Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 18 July 2021.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6 (I will raise up to David a righteous Branch … The Lord Our Righteous Saviour)
• Psalm 23
• Epistle: Ephesians 2: 11-22 (But now in Christ you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ)
• Gospel: Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 (His compassion for them, like sheep without a shepherd)
I think that we have all been in work places where there has been more management than leadership. Equally there have been the times when the leadership was clear and unaffected, and it has drawn the whole team together with a common objective and way of operating.
But yes, there are times and places where there is no leadership at all. There is plenty of management, many performance targets, codes of practice, and of course the ever present blame culture.
But then there are the lessons for today, which are also about leadership – and they are about shepherding.
In this country the shepherding is done with dogs who menace the sheep, and where the whole method is about control and threat.
But in the near east, shepherding is different. It is about the shepherd personally leading the sheep, and the sheep – and goats – know the shepherd, recognize the voice, and trust the care that they are given. Here the shepherd leads and the sheep follow. There is no driving.
And this is the pattern and the inspiration of our lessons.
In Jeremiah, the prophet expresses the severest of warnings to the shepherds of the time, who may lord it over the sheep but do not pastor them.
They may take the choicest offerings, and savour the most prominent of positions but these are career shepherds, looking for the best openings for themselves, the most prestigious of situations and the most elaborate of titles.
This may be all very well in the competition for prestige, but it has nothing to do with the shepherding of the sheep.
And the prophet is very clear about speaking of Israel as the Lord’s personal flock. They are ‘My sheep, on My pasture.’ But even here there is the memory of King David, the shepherd boy who became king, and who was the model for faithful kingship in Israel.
This would be the model for an even greater Shepherd-King who would come to the beleaguered people of the Lord.
He would regather them, restore them, heal and rally them, giving them peace with their neighbours and security in their land.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, the nature of the shepherding was given further strength and definition. The shepherd would take His task extremely personally, and would give Himself and His life for the sheep.
This kind of shepherd was never going to run away when there was a threat to the sheep. He was not going to trim His teaching and care for the sheep to suit the most recent of fashions, twisting and turning in the wind like a flag or a streamer.
He would know what was true and would teach it. He would lead by example, and would have the wisdom to know a false trail or teaching when He came across it.
He would discern the motives of those who coveted Him the sheep and wanted to take them from Him. He would see the subtle nuances in arguments for the distractions and distortions they were, and He would set out His own teaching plainly and clearly.
In the Gospel, Mark tells of Jesus’ care for both His disciples and for the crowds that followed them. The disciples were working flat out and they needed a rest.
But the crowds also needed His care. They too were lost and needed further direction. They were hurting and needed His healing touch and His words of assurance and forgiveness.
They also lived in a world of contradictory teaching, with its distortions and hidden agendas. They needed to be able to sift through the variety of attitudes and instructions and postures in order to know the true and the reliable from the partial, the polemical, the positions that had their own power agendas and whose methods and ambitions were not vested in the glory of the Lord.
But Paul’s assurance to the church was that they were already reconciled with God by the death and resurrection of Jesus – and not through their own good works.
In Jesus, God had done for them what they could never achieve for themselves.
In leading them into fresh pastures, these were His pastures and He was wanting them to be refreshed in them: rested, filled, restored, renewed in their understanding and in holy wisdom.
As they followed Jesus they would also lead others to do the same. The others who could not see Jesus would see the sheep of His pasture, and they would learn from them.
The wall of alienation and condemnation between God and the whole of humanity had already been taken down, and all who truly wanted Him would find Him. One shepherd of Israel, for all of humanity in all ages and lands.