from St Faith's
Waters: Christ the King, 2005
The readings today present us with two of the central images of God
that we will know in our lives.
Firstly that of shepherd.
The idea of God shepherding his people as we heard from the book of
Ezekiel earlier on. The most well known words for this image come from
Psalm 23 - ‘The Lord’s my shepherd, I will not want’ – recited at
countless funerals, and at many, many other times.. One of the
strongest and best loved images in the bible. Turned into many
paintings, and church banners and hymns.
It’s a pastoral image, drawn from the Hebrew people’s occupation as
herders of sheep. A natural image of a God who cares passionately. A
God who is forever gathering his people to himself. A God who will not
rest until the one lost sheep is returned to the other ninety nine. And
a metaphor for Jesus - ‘I am the good shepherd’ we hear; him saying in
John’s gospel. I love my sheep and my sheep love me. A role and
responsibility which Jesus passed on to Peter, just before his passion
and death. Peter, feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep.
The symbol first of the bishop of Rome, the pope, and then of every
bishop in every diocese always carrying their crook. The chief pastor.
The shepherd image is about belonging. In order for anyone of us to
believe, and to develop in our faith, we need a sense that we belong.
This is the starting gate of faith. It’s just the same in our human
family. Children do not thrive unless they know that they belong. A
human life that sets out from the security of a loving home is the life
which stands most chance of happiness and fulfilment.
It’s the same in our life of faith. Unless at some level we have that
strong sense, however identified, that we are loved beyond measure,
then our journey of faith is going to be a more troubled one. And the
image of the shepherd is without doubt the most used image in the bible
of a God who cares about us and gives us that sense of identity and
Belonging means knowing where you come from. Its about having an
identity. Being secure in who you are. For Christians it is knowing
that our ultimate home is with God in Christ – that great Shepherd of
The second image of God that we were given in the readings today is a
harder one for us to hear, and to deal with. Jesus tells the story of a
king who divides the sheep from the goats based upon their treatment of
the least in society. This image is of a God who is a judge. It tells
us that someday, somehow, we will have to face the consequences of our
actions. And it suggests that this confrontation with our reality as
seen and understood by God will be a surprise. The verdict of the king
who separated the sheep from the goats was as much of a surprise to
those who were praised for their behaviour as those who were condemned.
The message for us all is that we will not expect the outcome – we will
I want to suggest this morning that every one of us is on a spiritual
journey which starts with the idea of God as shepherd, and then invites
us to head for the much tougher idea of a relationship with God which
is about changing us, transforming us. This is the spiritual life.
Inching along the spiritual path from a sense of basic security with
God to the uncharted territory of understanding the consequences of our
behaviour and attitudes and particularly our treatment of other people.
From childlike trust and faith towards taking responsibility for all
that we do.
Not surprisingly most of us get stuck on this journey of faith. Mostly
in our lives we don’t move beyond the idea of faith as a question of
A sense of belonging is a nice place to be in. We can peer over the
wall at the people outside and think ourselves as the chosen ones. We
can wrap our selves in the blanket of church and believe that we have
And most churches in their ministry and mission don’t move beyond
church as a place to belong.
So strong is this need to belong that the church has turned the idea of
belonging into a fine art. Usually by making various badges of
Some Evangelicals do it with some of their particular understandings of
the life of faith. ‘Are you saved?’ is one of the excluding questions.
Or, ‘have you been born again?’ The implication being of course that
the questioner is always in the favoured position, already securely
belongs, that they have arrived and the people they are engaging with
In our particular tradition, the Anglo-catholic one we have got more
than our fair share of badges of identification We probably have more
excluding factors than anyone else. I can remember how at theological
college unless you had 39 buttons on your cassock you were considered
quite beyond the pail. Or unless you had a particular view of the
eucharist you hadn’t arrived. Our tradition in some ways can be very
open and welcoming, but it can also be very forbidding, and very
Can you imagine Jesus in the synagogue complaining that a rabbi had
only two tassles on his phylactery? Or that only certain people could
certain things in the synagogue. It’s exactly what Jesus castigates the
Pharisees for. But that is exactly how we often behave.
When we act like that it is probably because we are insecure unsure -
of our selves, and of God’s love for us.
And as the church gets more and more marginalized in our society, not
surprisingly church folk get even more insecure. Just look at what is
happening in the Anglican communion at the moment. All the
divides! People maintaining that their way of seeing God is the only
way! How ridiculous!
And, not surprisingly, here at St Faith’s and St Mary’s we are not very
much different. The classic phrase of course is ‘we’ve always done it
like that’. Or, said very proudly, I’ve been going to this church for
fifty years, or for however many years. To which the answer should be,
so what? The real question is – not how long you have belonged, but to
ask how has that churchgoing changed you, and helped you change the
world in which you live?
When we get stuck on the details of the liturgy, or the way in which
the church should order its life through only particular people being
able to do certain things, or the regular round of the same events in
our annual calendar organised by the same group of people, it’s a
pretty strong sign that we’ve not got very far on that journey
that the readings invite us to this morning.
The idea of a church with a transformational culture, based on the idea
and reality of discipleship, will not spend much time thinking about
itself. The gospel this morning reminds us so powerfully that the real
journey with God is not concerned with church, that instead we are
invited to forget about ourselves and focus on others.
Notice in the gospel story that those who are condemned to the eternal
fire by not responding to those who are hungry, or strangers, or naked,
or sick or in prison haven’t even noticed that those people exist!
While those who are invited to inherit the kingdom haven’t noticed
because caring for those people has become a way of life for them, what
it means to be living out ther life of faith.
Of course, there are going to be times for all of us when we need to
come back to have that sense of belonging confirmed, when things are
difficult in our lives, when we are in crisis. Then we’re going to need
our faith and our church as a comfort blanket once more. And that’s OK,
that’s fine – but only if we are also – at other times – making our
selves take that extra half-step into that unknown territory of
transformation. Moving beyond the church with our faith on a path of
discipleship with a living Lord.
This eucharist should be for us the most comforting thing that happens
to us in our week. But, at the same time, it should also be the most
disturbing. If both are true then perhaps we are able to say that we
have got some sort of right balance in our life of faith, and that we
have truly set out on that journey from belonging towards
Are you comforted by this eucharist this morning? I genuinely hope you
are. But are you discomfited and disturbed as well? That’s harder, and
for you alone to ask yourself. I hope this is a pastoral place for you,
a place of belonging, a place where you know yourself loved to bits by
a God who gives his life to us that we might live.
But are you discomforted and disturbed by this eucharist too? Because I
also hope that this is a prophetic place for you, in which the prodding
of the Spirit stirs up in you a desire for a different sort of life and
a different sort of world. That’s much harder, and a question for you
alone to answer.
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