Poet Laureate Billy Collins writes:
It has been calculated that each copy of the Gutenberg Bible required the skins of 300 sheep.
I can see them
squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed.
All of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike
it would be nearly impossible to count them.
And there is no telling which one of them
will carry the news
that the Lord is a Shepherd,
one of the few things
they already know.
I am drawn to this poem certainly because of its imagery, but more so because it compels me to think about the nature of God as we approach this Trinity Sunday, and to consider my response as one who loves and seeks to serve the Lord.
In the readings from Isaiah and from Revelation, we have this incredible imagery of the God of splendor, the Holy One seated on the throne, worthy of unending praise. I love this image of the magnificent God that I was taught to worship as a child. I learned to read from the United Methodist hymnal. And I still know by heart so many of those “big hymns” that we sing to the immortal, invisible, God only wise.
How might we respond to this image of God in our lives?
This is where I start to get a little silly and let my mind wander into the world of the poem.
If sheep were a little smarter, a little higher order, would some be eager? “Ooh! Ooh! Print it on me! I want one of the good pages.” How many of them—how many of us—would be like Isaiah: humbled by our acknowledgement of sin and eager to carry the Word of the Lord among the people?
But sheep are rather docile, so maybe another response would be “yeah, whatever, I’ll take a page.” Though I do not doubt for a moment that the revelation to John was a deeply spiritual experience for him, there is a part of me that sees something rather passive in his role—dutifully recording the vision he is given, then mailing it out in seven directions and letting the readers take it from there. I’m ashamed to admit that there have certainly been times when I’ve settled for delivering a message when I could have witnessed to the Word in my life.
The poet reminds us, however, that the Lord is a Shepherd, and that the sheep are secure in knowing this. And it is from that image that I find the example of the disciples to be the most comfortable, and indeed the most compelling, response.
I like the disciples. They give me hope. The Gospels aren’t particularly kind to them and Jesus himself gets impatient with their lack of understanding on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes when I read the Gospels I can’t help but think, “Bless their hearts, they’re just not very bright.”
But they do have one thing that gets me excited—they are the ones called to be the messengers and witnesses of the triune God we worship and celebrate this day.
As practicing Jews, the disciples were of course familiar with God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. They were faithful companions of his only son our Lord. And as we heard last week, it was through them that the Holy Spirit revealed itself on the Day of Pentecost.
It was only when all three pieces of the puzzle came together in their experience of the one true and living God that they really understood how they were called to be in the world. It was only then that they became the apostles whose teaching and fellowship we commit to continuing in our baptismal covenant, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers.
And don’t you love the way this comes full circle?
When we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, when we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves…isn’t that just another way of saying, with the prophet Isaiah, “Here am I, send me?”
When we commit to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being, aren’t we too sharing a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, as surely as John saw all things new in the revelation on Patmos?
There’s no telling which one of us will carry the news that the Lord is a Shepherd. That’s not ours to decide, or even to know. It is for us to decide, however, that we will embrace the call to discipleship—discipleship infused with the fullness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.