He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. -Isaiah 40:11
Friday night we drove by a protest outside of our local HEB grocery store. It was my first experience of seeing a civilian openly carrying a rifle over his shoulder in the middle of a densely populated area. A few people held signs protesting that HEB does not allow people to openly carry weapons in their grocery stores. The signs said things like, “Open Carry Now!”
Because I was preparing for a sermon about Jesus as the Good Shepherd based on chapter 10 of John’s gospel, I saw the signs in a different light. In this passage, Jesus is teaching that he is the Shepherd who will care for us and lead us rightly. His claim to be the Good Shepherd is very controversial: it means that he is saying that other religious and political leaders of the day are not the good ones to follow.
Jesus is teaching us that he is the one who will gather us, lead us, and carry us to the life that really is life. So when I saw “Open Carry” on the protestor’s signs I thought of what Jesus does for me, and for all who lean into the Shepherd’s arms.
Martin Luther King described a moment when he needed to be Openly Carried in his book Stride Toward Freedom. Just after receiving a threatening phone call at his home in the middle of the night, this is what he experienced:
“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. I prayed, ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and I will be at your side forever.”
It comforts and challenges me that a giant for justice like Dr. King also needed to be openly carried. How could I be stronger than he? So it is alright to ask the Lord to gather me, lead me, and yes, carry me. This is the way of faithfulness for all who seek to follow Christ.
And when there are people with rifles standing around in my grocery store parking lot, this I will remember: I am Openly Carried.