Theme:          The Good Shepherd

 

In our gospel reading Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd. It is an image which people hearing him would have immediately related to. It was commonplace to see shepherds on the hills around Palestine, leading their sheep from place to place in search of pasture. Perhaps some of those listening were shepherds. And they would have realised that a shepherd had to be alert, always vigilant, guarding their sheep from wild animals who could attack at any moment, or from people who were trying to steal them.

 

Often the owner of the sheep, or one of his sons looked after them. Remember David was given the job of looking after his father sheep when his brothers went to fight the Philistines. And in 1 Samuel we can read how he fought with and killed a lion that was looking for a stray sheep for supper.

 

In other circumstances, people were hired to be a shepherd. Their wages were quite poor, and there was no guarantee that they would tend the sheep with the same care as the owner. On the contrary many of them had a reputation for running away at the first sign of trouble, leaving the sheep to fend for themselves.

 

Now although we live in the country and there are sheep in the fields, I guess few of us know shepherds, or understand what type of life they lead. As a result I would be surprised if Jesus would have relied on this image in 20th century Britain. No he was far more likely to refer to a role more in the public eye, perhaps

 

I am the successful Managing Director, or political leader. Leadership is in the news

 

Workers at Rover's Longbridge plant believe that John Towers is a good leader, whereas the owner of Alchemy Partners wont be.

Similarly Tony Blair felt than Ken Livingstone would not be a good leader of the new London Assembly.

Closer to home we have had the elections for the church wardens and members of the PCC, the spiritual leaders of St. Boniface.

 

But this begs the question. What is leadership ? and more importantly what attributes does a good leader possess ? Ask congregation for their views .

 

Some ideas I had earlier (relate them to attributes that Jesus displayed) 

 

A sense of vision / purpose - A Source of inspiration - People followed him for miles because Jesus gave them hope with his vision of a new way of life, one in close communion with God, where the established order was turned on its head.

 

If you have time read the Beatitudes Matthew 5. As radical a prescription for life as you are likely to find

Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them

 

Matthew 11 vs. 28 "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you , and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest."

 

 

An ability to communicate - Communication is not just an ability to talk, people can listen without hearing the message. But consider the clarity in the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question "Who is my neighbour" Particularly appropriate at the start of Christian Aid week. 

 

 

Someone who encourages - When his followers returned after wandering around in the towns and villages telling people what they had seen and heard, Jesus encouraged them by remarking on how he had seen Satan falling from the sky.  He also spoke to those who felt rejected by explaining what would happen to those people who were not prepared to welcome them. 

 

Listens - Time that Jesus spent with people listening to their concerns, and ministering to them

 

Decisive - Contrary to the image of gentle Jesus meek and mild - he was filled with anger by the way that the religious authorities had made God inaccessible and turned the Temple into a den of thieves, source of exploitation.

 

Identified with People - Grief on the death of his friend Lazarus.

Business Acumen / Wisdom - Give to Caesar's what is Caesar's and to God, what is God's.

 

Someone who is able to deal with ambiguity

 

Interesting to reflect on how well secular leaders measure up against these criteria. Few are effective on every attribute.

 

2. From the time that you are young, people aspire to leadership positions. Captain of the school football team, or head chorister, top of the class, being popular / the focal point of attention.

 

But being a Leader is not always easy.

 

Doesn't include being popular, leaders despite their past successes, can become unpopular. Consider Moses

Exodus 14 vs. 10-12 - People complained bitterly that Moses had led them out to die in the desert. And even then a few chapters later Exodus 16 vs. 1-3

 

Poor Moses, it didn't seem to matter what he did, the Israelites had very short memories about how God had delivered them, instead they were ungrateful. So much so that on one occasion Moses lost his temper and struck the rock at Meribah instead of following God's command.

 

Some people act as though they were born to be leaders, others seem much happier to be out of the limelight. 

 

Reluctant leader - Consider Gideon  : Judges 6 vs. 11-15, and vs. 36- 40.   

Don't have to feel that you are a natural leader, God can use you.

 

God can develop leadership skills within people who on the face of it seem to lack confidence  consider what the early apostles achieved. What role is God calling you to in this church ?

 

Perhaps - lay reader training

worship leader

kingdom kids teacher

ministering to those who are sick, or need someone to talk to

leader of a small group who ant to meet to study the Bible together

 

3. I don't know about you but I don't feel flattered by the idea that I am a sheep. Its not an animal whose nature, or image really appeals. We describe birds as being graceful in flight. Bears are both cuddly and powerful. A horse is sleek. The lion is the King of the Jungle. Tigers are menacing but a sheep.

 

Apart from a carefree image of young lambs skipping around the fields, sheep don't tend to feature as animals to emulate. I am not aware that any country has identified the Sheep as their national symbol, although perhaps NZ will if they replace their national flag !  

 

Have you ever considered how defenceless a sheep is. They can run quite fast, and have an ability to turn quickly, but otherwise they cant do much to save themselves from danger. On the contrary, their natural inquisitiveness and herding instinct is more likely to lead them into trouble. Overall then I resent being described as a sheep. So why does Jesus use this image ?

 

Perhaps its because we can be as silly as sheep, even those of us who believe they have everything under control. We flirt with danger. Make out we are much more confident and self -assured than we really are. Try to do everything in our own strength rather than trusting on God. Follow others because it is the easiest course of action.   

 

People, like sheep are led astray by plausible but evil leaders.  

 

Robert Maxwell. In the 1980s he was regarded as a very successful businessman, one of 2 media moguls, with a lavish life style. But in fact he had built his business using employees pensions, and when things turned sour and he disappeared they were left with nothing.

 

Politics - There are countless examples of leaders who are elected on a charismatic wave and then use power to serve their own ends. It is pure coincidence that the current unrest in Zimbabwe spearheaded by the "war veterans" coincides with a government election, and appears to be targeting anyone who has negative views of the Mugabe government ?

 

-  Leadership of the RUF in Sierra Leone appear to have decided that the end, deposing the current government justifies the means and are therefore encouraging their followers to engage in all types of unspeakable acts on their behalf. From the outside it is difficult to believe this is not just another form of ethnic cleansing .

 

Religion - November 1978, over 900 members of an egalitarian agricultural community led by their charismatic leader Jim Jones died when forced to drink cyanide poisoned punch. Those who refused were shot.

 

David Koresh of the Branch Davidian cult styled himself as the Messiah but his actions belied his words and over 70 of his followers died in Waco 7 years ago.

 

Even within the Anglican communion, it was only 5 years ago that the religious establishment was rocked when the debauchery of the alternative worship at the nine o'clock service in Sheffield was exposed

 

By describing himself as the good shepherd, Jesus was indicating how he would look after people under his care, even to the point of being prepared to die for them.

 

For those of us who are leaders in whatever capacity then God's instructions are clear. We are to be shepherds of the flock that God has entrusted to us and to be examples to others.

 

For others whose role is not leadership, then there is a warning. "Be alert, be on the watch "your enemy the Devil roams around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour" 

 

 

 

Simon de Bell