That’s a question I had to ask myself as I looked at the passages from scripture for yesterday. The fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday and points us to how Jesus cares for people, like a shepherd caring for his sheep. What Jesus does we, his followers, are also called to do. I wonder if you too are too comfortable.
The passages were Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-end, John 10:11-18.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen
I wonder, when you think of Jesus, what you sense about him. I think most of us would think he would look kind, but then there is always that fierce bit in him, the bit that drove him to turn over the tables in the temple. Maybe also you might think he has piercing eyes, as it says in the Gospels that he knew what was in a person’s heart, he could see past any subterfuge.
How do you see him? I invite you to briefly type your thoughts now… well, unless you want to give us a lot of your thoughts in which case I will scrap my reflection and sit and listen to yours. Let’s have a couple of minutes to share:
I must say the thing that’s uppermost in my mind at the moment about the character of Jesus is his sense of humour. We are told in the Gospels that Jesus wept, but never that he laughed or joked. I don’t think that means that he didn’t do those things; they just haven’t been noted down among all the important stuff. Anyone who can paint a word picture of someone with a plank in their eye (and I have to say that made a huge impression on me as a child) or of a camel going through the eye of a needle, has to have a sense of humour. Anyone who attracted children as Jesus did had to have some fun in him, surely. As Jesus and God are one, God too must have a sense of humour too.
I can give you a bit of evidence that supports my theory about God having a sense of humour. A few weeks ago I was praying with members of the prayer team. It was a wonderful time of prayer and fellowship and touched me deeply. I started to pray for Wilfried and as I was praying I suddenly realised that what I was earnestly asking God for in Wilf’s life was exactly what I needed too. I was completely stopped in my tracks and ended up sharing what I’d realised. Wilf started laughing (maybe he’d been already thinking that I should be listening to what I was praying for) and so did the others, each realising that it included them as well. The thing that made it all so funny was the way God had got his message through in my own words; I was hoist by my own petard as you might say.
I have to say that God has done it again today, using my own words against me, in a good sort of way of course. Some of you may be aware that I am hoping to get permission to train to be a priest. It seems that once you enter this process you are at the mercy of the system and can near enough be asked to do anything. I’ve been asked to write about the strengths and weaknesses of our Anglican ministry here in SL. In order to do that I have spent some time finding out more about SL so that I can put the whole thing in context. As a result of this I realise that the passages from the Bible today mean that what I am going to say in this reflection is directed very solidly at me. God has got under my guard again with my own words and I imagine he’s laughing right now.
I was asking you earlier about Jesus’ personality but in the Gospel we are looking at a role Jesus performs, that of being the Good Shepherd. This is the second part of Jesus’ explanation of being the Good Shepherd and focuses on him laying down his life for the sheep. At the time that Jesus told this, the disciples didn’t understand what was going to happen. Jesus tried many times to warn them of his impending death but it was not until after it happened that they began to gain some understanding. We come to the passage knowing what happened and what the outcome was, that Jesus did lay down his life and that he picked it back up again as he said he would.
The disciples, in contrast to most of us, would know very well what a good shepherd was like. Few of us now live in rural areas and not all shepherds look after sheep as they did in Jesus’ time. A shepherd then would have maybe 10-20 sheep. He would spend most of his time with them, watching over them. Every day as the imagery of Psalm 23 shows, the shepherd would take the sheep to a place where they could graze for the day. He wouldn’t drive them but would lead the way. He would talk to them all the time and so they knew who to follow, even if flocks became mixed up. So much of the land is dry and dusty, with just the odd patch of green where watercourses run in the rainy season. Finding green pasture amid such aridity was a huge task and without it the sheep would die. During the day the shepherd kept watch for any wild beast that might try to sneak up and kill one of the sheep. It was this task that helped to equip David with the skill to defeat Goliath. At night the shepherd often slept across the entrance to the sheep fold to keep predators out. There was always the risk of dying in the fight to protect the sheep.
When Jesus had risen from the dead, he passed the job of shepherd on to Peter when he met his disciples by the lake and cooked breakfast. Jesus asked Peter three times, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Each time Peter replied that he did. And for each reply Peter was given a task to do. First Peter was told, ‘Feed my lambs’. This was a job that even the young members of the family could do, giving lambs supplementary food if they were weak, stroking them and getting them used to human contact in a gentle way. The second time Peter was told, ‘Tend my sheep’. This indicated keeping close watch on each sheep so that any change in it would be noticed. In that way injury or illness would be quickly detected by the shepherd. Tending sheep required some skill. The final time Peter was told, ‘Feed my sheep’. This is the all important job of finding good pasture to keep the sheep alive.
We, individually and as a ministry, follow in Peter’s footsteps. The lambs are the young Christians or perhaps seekers taking their first tentative steps of faith and who may need careful feeding with the word to build up their strength. We should be gently offering help to them in the form of straightforward answers to questions, help with prayer and studying the Bible. The sheep who need tending are those who need care, who are struggling in life. We need a community which cares pastorally and can detect problems by listening and bring healing through prayer or counselling. Finally the sheep who are to be fed could be thought of as those who need to be guided to good ways of living in the midst of the arid wastes of life.
When writing my paper I realised afresh what a mission field we are in here in SL. All the needs that Jesus prepared Peter to meet are here in abundance. I actually found doing some of the research quite difficult because of what I read, realising what residents of SL can be exposed to. In writing about the challenges the ministry faces here, I realised just how little we are currently doing to reach out to those in need. And in writing that, I realised how little I personally am doing. I’m comfortable here, leading services, being on the Leadership Team, helping with surveys and discussions. Is that enough? A long time ago, in preparing for a RL mission, each of us was asked to pick up a piece of paper with a Bible verse on it. Mine said ‘Feed my sheep’. I kept that piece of paper for a long time but finally decided that there was little I could do to answer that call. I have a feeling there’s a wry smile on God’s face as he sees me challenged to answer that call 15 years later through the words I have written in a paper.
I would ask you to pray for each member of the Leadership Team in this time of transition as we prepare for Mark to step down as our priest-in-charge. We need wisdom to carry out God’s mission and to enable each member to play their part in feeding God’s sheep in SL.
The last word goes to the apostle John: Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. Amen