Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Generous God, you give us gifts and make them grow: though our faith is small as mustard seed, make it grow to your glory and the flourishing of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, whose Son is the true vine and the source of life, ever giving himself that the world may live: may we so receive within ourselves the power of his death and passion that, in his saving cup, we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
1 The Lord is my shepherd;
therefore can I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He shall refresh my soul
and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full.
6 Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Let us pray for the world and let us thank God for his goodness.
Let us pray for the shepherds of flocks of all descriptions, from farmers and herdsmen to heads of households. May they all make decisions from selfless love for the sake of those others for whom they care.
Let us pray for the Queen, her government and her loyal opposition – that their deliberations will produce righteousness and justice for all. We pray for our local officials whose focus is ourselves.
Let us pray for our bishops, Rachel and Robert, as pastors of pastors and our shepherds in the faith.
Let us pray for all around us, that we all may have oversight of our neighbours, that we will step up to help when help is needed.
Let us pray for the ill, those whose bodies, minds or spirits are compromised in any way … … … .
Let us pray for those who have died recently and those whose years’ mind falls at this time.
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 8
It seems that I have always been with you on this day here in Minsterworth, on a Sunday when The Good Shepherd is the theme. Most poignant is the psalm, but there are two verses from the other readings which I would like to consider this morning with you. The first is from the prophet:
“I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”
These words are apt for any time, aren’t they? We all hope for shepherds over us who are able to assuage our anxieties. Life is so difficult with the pandemic and there is a great political discussion about the lifting of covid restrictions as a matter of law. I believe everyone is a bit confused, just like those sheep scattered all over the place in space and mind. Is the epidemic over and does everything become as it used to be in 2018? We are looking for leaders who will guide the nation in courage and hope – leaders who will care for each and every single person in the country in this year, 2021 – post covid. We want shepherds who are inclusive, so inclusive that no person will feel dismay or fear and that every person will be a very real part of the common weal.
These words of Jeremiah are an aspiration for every age and every nation, let alone the theocracy which Israel has always considered itself to be. Israel was a land where God was the ruler, and the king was the representative of the divine. No wonder Jeremiah utters those words about the shepherds who scatter their flocks. It is no wonder that he condemns such people in positions of authority and responsibility so comprehensively.
Can’t you just hear Jesus saying these same words about shepherds, especially after he has castigated the leaders of the people. “Dens of thieves” and “mouths like sepulchres” are phrases that come to mind instantly about the leadership of Israel in his day. We can probably tar our own leaders with the same sorts of phrases, because our leaders have scattered and confused us. Our leaders have destroyed our hopes and aspirations, it seems.
But I can also hear the promise of good shepherds, just as Jeremiah prophesied, echoed in the condemnations Jesus made. For wherever there is a curse in the prophets there is also a blessing. The blessing here, when the bad shepherds are condemned, is that good shepherds will come – at some time. I see Jesus in this prophetic tradition – one of the prophets who describe the people’s misdeeds, call them to repentance, and promise the Day of the Lord. Jesus has condemned the evil of his generation, he warns of the Kingdom of Heaven as the Day of the Lord being so very near that all should change their ways – and he describes the Kingdom as a promise to those with upright hearts of faith, with “ears to hear”.
“Jesus had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”
“Jesus had compassion” – that is the key to everything. Shepherds without compassion are shepherds capable of scattering and destroying their flocks. They do not have the care of the flock in their hearts to find the one lost sheep of the one hundred in their charge. Jesus contrasted the true shepherd with the hireling elsewhere. The hireling runs away from danger – the hireling has no commitment to the flock he has been given, just like those bad shepherds who destroy and scatter.
Jesus did not just condemn and hope for the best, as our political leaders always seem to do. No, Jesus taught them many things. They needed to have a proper hope and to have the means to achieve the best. The best for faithful people is not just a dream – it is a reality to be created here and now.
This is that “realised eschatology” which the social gospel embodies, that the final possibility of heaven can be made a concrete reality here on earth. The martyred saints have all given their lives to accomplish the feat of heaven on earth. The saints who have fallen asleep taught about the coming of the kingdom into the individual’s life, that salvation is attainable through faith and good works.
When we look around at the world, we see such disarray everywhere. What do we feel? Last Sunday saw one such event to highlight the lack of direction in people’s lives. When the England football team lost the final of the Euros, what did we hear on the news? – The result was announced on Radio 3, I hasten to add, so even I knew about it. – All the news broadcasts described the devastated feelings and they interviewed fans all over the country in their deep disappointment. What did you feel when you heard the news, or watched the final moments of the penalty shoot-out? Did your world collapse? Did you feel like lashing out at those who failed to score their penalties? Or were you just so happy that the team had played so well?
What do you feel for those who were interviewed on Sunday night and Monday morning? I, for one, was bemused by the reactions of so many fans. I suppose, like Jesus, I have some compassion for them because they are a bit lost. They don’t know what they are going to do now that the Euros are over and their expectations have been dashed. But things will get back to “normal”, won’t they? But what is that “normal”? What will you do now that the government has removed all the restrictions? Will you be able to function amongst all the new-found freedom given us because of the lifting of the severe, corona virus and legalistic restrictions? Are you without direction now that there are no more rules to tell you what you have to do?
However, isn’t this the “normal” everyone wants? No more rules and regulations to determine what I am permitted to do. I can now go unmasked wherever I want and I can hug whomever wishes to hug me. That is the normal everyone has been talking about for so long. Now it is here. Will we be able to deal with it? Or will we be lost like those scattered sheep of whom Jeremiah spoke? Jesus has compassion for us as we bumble along in what everyone is calling “normality”, because he knows the normal of the everyday world should be the fullness of life he has offered the world through his life – and that is not doing whatever we want. The fullness of life is the offering of care to each and every one we meet. We are to become the good shepherds. Each and every one of us is to be the king – the humble king and shepherd – who would give himself up for the other in their distress. Perhaps we should set our sights on being good sheep, sheep who follow the good shepherd into the Kingdom. Perhaps we should aspire to become like the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and grants peace.