Behind the Name
hat’s behind the name “Black Sheep Shelter”? In our culture a black sheep is the child who seems
to be cut from a different cloth, who elects the path less traveled, or does what he or she is not supposed to do. While there might be some curb appeal in the name Black Sheep Shelter to all who self-identify as outcasts and rebels, that only scratches the surface in explaining why we chose the name.
We are Christians. Christian is a word we claim but which we recognize to be muddled and publicly interpreted with much liberty and little justice. We are told almost no one wants lengthy explanations these days
and website content should be focused and flashy. So our apologies for breaking the rules and no pressure whatsoever to read on.
The Old and New Testaments of the Christian Scriptures testify of a God who not only speaks the cosmos into being, but called this small planet Earth and all its creatures good and beautiful, and even selected one creature to express and reflect the Creator’s image. But this endowment was squandered and humans rebelled against any notion of dependence upon the Creator and interdependence with creation. In pride and a desire for complete autonomy humanity divorced itself from the author and sustainer of life, the source of love and justice, peace and compassion. The fallout of this great divorce is all around us. It’s in the warring nations, the broken families, the blight of greed, the nurtured perversions, our propensity for self-justification, our insecurity and our fears. The fallout echoes in how we care too little about what really matters and we care too much about the trivial. No one stands immune. This mountain of suffering that ends in a valley of death may be deemed natural by our scientific priests, but the implications of this religion of meaninglessness fails to explain how viscerally unnatural it feels to watch a five year old die from leukemia, or how enraged we are to witness a gunman snuffing out 58 lives. And those of us following the biblical God don’t have all the answers to why suffering exists and shouldn’t pretend to. But what we do have, or what we feel has taken hold of us, is a God who can lead us through this mystery of life even though we stumble in so much darkness.
The Scriptures tell a single story and they retell it countless times in different tones and centuries, in different places and with different people. It is the story of a Triune God in pursuit of a runaway creation. It’s the love story that stands behind and above all love stories. God whispers the story through the ages without discretion. Our ears may be better tuned to hear in the quiet of the woods than the chaos of the city center, but the story persists with no borders and can pop up where we least expect it. In shared meals, captured in legends and tales, in exercises mystical and mundane, during religious rites and at times when the profane flexes, God is not silent. But these glimmerings are dim channels of the Spirit’s oration, not designed to be our meal and sustenance. When we rely on this veiled speech alone we are prone to believing God is more silent than he really is. There is a simple reason for this: God wants to talk to us directly, in person. So that is what God did.
Jesus is so important to Christians because we believe the most absurd thing about him- that he is not only human, but God. The other important thing we believe about Jesus is that he came not merely to tell us of God’s love for us but to be that love. The name Jesus means “he who saves his people,” not “he who teaches his people.” Jesus certainly was a teacher, as he was a prophet, and a shepherd. But the defining mark of this good shepherd is that he laid down his life for his sheep. The symbol of the crucifix or the cross carries such weight for us Christians because the Scriptures tell us that it was at the cross where God both most emphatically demonstrated his love for us and where God actually performed the work of our redemption and salvation.
The cross of Jesus and the whole framework of the Christian faith becomes pointless if we don’t first believe that there is a problem in the world and that we are a part of that problem. That is primarily why we chose the name Black Sheep Shelter. It serves as a reminder that we ourselves are a breed of pitch black sheep. Isaiah 53 indicts “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each his own way,” but it continues and foretells of God’s plan of action “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The good news, or gospel, that Christians celebrate and get to share with others is that through the death and resurrection of the God-human named Jesus, the Triune God is dealing with all that is wrong in the world and creating a new heaven and earth where creation is re-united to the Creator without the presence of sin, the law, or death. Yes, that sounds like a fairy tale and takes some imagination to actually believe in. We understand many of the arguments against such extravagant imagination, but we remain drawn into it nonetheless. Not to say that our faith isn’t a struggle. A favorite verse and prayer of ours is Mark 9:24 “I believe, help my unbelief.”
In our struggles, we take heart that “God has chosen the weak things of the world and the foolish” and trust we can take shelter in the Jesus who said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” God’s chosen apostle to bring the good news of Jesus beyond the Jewish world and to the nations was a former persecutor of the earliest Christians, and the good news which he experienced so deeply in his life was at its core this simple message: “Christ died for the ungodly.” There is a hope.