Good Morning! Welcome to this mornings service.
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Below the video you will find a message from Ray Heasley who was planned to speak at Grangewood today.
Watch out for our Messy Church at home post after lunch today!
God Bless x
Message – Ray Heasley
The Good Shepherd
John 10 v 1-18
Much of our Bible is set in a rural context, and is rich in rural imagery, which would have been familiar to those reading the Old Testament or hearing Jesus. Sheep are mentioned some 176 times in the Bible, and shepherds 80.
To those of who live in cities, it may seem rather strange, and attempts have been made to change the imagery. For example, in the 1960s Carl Burke, a prison Chaplain in New York, got prisoners to retell stories in their own language, and one produced his version of the 23rd Psalm as “The Lord is like my Probation Officer”.
More recently, in 2015, an unexpected bestselling book was ‘The Shepherd’s Life’, set in the Lake District and described as ‘a way of life that is little noticed and yet has profoundly shaped history’.It tells of how shepherding often runs for several generations, with long days and hard work.
In the Mediterranean shepherding is not done, as in this country, using dogs and whistles. Rather, as in John 10, each shepherdcalls his own sheep out of the pen and, walking ahead of them, leads them to pasture. There would be no field boundaries or hedges, no dogs – and sometimes not much grass. So, the shepherd has to take the sheep on long journeys, over several days, just to find water and good grass. The sheep followed, heads down and nibbling as they went. They didn’t even need to look up– they just needed the occasional word from the shepherd to keep on the right track. Sheep were usually kept for wool, rather than meat, so they were kept for longer, and more of a relationship was built up, the sheep were given names, and they recognized the voice of their shepherd.
Each night, as the sun went down, the sheep were put either into a large shared pen, usually with strong stone walls to keep thieves and wolves out, and just a small gap where the shepherds could lie down to block the way – and quite literally become the gate (John 10 v7,v9) – or a small enclosed area, again with the shepherd as gate. There was no legitimate access to the sheepfold except through him. In the morning, each shepherd called his sheep – who recognized his particular voice, and were ready to follow him on another day’s trek in the hills. The shepherd also had to retrieve any which strayed, and make restitution for any which were lost.
So, this is the familiar image Jesus uses about himself, as the gate (or door) and the shepherd.
Today there is increasing need for people to have ‘safe spaces’ where they can come and talk, and share their concerns. As disciples of Jesus, are we helpful gatekeepers, encouraging access, providing protection for the vulnerable? Or do we become a barrier?
Rev Harry Emerson Fosdick used to tell about a shepherd he met in the Holy Land. He asked him if he had gone to school. Theshepherd said, “No.” “Can you count?” Again, “No.” “How do you know you haven't lost a sheep?” The shepherd answered, “Because I know them all by name.” The Christian faith is not about rules and regulations, or about an impersonal label or number. In verse 12 Jesus said “I know my sheep and my sheep know me”, and he knows each of us today, helping us through good times and bad, easy or difficult.
In verse 16 Jesus said “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen . . . they too will listen to my voice”. He lived in a divided world, with much tension between Jews and others. Jesus was concerned not just about the Jews, who were the ‘insiders’, but also those who were ‘outsiders’ – the Gentiles. His church was not to be an exclusive or fragmented club, but united andinclusive. He came to bring people together, not into the same penor fold, but into one flock – in relationship with him as shepherd and leader.
The present situation of lockdown and isolation is proving very difficult for many people, especially those living alone, or where several in a family are living in a confined space, perhaps with no garden. Some may be feeling a bit lost, like ‘like sheep without a shepherd’ (see Mark 6 v34). Others are finding new ways of doing things, including worship and online worship, which is drawing in some from other places, and some who are not normal attenders. They too are part of the flock, whom we must not abandon when things return to ‘normal’.
At the end of the letter to the Hebrews we find these words:
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.”
This is the message of Easter, and we know that we are not alone, but he that he equips us for following him and reaching out to those in need, whether (in the words of a hymn by Fred Pratt Green) they are ‘across the world or across the street’.