Today I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting today. Here it is in all it’s glory…
To introduce my subject I decided to write a parable… the Parable of the Pen… and Shane the Sheep (no relation to Shawn the Sheep).
As inspiration for this parable I look to John chapter 10 where Jesus makes it clear that He is The Good Shepherd. Jesus refers to people as sheep. He teaches how sheep should act and describes some of the dangers to the flock that lurk in the spacious field. He labels us as His sheep in His fold.
Admittedly, I do not know much about sheep first hand. I do have experience with goat. I worked with goats as a youth. Goats stink! They are gross. I see sheep in the fields around my house. They look fairly dirty and I imagine that they are just as dirty and smelly as those goats I had to care for as a youth. They are all in need of a caring Shepard to clean and nourish them. I need more help understanding how sheep care works.
A a reminder, those who heard Jesus teach knew all about sheep. As I said, I really am a bit clueless. However, I learned when my kids were little, from that great teacher, Babe the Pig, that sheep have their own language. Sheep much prefer to be shown respect and will respond best when you speak their own language. So here it goes: “Baa–ram–ewe. Baa–ram–ewe. To your breed, your fleece, your clan be true. Sheep be true. Baa–ram–ewe.”
Anything? No response?
Thus, I begin with The Parable of the Pen, and Shane the Sheep… and hopefully, you will stick with me to the end to see the story return, or rather, “re-fold,” full circle.
As a reminder, Jesus was speaking to people who had been oppressed for centuries, who looked forward to a Messiah to concur their oppressors, and who interacted with animals on a daily basis. They really should have understood His story. Alas, they remained in darkness.
As you know, sheep were everywhere in ancient Israel. The sheep were cared for by their owners or their owner’s children. A Shepard guided, protected and feed the sheep. The Shepherd was 100% responsible for the sheep under His care. While grazing in the fields, sheep would be kept in a pen, or a fold. The Shepard would guide His sheep to the pen for safety during the dark hours of night. The pen was a place of safety. The pen kept sheep in and everything else out.
There was a single opening through which sheep could come and go… a door. This door was not a swinging panel like the doors we are familiar with. No. This opening was blocked by a person… The Shepard, himself. Nothing went past the Good Shepard without His knowledge, nor His permission. The Good Shepard loved His sheep and would fight to the death, if necessary, to protect His sheep.
Now, Shane the Sheep (I have no intention of referring to anyone in particular here), liked frolicking around the safe pen with his friends. They were safe. There was plenty to eat. They loved their Shepard. The Good Shepard would guide them in the filed to graze during the day and would lead them to the safety of the pen in preparation for the darkness of night.
Sometimes, Shane would look over the pen wall and think that the grass was better on the other side. He thought it was safe enough outside the confines of the pen. He was sure could run to safety quickly because he was that fast. Some of Shane’s friends didn’t like being part of the pen and would leave the safety of the pen from time to time to frolic out in the field, unguided and unprotected. The Shepard was sad, but He allowed them to pass, to explore the dark horizon… if that was what they truly wanted. Whether the sheep were distracted or just plain, rebellious and disobedient, many sheep left the safety of the fold to frolic in the field.
One day, Shane the Sheep decided to join them and scampered out into the large open field.
Out in the big open field Shane ran and jumped. He thought he was having so much fun! There was so many places to explore, so many tasty grasses to sample. Shane’s explorations took him further and further into the field, and further from the safety of the pen.
One day, Shane the Sheep noticed his friends were being picked off by pesky wolves. Wolves were sneaky. Sometimes they would dress up like sheep and mingle. Wolves were very good at stroking the sheep’s ego. They would get sheep to feel isolated and pick them off one by one.
Shane began to notice thieves. Sometimes thieves would come, pretending to be the Good Shepard. They weren’t interested in guiding or protecting the sheep at all. These thieves were interested in exploiting the sheep and gaining money, power and influence.
Shane began to worry… but only just a little.
Darkness was setting in. A great fog rolled across the field. He no longer saw the pen.
Shane began to wonder if he should head back to the pen… but it seemed so far away. He couldn’t see the pen through the darkness and the fog. He wondered if he would he be able to get back to the pen and if would be allowed into the pen again.
