Sermons from St Faith's   

The Good Shepherd

Fr John Reed. Sunday, 22nd April, 2018


 When I was made a deacon in 1996 Bishop David Sheppard presided at the service. It was the last deaconing before he retired.  When we were looking at the order of service he happened to comment; “I don’t normally let them choose that hymn for a service in the Cathedral, but it’s my last one and I quite like it, so I didn’t say anything”. The hymn was 'Faithful Shepherd feed me'.  It’s listed under Holy Communion hymns in the old A&M, but has the feel of a Edwardian children’s hymn. It speaks of a reliance on Jesus, the ultimate Good Shepherd, firstly for sustenance and secondly for guidance and a reassuring presence “in the narrow way.”  It’s the classic very rural, very English, pastoral view of the Good Shepherd. The one who seeks the lost sheep, the one who is pictured in stained glass in many English churches.

The Good shepherd in Johns Gospel cares for the sheep, and is willing to lay down his life for them. He is contrasted with the hired hand who in the final analysis, given a dangerous situation with a wolf chooses his life above the flock’s welfare.

There is in this passage a sideways glance at past kings and rulers of the Jewish people.  They were known as Shepherds, and sadly as we see today, the welfare of all the sheep in the flock or the people of the nation is not always the top priority in governing.  And given that all are Gods people, then through the prophets God’s anger is directed to bad shepherds who fail to live up to the care the flock deserve.

It is said in the Holy Lland that when two flocks of sheep meet at a watering place, the Shepherd will always leave with all the sheep he comes with. Unlike our country where the shepherd walks behind the sheep assisted by one or two dogs, the middle eastern shepherd walks ahead of his sheep and calls them like we would call a dog.  The sheep know his voice and that is why the shepherd always leaves with the same sheep he arrived at the watering place with.  It all begs the question in this life do we know the voice of the Good Shepherd in the midst of the many and competing demands of this world. The sheep learn the shepherds voice, a voice that brings them through danger to food and water.  It is about dependence and the knowledge that there is only Shepherd who can do this. Sheep that stay in a sheep pen will eventually starve, so do not crave for a safe existence following the Good Shepherd.  We would all love to be sheep No. 100 from the story of the lost sheep safely held in the shepherd's arms.

As Peter and the disciples found before the temple authorities, God in sending Jesus to die upon the cross as the one who saves, literally turns the world upside down.  The rejected stone of the temple is now the corner stone, the most important stone which the new creation is built on.  The path before them was not easy and we should not expect ours to be. 

The ordination service talks about keeping the example of the Good Shepherd before our eyes.  I think Bishop David Sheppard, although loving the hymn 'Faithful Shepherd', was aware that others might focus on him rather than the true Shepherd.  It was a mark of his humility. Any honest minister would say that while we strive to be like Jesus, we have long way to go.
Today is vocations Sunday; obviously we need more priests to faithfully lead the church, but from our baptisms we all have vocations to be disciples. Disciples with jobs, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, relatives who need extra care, members of voluntary groups that provide important things to others in our community and members of a worshipping community at St. Faiths, with all the responsibilities that go with it.  You don’t get to opt out of being a disciple because you have other responsibilities.  You work out your discipleship in the context of all those things. Putting clergy on a vocational pedestal cannot absolve you of playing your part in the life of God's people.

It would be great if vocation was clear cut, if like Moses we all heard God speak through a burning bush, or like St. Paul had a dramatic Damascus road experience.  But it doesn’t work that way for many.

Kathy Galloway in “TheCall” writes

Yes I shall seek to find
what only I can do.
But sometimes ‘can’
Is only known through ‘must’.S
Yes I shall ask to receive
Clear directions.
But sometimes all that’s left to do
is to take the first step
and the next step and the next
because the way ahead is dark
and the map does not go beyond this point.
Yes I shall knock on the door of certainties.
But it remains resolutely closed.
The only door for which I have the key
Is the one on which somebody is hammering
For me to let them in,
Perhaps (who knows?) to ask me
To do the thing that only I can do.

May the Good Shepherd lead us along the narrow way that leads to life for the whole flock.

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