But if I were going to do a homily on Shepherd Sunday, I would tell this story:
I grew up in Maine, yes, and did have a dear friend in high school who raised and showed sheep. I was lucky to be invited to travel and help her with some shows, and had a blast doing it. We wore tan pants (so as to make the sheep look whiter) and blucher mocs (so as to easily scrape the poop off the smooth soles) and tickled the sheep's bellies (so as to make them stand up straighter (but not too much, or they'd hunch, just like we would with too much tickling). I learned a lot.
One thing I learned was a great model of community and youth ministry. We were at the Big E fairgrounds in Springfield MA, and between our turns we watched the Border Cheviots compete. I remember the name because Sandi called them "Border Idiots." They are a bouncy breed, and if you want to know what the word "gambol" means, you can see it demonstrated by a Cheviot.
At one point, one of the Cheviots got loose from its handler. Here is where I witnessed this beautiful image. As the sheep bounced around the pen, impossible to catch, I saw people rise from their seats all around the ring. People from all sides stood slowly, and began to step toward the bouncing sheep. Soon I could see that they were forming a ring around the bouncy devil, slowly closing in on her. Finally the circle closed in around the sheep and someone got ahold of her and returned her to her rightful spot. Satisfied, everyone else went back to their seats for the rest of the festivities.
I have come to see that this was a great example for a church community. When that sheep was bouncing around, out of control, everyone was ready to help- the owner of the sheep didn't even have to ask, and no one demanded thanks. Everyone cared enough to do their part. Together, they did what one person, or a few people, could never do. And that circle of concern... well, that seems, still, so beautiful to me. Surrounding one in need with a circle of care is just what we should be doing for each other- and especially, I think, for the youngest of us, so often bounding and bouncing out of control. I dream of a church that responds this way.