Sunday, April 26, 2015

One flock, one shepherd - Sermon for Easter 4 B at Coventry Cathedral

One flock and one shepherd
What a wonderful vision...

Specially on a morning like this, when the fluffy lambs are gambolling on new-sprung grass...the stuff of rural idylls.
But, you know, sheep aren't always picturesque!

Having lived in the Cotswolds for many years, I have a good few sheep stories.
Have you ever tried to get even one stray sheep to go back where it belongs?
I vividly remember spending the best part of an hour failing to herd a trio of errant Jacobs back through the gap in the hedge through which they had clearly broken out not long before. They somehow seemed intent on scattering in far more than just three directions...refused to follow one another tidily...And I longed for a wise collie to nip them round the ankles and tell them where to go. It was raining, of course – and by the time I had slipped and slithered in mud, got scratched on brambles, and stung by a large crop of nettles, I think I had but one thought in my head:

Tell me honestly, - if Jesus had asked you first, would you have chosen to be classed as a sheep?
They aren't very glamorous, are they?
Nor startlingly intelligent.
They aren't even particularly colourful or graceful.
With the whole of creation to choose from – why, oh why, did Jesus decide to use the metaphor of shepherd and flock to describe his care for humanity?

I'd really much prefer not to be a sheep, if it's all the same to Him.

But nonetheless, that image of “one flock, one shepherd” resonates with all that is in me.

Could it ever really happen?
It feels like a distant dream when we look at a broken Church and our poor hurting world, so bitterly divided by faith, and by doubt. 
Small wonder that many decent, compassionate people have turned away from what they see as the strictures of organised religion...claiming that it lies at the root of so much that is truly dreadful.
Every news bulletin seems to carry fresh news of atrocities committed by ISIS...and we must resist the temptation to see this as a one-way process, to assume that Christians are always the good guys, always the victims.
Think Northern Ireland – or if you prefer, just a few centuries earlier, think Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts.

We don't really need much excuse to inflict pain on one another.
Being human and being humane are often very very different things – in the same way that being Christian and being Christ-like are not always identical.

And yet...and yet...the good shepherd declares with everything that he says and everything that he does, that we are, after all, worth bothering with.

And he doesn't draw demarcation lines. He lays down his life for the sheep – whatever fold they claim to belong to. After centuries of believing themselves to be God's chosen people, the impact of this on Israel was deeply shocking.
As shocking, perhaps, as it might be for us to glimpse for a moment the truth that God doesn't love the Christian victims of the persecuted church any more than he loves their aggressors
Isn't that scandalous?
Even wolves in sheep's clothing are included.
One flock, one shepherd.
That good shepherd knows each of his sheep...searches them and knows them, the secrets of their hearts, their struggles, their hopes, their wounds and their dreams...
Knows them – and YET - loves them.
Knows me – knows you – and yet...keeps on loving.
And lays down his life – to show that ALL are equally loveable...

You see, love is a universal language, that all can understand.
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd”
They will listen because that language of love transcends faith and culture. Does not depend on good behaviour.Cannot be bought or earned.It is, always, a free gift. God's grace poured out in wild extravagance and made clear to us at that moment when Jesus, on the cross, draws all people to himself.

ALL people.
Not just the good, those trying to be holy,
Not just the people with whom we would enjoy sharing a sheepfold
ALL people

One flock, one shepherd.

And yes – we do need to learn to hear his voice...And that voice will be calling us to have larger hearts, to pray blessings on those whom we cannot understand, those whom we fear, those whom we are sure that we cannot be called to like. to follow ways of greater love.
But, though we need to hear his voice, the salvation that we find in no-one else is not conditional.
We're talking grace and not works here.
We can't earn God's love.
We can't forfeit it.

If the most brutal terrorist had, by some quirk of creation, turned out to be the only human being born in this world – Christmas and Easter would still have happened just for him.

Salvation found only in Jesus but freely offered to all of us– no matter what flock we think we belong to.

So – perhaps on balance it's not so bad being a sheep.

Though, before I finish, if I may I'll share with you the creature I would really like to be.
If you look up at the Sutherland tapestry in the Cathedral, you will see between the feet of Christ in Glory a tiny, insignificant human figure...
Recently someone told me that it always makes them think of an Emperor penguin, protecting a chick.
So – I want to be a penguin! A penguin for Jesus!
I want to nestle between the feet of the One who loves me and will never let me down.
I want to stand where He stands – and so see the world with His eyes of love, as I listen to His voice and hear him call my name.


Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

What a lovely idea - a penguin for Jesus!

jo(e) said...

we must resist the temptation to see this as a one-way process, to assume that Christians are always the good guys, always the victims.

Well said. That's so important!