Moses spoke to the Lord: “Let the Lord, the God of all living things, appoint someone over the community who will go out before them and return before them, someone who will lead them out and bring them back, so that the Lord’s community won’t be like sheep without their shepherd.”
—Numbers 27:15–17 (CEB)
Sitting in my study is my collection of canes, each of which means something special to me. It started with the first one my late father and I made together the summer before sixth grade. It strangely fit both of our hands then just as much as it still fits me now. The rest of my canes are special too, each for a different reason. I have collected them on various missions and teaching trips. I have often thought it rather special to travel the world and find a cane as a local artifact that reveals our global need as humans to lean on something sturdier than ourselves. I secretly hope that, no matter where I go, our shared humanity will eventually reveal our created need to lean on the Lord.
Earlier this summer, I had a new cane in my collection that wasn’t mine to keep. It was not from a global location like most of the others. In fact, I bought it from a farm-supply catalogue. Regardless, it was just as special. It was a shepherd’s cane. I bought it as a gift for one of my pastoral staff partners upon her ordination. I thought it spoke to both the reality that she would need to recall daily her own need to lean on the Lord, as well as the clear, prophetic voice of Moses that, within the Lord’s community, there are some called to shepherd the Lord’s sheep.
Our global family knows about its own frailty. As little as we talk about it—perhaps for fear of its impending reality in each of our lives—we all know that we will one day have to lean on something. Unfortunately, this reality has hit some of us so early that even as youth we began to lean on habits, addictions, or attitudes that are less than God’s best. This isn’t a word of warning for those not in our churches each week; the first audience that needs to hear this are those behind the pulpit.
The appointment of God’s shepherd-call in the life of a person (whether female or male) is not something that we realize or ordain as our lot in life on our own. While I might need a cane later in life, and might decide to pick one up for safety, there is nothing about the call to shepherding the people of God that is either safe or our own choice. It is God who calls. Yes, we can run from the call, but the call comes from the Lord in the first place. And, should we know the full scope of what the call will entail, we can only find hope by clinging to the promise found in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But God said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
From my heart, I hope you hear today that you, as one called by God, and your weaknesses are not a testament to your humanity so much as a testament to God’s divinity.
From my heart, I hope you hear today that you, as one called by God, and your weaknesses are not a testament to your humanity so much as a testament to God’s divinity. Like those crazy canes, you are indeed special. You are special because, in the grand design of God for the people of God, God used those sheep around you to recognize that the call fits on, in, and through you. Lean on that gracious gift, and with all the same grace, shepherd as you lean on the Lord.