Follow the Leader—it’s a great, simple childhood game that can be played anywhere, anytime, with no special equipment. You only need two things—a leader and at least one follower. The leader walks or skips or hops or jumps this way or that, and everyone else follows her or him. Simple enough, right?
But what about the grown-up, post-modern, reality version of the game? What happens when there is no clear leader? What if everyone wants to be in charge? What if everyone thinks he or she is the leader? What if different people want to follow different leaders? How does anyone know the “right” leader to follow?
This Sunday is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” We’ll hear about Jesus, the good shepherd in John 10. We’ll recite Psalm 23 together. We’ll pray the collect, which asks God to help us recognize that “Jesus [is] the good shepherd of [God’s] people” and to “know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.” That sentiment is echoed by the readings from Acts and 1 John, each of which makes it clear that the “name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” the one who “laid down his life for us,” is the only name “under heaven…by which we must be saved.”
This Sunday is all about following the good shepherd, and it will be difficult to miss that fact in the midst of all these readings and prayers. But what happens after we leave church?
Whom do we follow? What do we follow? What bearing does our life take? Are we oriented by the ways of the world or by the ways of God’s kingdom? Are we walking our own way through life or being led by Jesus?
The tricky thing about Follow the Leader is that only the person in front gets to decide where to go. If the rest of us are willing to play, we have to give up our choice of destination. That’s true of the Christian life. Yes, Jesus is the good shepherd. Yes, he laid down his life for us. Yes, his is the only name under heaven given for health and salvation. But all of that is only true in our lives when we’re following him. The rewards of discipleship come at a cost.