Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Easter – today we should have been at Stow Bedon Church and so our prayers are with the congregation there. Also, it should have been the Wayland Show today and so our thoughts are with our farming community and also the many charities that would have been at the show or would have benefited by any profits. Last week we had a meeting of the choir on Zoom. It was a chance to catch up and see that everyone is fine.
Homily – The Good Shepherd
Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday as we read about Jesus telling his disciples that he was the Good Shepherd. Now, many years ago Marian and I were asked to keep a few lambs in our back garden in Hollingbourne Vicarage in Kent. The Leeds Castle shepherd was in the process of lambing and 4 orphan lambs needed extra care. The shepherd looked after about 1,000 ewes and so he had a very busy job trying to make sure all the new born lambs survived. We had the task of feeding these lambs, which was a wonderful task. I have never been given 4 empty Guinness bottles with rubber teats on the end and a lot of powdered milk. The lambs were covered in anti-fox ointment and so they smelt really dreadful. We enjoyed every moment.
Clergy in many ways see themselves as shepherds and it is with great sadness that I can’t be a ‘good shepherd’ at the moment, but we are keeping in touch as far as we can. Hopefully things will soon change.
I am sure that Jesus chose, ‘the Good Shepherd’, as one of his titles because it connected him with David, the shepherd boy, who would be king one day, but also the difficult task that shepherds had in Jesus’ time, in keeping the flock together. Also shepherds were the first visitors to the new born Jesus in Bethlehem, but if you think that being a shepherd was simply sitting on hill and watching their sheep or the stars, you would be wrong. The job was very hazardous and the hills around contained many wild animals looking for an easy meal. Shepherds were paid by how many sheep they had at the end of the season, and so they had to be careful. Jesus would have known good and bad shepherds, but he sees himself as ‘the Good Shepherd’
As Jesus trained his disciples, he realised that many would have very difficult and arduous lives, and many would end their lives in martyrdom. Trying to keep a group of young enthusiastic disciples together must not have been easy, and so Jesus tells them that even through all the difficulties of life he would be their good shepherd, and they should avoid those who might well be bad shepherds and give them false information. During Jesus’ time there were many false prophets, as Jesus knew.
As we progress through a very difficult period when all ages are fearful, our task as the church in the community is to be a safe haven for people to contact us, whether they are members of the community or members of the congregation. A safe haven means that they can trust you so that they can confide in you when they do feel scared or worried about family and friends. I do believe that this time of isolation has enabled many people to realise that this is actually important in life and for me it has been spending increased time in offering the day, as well as at the end of the day, the night, to God. Often people in Wayland Group will come into my prayers and I will actually name people so if you have a person you would especially like to be prayed for, just email me and I will add that person to my prayers. Also we say daily prayers in the morning and evening and we always have the church family list of names in front of us.
Jesus realised that although he was the Good Shepherd many coming after him would not be perfect in every direction and some would actually struggle. Last week I mentioned struggling with education at an early age but also at times we all struggle with our faith. I once said to a member of my staff in my last parish as I arrived that I was not a perfect Vicar and she replied, ‘We have had perfect Vicars in the past and they have not worked out and so we are grateful for you’. God does not expect perfection – just love of people. But what I am hearing from many people in recent days is that instead of drifting from faith and belief during this time of isolation, actually, many people are picking up their Bibles and also praying more, and some have asked me for an Emmaus Study Group when this isolation is ended.
Today as I write this short homily we will be stopping at 11am for a silence to remember those who have died during the Covid-19 outbreak – a very sad time – but after that we need to get on with our lives, support those around us, and be the Good Shepherd in any way we can. Keep safe but make every day special – especially Sunday.