Shane the Sheep wandered. He felt lost.
At times, Shane felt he could hear the Good Shepard calling him in the distance… but he wasn’t sure. Sometimes it was hard to remember what the voice of the Good Shepard sounded like. When Shane the Sheep mentioned to others that he could hear the voice of the Shepard in the distance, other sheep around him made fun of him. They said he was hearing voices. How could the Good Shepard be real? They said sheep needed to stand on their own feet because there was no way that the pen was still out there or, if it was, that the Good Shepard would not let Shane back into the fold. After all, Shane had made his choice. Now he was just going to have to live with it.
Shane was cold. It was dark. Shane began to feel hungry. The food outside the pen was just not very filling. He longed for the nourishing meals the Good Shepard provided. He wished he could quench his thirst with the Living Waters of the Good Shepard.
Shane began to feel sorrow.
As he sorrowed he began to remember some of the things the Good Shepard would say… Something about the Shepard’s voice was familiar.
The Good Shepard said that “if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Shane began to miss the pen… miss the safety… miss the food… miss the Shepard.
What could he do?
If he could just go back to pen… even just to be near the pen and the Shepard. Maybe the Shepard would just let him hang out outside the pen. That would be so much better than the wild and crazy field.
Shane noticed a few sheep shaking off the darkness and fog and moving toward the voice of The Good Shepard. Shane began to follow a few sheep who had “come to themselves” and cleaned up their act. He began to follow a straight and narrow path that seemed to be leading him toward the voice of the Good Shepard.
Some days he walked and walked. His feet hurt. His legs got tired. Some days he was so tired that he would just sit on the path wishing there was a quicker way to reach the pen. On those days he often felt as if the Shepard was walking alongside him… maybe even carrying him when the path got difficult.
Soon he approached a big, scary, deep canyon. When did that get there? The pen was just on the other side, full of warmth, safety, nourishment, and family. Shane was sad. How could he cross this scary chasm that kept him from the pen?
Just as he began to give up hope there appeared a bridge, oddly enough, that looked a little like the Shepard, that allowed Shane to cross. Shane wasn’t crazy about heights, not to mention, it was crazy dark and a thick fog covered all that Shane could see!
Taking a deep breath, he mustered up some courage and trusted the Bridge. Slowly, one foot in front of the other, Shane crossed the bridge. Trusting. Exercising faith. Pressing forward in a steadfastness in his hope in the Good Shepard. With each step the pen began to glow in the warmth Live giving Light.
The pen was in sight.
As he approached the pen Shane began to realize how much he wanted back into the pen…
Shane felt great sorrow: great sorrow for the worry he had caused the Shepard… sorrow for the pain he had caused to his family and caused the Shepard as they searched for him through thorns and briers, passing evil men and dark passages, risking their lives to share his… sorrow for all the things he had missed out on in the pen in the company of the Good Shepard because he had chosen to frolic through the wild field. His heart was breaking. His spirit was contrite. He wanted so much repair, to return, to re-pen(t). (The prefix “re” means again. “pent” is the past tense of the Middle English for “a closure for domestic animals.” Fitting for our parable.
He desperately wanted back into the pen of the Good Shepard… to RE-pent
Sheepishly, Shane approached the door.
The Shepard smiled and held out His arms.
“Shane, I’ve missed you. Come. Allow me to guide you and keep you safe. Allow me to heal your wounds and make all thing right again.”
With confidence, Shane crept into the Shepard’s lap. He was free. He was safe. He was loved. He felt peace.
Jesus is the only way to safety. Through Jesus all are welcome into the fold for protection and nourishment. The Good Shepard stands ready to welcome those who come “through him,” meaning under His authority and on His terms.
The truth is, of course, we are all Shane the Sheep. We have all sinned. We all come short of the glory of God. We all get distracted. We all rebel and disobey. We all get discouraged. We all get lost in the fog and in the darkness on the fridges of the field. We all have need to “come to ourselves” – more often than once – and follow the voice of the Shepard. We all need to get back on the path that leads us back home to the safety of the pen.
