Cross Walk Devotional: Are You a Gatherer?

When I was in college, I had a friend who organized pick-up soccer games for all of our friends. He had the goals, some cones, and the willingness to message/talk to folks he knew would be interested in playing and because of his efforts, we always had enough players to have an enjoyable game. The only problem was, this friend ended up graduating before many of the guy and girls who played did. When he left, he passed on all his equipment to the group. In spite of this, it only took a few weeks for numbers who came to play to start dwindling, and the dwindling didn’t stop until only 2-3 were showing up on a regular basis. It didn’t take long after his departure before the once strong group stopped playing together at all. What none of us had realized when the group was strong, was how much effort our friend put into gathering people together and inspiring participation in our soccer games. Without his leadership and gathering abilities, our group was lost.

I can’t help but think about this story when I read Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 26:31-35. In this passage, Jesus foretells of a time he will not be able to use his gifts for gathering and shepherding in the same way. His asserts this not out of bitterness or regret, instead he is revealing the truth of the state of his disciples. While making his point, Jesus compares his disciples to sheep, not only because of they are a closely connected “herd” but because they still bear the mentality of sheep in their timidity and need for guidance and protection. Peter takes exception to Jesus’ classification, he cannot bear the shame of being called a deserter. After all, he has followed Jesus this far. He has seen crowds reject Jesus, he has seen the religious rulers plot against Jesus, and he has stayed by his side. How could Jesus think such a thing? What Peter doesn’t realize is everything that Jesus has been doing in order to keep his disciples together. In the end, Jesus knows the truth about Peter. When things get tough, when Jesus is not there to provide a calm shepherding voice, Peter himself will be one of the first to deny his identity among the flock.

Just like my soccer group in college, it is easy to underestimate the worth of someone who can bring people together. Many times, the gifts that go into being a good shepherd are not flashy or even easily identifiable. That being said, I am sure we can all think about someone in our lives who has the special ability to bring others together. What would life be like without those people? What would happen if you needed to step into that role in the absence of someone else? After Peter’s denial when he has had time to repent and see Jesus a few days after his death, I wonder how much Peter understood that he would need to become a gatherer in the model of Jesus. While we are looking back on this story, it is interesting to look forward in Peter’s first letter and to see him addressing it to believers who have become scattered across the world. (1 Peter 1:1) It is amazing that at this point in his life Peter has come to be the shepherding voice among the sheep who are following Jesus. The Peter of Matthew has been transformed into one who senses the need to call people back to the gathering-center of the Messiah. In this stage of life, the Peter who was so quick to deny Jesus and run away has become a shepherd, calling people to reunite and gather under in the identity of Jesus. It is possible that Peter’s own denial of Jesus may have been the turning-point lesson that convicted him to embrace his new role of service to the King.

In the same way, we are all called to be gatherers and shepherds of people, even though we may feel more like the scattered sheep. When we submit to the power of the Holy Spirit and learn to let Jesus transform our hearts, we are empowered to seek out and call the lost back to Jesus no matter where we came from. In fact, the Spirit gives us the ability to return to the places where we were once scattered in order to save others. This is the power of following Jesus, that we are not only called in and made whole by him, by we are sent out with the Spirit’s power to share our savior with the world.

You are loved!
Jon Cooke