Sermon: Being Both a Shepherd and a Sheep
From Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
May 3 09: am
- Psalm 23
- Acts 4:15-12
- 1 John 3:16-24
- John 10:11-18
In order to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd speaking to us, we sometimes we have to turn down the volume of the other noises in our lives. That is exactly what I and the Young Adults have been doing this weekend. We returned last night from a retreat at the Magnificat Community’s farm over in the Wairarapa. We spent our time, mindful of the themes of this morning service, reflecting on Christ as our Good Shepherd. We thought about how this gift of understanding Christ as our Good Shepherd particularly resonates in this season of Easter-tide; as the initial celebration of Easter recedes and, as we continue our journeys, we follow the disciples in establishing a new pattern of relating to the now risen Christ. So we looked at the way Christ continues to guide and feed the disciples’ in the resurrection appearances recorded in John’s Gospel. Along with the theme of the Good Shepherd we asked ourselves what the gift of peace is like that Christ gives and guides the disciples, and us, into.
We were in a place very conducive to thinking about the Good Shepherd. Being somewhere peaceful, with cows called faith, hope and charity, donkeys called Alleluia and Benedict, lots of food and a warm log fire was a very vivid reminder to us that we have a God who leads us to plentiful pastures and renewing streams!
At each of our reflection times we began with meditating on Jesus’ Words: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). We found that as our time passed, in our later reflections our minds moved more easily away from the message of not being afraid and not letting our hearts be troubled and more into an increasingly tangible understanding of the peace that Christ gives. Through our time set apart to be with God, the reality of our Good Shepherd leading us and being with us brought the gift of those words into fruition. The noise of other voices dimmed and we heard our Good Shepherd in companionship with us.
During one of our reflection times we thought through psalm 23 and tried to put it into our own words and our own modern-day context. To be honest, we got a bit stuck at the beginning when we tried to think of modern-day equivalents to the shepherd. The shepherd image would have been easily accessible to the hearers at the time, a person who would know the identity of all their sheep, a protector and guide, someone who guided their flock through the different seasons and cycles of life. Those experiences felt very far away from our everyday urban one, where seasons in life are not really noticed, fashions come and go, things change quickly and often seem erratic, our lives are filled with people but yet can often be so impersonal and isolated. Who are the guides who help us navigate the modern urban landscape and culture? There were various suggestions, the night-bus drivers, the personal assistants or administrators who can help negotiate the demands of every-day life, we thought of Members of Parliament, but then doubted that they were a symbol of trust in our society. There’s also the tricky challenge today of filtering the way the world is presented to us by the media – where there are the Good Shepherds and where are the less trustworthy hirelings? This search highlighted to us the need now, perhaps more than ever, for us to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, our need for Christ to bring us to quiet waters and fresh pastures. Which means that we have an keen need for us to have eyes that can see and ears that can hear the still small voice of God.
So here is the Young Adults version of Psalm 23:
Lord, you are light. The light who shines and guides me away from the perils and calamity that surround me. You provide me with what I need, with you I have protection and company, with you I am complete, I no longer feel empty. You let me rest in peace and tranquillity and show me the way of calmness. You heal the wrongs in my heart. You point us in the right direction in how to live a Godly life. I will live unafraid of the world’s evil because you are here. Lord I am yours, you guide me and protect me and I am holy in your name. I cannot afford to fail the tests you set for me but you have already provided comfort for me where I fail. You choose to reach out to me and stand next to me, rather than standing above me; I am rich in spirit. Through faith the Holy peace that you provide will never be far away even if sometimes it seems to be, not the goodness and love of the world, but of a higher place that fills every void, the love of all loves that will remain with us through this life and into the next, the eternal. I will always live within you, our living God, for you have given yourself to us as our home.
When Christ describes himself as the Good Shepherd the distinction he makes with repetition is that he is the one who lays down his life for the sheep. Understanding the reality of that gift is part of our Eastertide journey. Ultimately that was the gift of peace which we freshly appreciated Jesus giving to us; the gift of himself, his love and his constant companionship with us, and with all people who so desire that gift, then and always. In Christ’s resurrection we receive the gift of an enduring guide and companion in our life’s journey because the risen Christ comes to walk beside each one of us.
That companionship means that we who know ourselves as the flock of Christ, will also find ourselves as shepherds to each other and the world around us. The peace we receive is most fully appreciated when it is shared and passed on. For one of our young adults this was best explained through the image of a very wellington icon – the Cuba Street bucket fountain! Unless each bucket fully empties the water that is contained within it, the fountain can not operate and the flow of water will simply stop. Christ is our Good Shepherd, but he has also called us to be peace-bearers and peace-makers, to be shepherds as well as sheep.
One of the most wonderful things about this calling is that it is surrounded by Christ’s gift of peace, not the fragments of peace we might find in this world. As we hear in this morning’s Epistle: “If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart” (I John3:20). It is very easy to let our walk with Christ actually become one of the very things that troubles our hearts and makes us afraid – that nagging voice of worry that says, ‘I think on balance I’m living a good live, I should be OK’, ‘I’m not sure if I’m really praying enough’, or, ‘I don’t think I’m really living up to this call’. Those are the sort of worries that choke and suffocate the free-flowing abundance of God’s grace in our lives. It is Christ who has become our way and our truth and our life and it is his gift of righteousness that means that we can live confident before God as ministers of true peace. For it is indeed peace which Christ leaves with us and gives to us, a gift from our Good Shepherd who has freely laid down his life for us, so that our hearts should not be troubled and we should not be afraid.