President Thomas S. Monson reminds us that, ” Essential to the plan [of Happiness] is our Savior, Jesus Christ. (you might want to read my blog post Jesus is the Plan… click here) Without His atoning sacrifice, all would be lost. It is not enough, however, merely to believe in Him and His mission. We need to work and learn, search and pray, repent and improve. We need to know God’s laws and live them. We need to receive His saving ordinances. Only by so doing will we obtain true, eternal happiness.” (“The Perfect Path to Happiness,” Ensign, Nov. 2016, 80–81).
Work is a gift. Prayer is a gift. Learning is a gift. Improvement is a gift. Commandments are gifts. Covenants and ordinances are gifts. Repentance is a gift. The Savior is a gift.
The Savior worked out a perfect Atonement and gave us the Gift of Repentance… the path back to a perfect brightness of hope!
“Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement,” President Thomas S. Monson has taught. “Our task is to become our best selves. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final.” (“The Will Within,” Ensign, May 1987, 68).
Now, most of us look at repentance as a miserable, depressing, duty we must pass through in order to meet the demands of justice and mercy. Wrong! Jesus is the only one who can meet those demands… just saying. We seem to forget that God’s plan is the Plan of Happiness! Repentance is a gift! Repentance is uplifting. Repentance is the escape we need from ravenous wolves and cunning thieves. Repentance brings happiness!
Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained: “without repentance, there is no real progress or improvement in life… Only though repentance do we gain access to the atoning grace of Jesus Christ and salvation. Repentance… points us to freedom, confidence, and peace.” (“The Divine Gift of Repentance,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 38).
Steven W. Owen, Young Men’s General President taught during our most recent General Conference that repentance is inspired by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His power to forgive our sins. Brother Owen taught that we can try to live a good life, but only the Savior can remove the stain of sin and lift our burdens. Yoking our lives to the Savior enables us to pursue the path of obedience with confidence and strength. (“Repentance is Always Positive,” Ensign, Nov. 2017).
Safety in the pen offers the joy of forgiveness, the knowledge that we are clean again, safety, nourishment and peace. Once you experience this kind of joy, nothing else will do! True repentance, truly returning to the pen, is a commitment, a covenant, beginning at baptism and renewed each week with the sacrament. The gift of repentance leads us to promised blessings… the constant companionship of the Spirit and all the joy and peace that comes with the Spirit! What a gift!
The gift of repentance is for everyone… those who are wandering in “forbidden paths and are lost” as well as those who may be on the straight and narrow path and who struggle to “press forward.” The gift of repentance puts us on the path and keeps up on the path. The gift of repentance strengthens faith and hope. The gift of Repentance enlighten lives and lifts heavy burdens.
As I was pondering this topic, I opened the January 2018 Ensign. The First Presidency Message was a collection of quotes by President Thomas S. Monson. The message is The Gift of Repentance. How lucky is that?!
Here is one of my favorite quotes from this message:
“We have all made incorrect choices. If we have not already corrected such choices, I assure you that there is a way to do so. The process is called repentance. I plead with you to correct your mistakes. Our Savior died to provide you and me that blessed gift. Although the path is not easy, the promise is real: ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ [Isaiah 1:19]. ‘And I, the Lord, remember them no more’ [D&C 58:42]. Don’t put your eternal life at risk. If you have sinned, the sooner you begin to make your way back, the sooner you will find the sweet peace and joy that come with the miracle of forgiveness.” – President Thomas S. Monson (“The Three Rs of Choice,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 69).
As Elder David A. Bednar taught: “most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints – for good men and women who are obedient, worthy, and… striving to become better.” ( “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality,” Ensign, Apr. 2012, 42; Liahona, Apr. 2012, 14).
Jesus is the Good Shepard. We are His sheep. He has fought to the death for His sheep. Thus, Jesus has rightful claim on us. He will protect those who are safely living in His fold.
To reach the fold we…”… must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting on the word of Christ, and enduring to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” – 2 Nephi 31:20
In Christ, we are safe. In Christ, we can find real security. In Christ we find the Gift of Repentance. May we always remember to accept this gift, never rejecting the gift of repentance and the accompanying gift of forgiveness through the supreme gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is my prayer.