear off my sin, restore me to the joy of relationship with you. I offer you my broken heart and ask you to teach me wisdom and truth.  Thank you for your healing forgiveness. Amen.

The Psalmist asks God not to cast him away, but to restore the joy of his salvation. Make this prayer your own and continue in prayer for a clean heart.

PRAISE. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:11 

All we like sheep have gone astray, Gramophone Chorus

As you watch this video, “How to save a sheep”:

Is there someone you can give that extra incentive to “get up?”

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