Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday from the Gospel reading for the day. Jesus often used the imagery of shepherds because it was central to the economy of the Jews, but more importantly to their history and religious thought. Many of the great figures of their history and religion had been shepherds at least for part of their lives. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had flocks of sheep whilst Moses and David both worked as shepherds before they were called to lead God’s people to a better life. They were called by God to become shepherds of men. God worked through them but they brought their shepherding skills to their new work. So what about us?
In the Gospel reading St John tells us that Jesus says: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ John 10:11 NRSV. This is indeed Good News but later he says: ‘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’. Where do they fit in to God’s plan and who are they anyway? The disciples who first heard those words probably assumed that Jesus was referring to other Jews who did not at present follow “The Way” as they were known. At His Ascension Jesus made it clear to them that: ‘… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1:8NRSV, yet, despite this they still held to the view that Christianity was part of their Jewish religion, a fulfilment of it, for Jews wherever they were throughout the world. Indeed, had it not been for the evangelism of St Paul Christianity might well have remained just that, a small Jewish sect among many others, which would probably have died out when the Roman Emperor Nero wreaked havoc on the Jewish people blaming the Christians for the Jewish Revolt.
All countries, and all communities are necessarily made up of so many disparate parts; persons of different ethnicity, sexual orientation perhaps, rich and poor, well fed and starving, able and disabled, some living in multi-million pound mansions whilst some exist homeless, begging on the streets. Some may be Christian whilst many may not, yet, I believe that Jesus encompasses all of these when he says; ‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also.’ Each member of society, whoever he or she is needs to hear His voice so that ‘there will be one flock, one shepherd’.
Now, we need to remember that as Christians we are not an elite, privileged few who by our regular attendance at church, putting money in the collection plate and singing the right hymns have already booked our place on the bus heading for heaven. We are called to be ‘good shepherds’. We must, therefore be open to accepting those of a different flock, those who are “not like us” into our church family, making provision for their disability, understanding their difficulties and listening to their problems. In other words making them truly welcome so that they feel comfortable and accepted in the family of the church. We are to invite them to join the adventure of following Jesus, to discover with us a new way of being human – a way to live differently. After all, there are usually at least two doors to any church and whilst it may be easy to get people in by the front door they can leave just as quickly by the back door.
You may feel that this is all so very obvious as not to need repeating, but reflect on this event which I am told happened at a church recently.
Mother and her six young children had attended Messy Church for a while and everyone enjoyed themselves. One Sunday morning she brought them to Sung Eucharist at 10am. Being children the youngsters enjoyed themselves playing with the familiar toys at the back of the church. Unfortunately some of the congregation found it unsettling and left the service, although the majority stayed. Embarrassed at the confusion she felt she had caused she gathered up her little flock and fled the building never to be seen again; which is a pity since she may have been the one lost sheep that Jesus was looking for having left the other ninety nine singing their hymns of worship as they always did at this time on a Sunday.
So let us take a good look at ourselves and our church and ask if we really are ‘good shepherds’. Do we welcome those ‘other sheep that do not belong to this fold’, into our church family, allowing them also to ‘listen to my voice’, so that there will be ‘one flock, one shepherd’ our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us take time this week to think and pray about that.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years