The Good Shepherd
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Sermon – The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 21 April 2024.

John 10:11-18. Gospel for Fourth Sunday of Easter Year B

Let me tell you about my agricultural background. Sheep are funny creatures. I grew up in the Rectory of St Anne’s Ryde (Sydney) that had just over an acre of land around it. To keep the grass down, a parishioner named Mr Edwin Chambers lent mum and dad a sheep named Rosie. Rosie loved the Mulberry Tree, flowers and chocolate cake, but not the long, rangy grass. I was hardly a jackaroo!

Sheep have worked their way into the ways we speak. We talk about the black sheep of the family. We used to say that Australia rode to prosperity on the sheep’s back; we say that someone is as gentle as a lamb; and I learnt a new saying this week – someone is as tuneless as a bag of wool.

The gospel for today was about Jesus as the good shepherd – and so we have read Psalm 23, and we have sung that Psalm as a hymn. It is the “Shepherd Psalm.” Here at St Andrew’s we have our Good Shepherd Window right here near the pulpit. It’s in memory of the two children of Archdeacon Dove and his wife Octavia who are so famous here.

People who have a liturgy-ometer built into their system probably have its alarm ringing at this moment. They may well ask over the insistent ringing of the ‘ometer,’ “Why is it, that in the 6-week season of Easter that is all about the resurrection, we have Good Shepherd Sunday?” What is the connection between the two? I don’t know how successful I was, but when I read the Gospel reading just now, but I tried to draw out the resurrection words of Jesus as he spoke. “I am the good shepherd … and I lay down my life for the sheep (that’s Good Friday) … for this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life (Good Friday) … that I may take it again (that’s Easter)… I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again (that’s Easter – – – Jesus takes up his life again). So we can turn off that alarm on our liturgy-ometer, because Good Shepherd Sunday really does belong in the Easter season.

But there’s one more thing – just at this time in our parish’s life, this passage is extraordinarily relevant. And I’ll show you how! (As the late Peter Cundall used to say on Gardening Australia).

Look at what Jesus says about the Good shepherd.

The Good shepherd puts the welfare of the sheep first. Their welfare is paramount. Their safety is at the centre of the Good shepherd’s heart. He will do anything to protect them … he will do everything to protect them – he will find the best pastures and the stillest waters, and he will clamber down into a gully to rescue one of the silly moos (sorry, wrong animal) that has got itself into trouble.
“If someone has a hundred sheep, and has lost one of them, he leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness and goes after the lost one, until he finds it.” (See Luke 15:3-7)

Secondly the Good shepherd gets a real thrill, a real kick, when his rescue mission for a sheep in trouble is successful. In another part of the gospels when Jesus was talking about finding things that had got lost, he said, “When you find the lost sheep, you lay it on your shoulders, and call everyone together, and say, ‘Let’s party!! I found my lost sheep!!’” (A free translation of Luke 15:3-7). And that’s exactly the picture we have in our Good Shepherd window here at St Andrew’s. The successful shepherd with the found sheep on his shoulders.

In the third place, the Good shepherd knows his sheep, and the sheep know him. The good shepherd knows each animal’s idiosyncrasies, each animal’s likes and dislikes, each animal’s loyalties and friendships. He knows each animal as an individual. And the sheep in return know the shepherd – what he looks like, what he sounds like, what the different tones of his voice mean – whether its gruff or gentle, how he walks, where he sits, how he supervises. There’s a mutuality about their relationship. “I am the good shepherd: I know my own and my own know me.” (See John 10:14)

And lastly, to emphasise the quality of the Good shepherd, Jesus spoke about the bad shepherd – in the King James Version of the Bible he is called a “hireling.” A “hireling” means a labourer employed part time for a limited contract who got his wages as soon as his work was over. He was a sort of subcontractor to a shepherd. This chap’s loyalty was to the wage in his pocket, not to the sheep in the pasture. They weren’t his sheep after all. He was far more interested in self-preservation than in sheep protection. When danger appeared he was off! If the sheep got into trouble, bad luck – but he was alright. There was no sense of care in the hireling, no sense of responsibility for what might happen. (See John 10:11-13)

But the Good shepherd … if necessary he would fight a wild animal or a bunch of robbers to the death – – – even his own death. (‘The good shepherd lays down bis life for the sheep.” See John 10:11)

Good shepherds were a valuable resource for a village, a town, a community.

Just at this time in our parish’s life, this passage is extraordinarily relevant. At each service here at St Andrew’s we pray together the prayer for a new incumbent and for our Patronage Committee. That is the group of people we elected to seek out a new Rector for St Andrew’s. In our Pew Sheet this morning we have a brief statement from the Patronage Committee. On our behalf, they are seeking a Good shepherd for St Andrew’s. Our part in this process is to pray for the Committee members, praying for wisdom in their discernment, for patience in their search, for frankness in their discussions, for grace in their approaches, for strategy in their priorities. As parishioners we need to accept that the Committee’s work is going on out of our sight, and is confidential, and we need to pray for ourselves – for patience as our representatives work as hard and as wisely as they know how, and for our ministry of encouragement for our Patronage Committee, when we realise how many other parishes beside St Andrew’s are also seeking a new incumbent at this time.

The words of the prayer for a new incumbent and for the Patronage Committee reflect all that Jesus said about the Good shepherd – “faithful” appears a couple of times in that prayer – and an encourager. And the categories that Jesus described about the Good shepherd also are assumed in our prayer – a person who seeks the welfare of the congregation – a person who celebrates the good things – a person who gets to know us and allows us to know him or her – prepared to fight for the good of the parish and its people.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us freshen our resolve to support the Patronage Committee in every way as they seek a Good shepherd to be the new Rector here.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us be good shepherds to each other – caring for each other’s welfare; seeking each other’s good; affirming each other’s gifts and achievements; bearing each other’s burdens; celebrating each other’s accomplishments. And let us bask in Jesus’ words that relate to us – “I am the good shepherd – I am your good shepherd.”