On a recent trip to San Antonio to visit my wife’s family, we found ourselves driving through the Texas Hill Country. If you have ever been, you know it to be a rugged, beautiful land spotted with stubby Live Oaks and prickly pear cacti.
While driving down one of many two-lane highways our two-month-old decided it was time to eat. Looking for a place to stop, we passed by a number of beautiful, large, open ranches. One had goats, llamas, and sheep contentedly grazing out front, and a short windmill spinning in the distance. I thought, if only we knew the owners of that land. They are probably hospitable welcoming folks, I am sure they would have been happy to let us stop-off and enjoy their space. Our two-year-old would love seeing the animals.
Alas, we drove on, looking for a rest stop.
This got me thinking, there is something incredible about being known. Right now we are strangers with whoever owns those properties. We cannot enjoy the privileges of being connected to them, we are unknown, outsiders, and as a result, not welcome. But, if we knew them, whether as family or through friendship we would surely enjoy the benefits of that relationship. What they have would be available to us also, free of charge.
As it turns out we were enjoying just such an experience as we spent the week staying with my in-laws. . Our kids felt plenty free to run around Nani and Pop’s home just as if it was their own.
John 10:7-13 explains that the connectedness of a believer to Jesus in just this way. Through faith we are known by Jesus, and can know him in return. John uses the analogy of a Shepherd and his sheep. The shepherd will go to great lengths to care for the sheep within his fold. They are his, known by him, and that relationship carries power. A hired hand might head for the hills when things get tough, leaving the sheep in peril, but not so with the Good Shepherd, who owns the sheep and knows them.
As a pastor, I sometimes find myself stepping into the most intimate experiences of our human lives. I have been by the bedside of those slipping from life into death. I have prayed with families in the midst of trauma, tragedy and uncertainty.
These moments for me are a privilege. I never wish for these circumstances, because often if I am there, it means things are not going well. But it is still a privilege to be welcomed into these settings. Yet I know that it is not my presence they really need. Alone, I have very little to offer. I am there to bring the words of someone else, and a hope far greater than something I could do. My presence is to be a symbolic reminder another who is with them. The One who can actually help and give hope.
That is what it means to know and be known by Him. Jesus tells his followers that he came to bring life, and life that is abundant. When traveling down life’s path we are privileged to experience his abundance in many way. We enjoy the beauty of his creation, we are blessed by the people he brings into our lives, we find great joy in experiences and can remember that he is the crafter of all these things. But it is perhaps when we are in need, especially deep need, that his abundance becomes most real, when knowing him is most profound. These are the times when our relationship with him reveals its greatest gift, a hope that supersedes this world.
Christ our Lord, teach us to see you in all things – the beauty of your creation, the plenty so many of us experience, the joy of relationship with others. As we experience your goodness, may we also lean on you as the source and giver of all good things, and the one who is even more present in the midst of hardship. Help us to experience your abundance in all aspects of our lives, especially the abundance we find in your forgiveness, and the hope you provide for our future. Amen.