Sermons from St Faith's
Fr Dennis Smith, April 26th,
Will it’s certainly hotting up. A General
Election is round the corner, and most of us are
probably feeling battered and bewildered by the
barrage of promises, the endless stream of claim
and counter claim and all that we’ve been
subjected to these past few weeks. Of course, we
mustn’t forget that the right to vote is a
privilege denied so many people in the world,
even today. We need to make responsible
decisions for ourselves and our neighbours.
Behind all the froth, the excitement and the
propaganda is the important search for truth.
We ask again and again: “Who can best lead us at
this moment in history? Who understands the
needs of the nation, the aspirations of the
people, the hopes of you and me? And even more
fundamental is the question: “Who can we trust?”
So many voices; so many promises to lead us into
green pastures and to guide us by still waters:
so many great intentions to safeguard our health
service, our employment, our standards of life.
Our scripture fragments today are not distant.
They are not blasts from the past, irrelevant to
our circumstances and needs. They hit the bull’s
eye. They are spot on. They are asking the same
questions we are asking. The Biblical library
never fails to surprise us. Here it is asking
“What sort of leadership is needed in the world?
Where is there a good shepherd to take hold of
the crises through which we are passing? Who can
help us with the pressing issues of our day?”
And the top issues are there for us to see:
safety wherever we journey, health for us and
our families, solutions to the huge divisions
between people and nations, hope in days of
violence and fear.
The Biblical world cries out for leadership from
someone who is without deceit, someone who is
genuinely caring; someone who is more like the
God who has given us all life.
Our world is still cram-packed with ideologies,
with angry passion usually completely
misdirected. Much of it stems from religious
prejudice and intolerance, leading to acts of
terror and a complete disregard for the welfare
of our neighbours. And so much of the distortion
is backed by so-called divine mandate. Violent
men have lost sight of the God of Shalom and
Safety and Welfare found in Koran and Bible.
If we are to rediscover the best gifts of
leadership we need to rid ourselves of such
aberrations. So the plea of the Songwriter rings
in our ears: “The Lord is my shepherd!” God’s
main goal is our safety and security.
Psalm 23 is written by a person going on a
journey, a dangerous journey. There will be dark
valleys, burning sun-rays, unexpected dangers.
There may be hunger and thirst, fever and
exhaustion. The traveller’s one longing is to
get to the end of the road, to be home. And what
Home is the safe place of worship, the house of
the Lord, to enjoy the worship of the Lord for
ever. We were created to enjoy God not to fear
him. We were made for praise not sacr8fice. We
were intended for the harmony of Eden not the
terror of Gethsemane.
The traveller in any age has simple basic needs:
life, love, daily bread, freedom to worship, and
the challenge to explore the beauty of the world
and of human relationships.
Of course it can’t be over-simplified.
Politicians will be the first to tell us how
complicated everything is. But can’t we return
to the Psalmist’s basic needs? Surely if our
leaders concentrated on these we would be
treading in the right direction. I think Jesus
of Nazareth knew this. His Kingdom values were
When the author John’s Gospel penned his
extraordinary Gospel the search for truth was in
full spate. In chapter 19 Pilate provides us
with the clinching sound-bite: “What is truth?”
he asks. And the question has already been
answered in so many of the previous pages:
“grace and truth has come through Jesus Christ”;
Jesus is “true” bread; “true” vine and is the
“good shepherd” who knows his people. He isn’t
like the false teachers and prophets whose only
goal is to harm the flock.
The truth which is personified in Jesus arises
out of the quality of care and understanding
which the shepherd shows. The shepherd’s goal is
the safety and togetherness of his sheep. This
leadership is intensely personal, knowing all
the sheep by first names, seeking the lost and
isolated, and enabling the flock to be united in
love: one flock, one shepherd. But there’s more
that John wishes us to understand.
The leadership which is provided through the
Good Shepherd goes to the ultimate extreme of
sacrificial care. The shepherd lays down his
life for the sheep. The epistle of John presses
the message home: “We know love by this, that he
laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay
down our lives for one another.” Is not this the
ultimate test of honest leadership? After all
these words by politicians we are aware how
feeble and unsatisfactory words are in the end.
The letter of John goes on: “Little children,
let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth
and action.” Here is the measure of truth. Words
have to be completed by deeds. The Hebrew
language holds this secret: no word is
legitimate until it is fulfilled in an
action.The Hebrews didn’t have a word for
“promise”; when a person “spoke”, he or she
“promised”. Words and deeds are one. No word is
“true” until it is fulfilled in deed.
And that is how God works. His words are
commitments. The travelling Psalmist knew that.
God’s words didn’t return empty. God always
matched promises with deeds. God didn’t talk
about mercy; he was merciful. God didn’t speak
words of love and forgiveness; he was loving and
full of compassion.
Now, there’s a challenge for election
candidates. We will measure effectiveness not by
eloquence alone, but by creating and
transforming society. Nor can we leave ourselves
out of this. The challenge comes to us all. The
truth of our lives is measured by word and deed.
So far we’ve not talked about leadership in the
church. In many people’s minds shepherding is
particularly relevant to this particular area of
The Biblical writers had plenty to communicate
about this. The prophets, especially, spoke out
about the frailties of the religious leadership.
As a nation Israel was weakened by the failures
of both priests and politicians.
Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, all spoke with
courage. Certainly the churches can have nothing
to say to politicians or to the secular world
unless the quality of their own house is of the
All we have said so far about the need for
truthfulness and compassion, pastoral
sensitivity and personal self-giving apply to
the ministry of all religious leaders.
For Christians, good shepherding is the task and
responsibility of every follower of the Jesus
He remains our model. Our thanks go to the
Psalmist and especially to John the Evangelist
for painting pictures which are unforgettable.
Green pastures and still waters remain the hope
of every human being. They are gifts of God in a
Whatever happens in General Elections of the
comings and goings of governments, the
challenges remain for pilgrims in every place
and time: help the world walk in safety, seek
truth and wisdom from peace-loving words and
deeds, and set your sights on glorifying the God
whose care is as sure as the dawn of each new
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