Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday

This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday –
It seems odd in our ever changing region to celebrate good Shepherd Sunday – after all in the five years I have lived in the top of the south I’ve scene the landscape change from sheep to grapes – we should really be celebrating Vineyard Sunday… Actually next week Sunday is about Vines but getting back to this week….
I struggle with rural images – having grown up in a small town of 55,000 I ain’t scene many sheep, and I don’t think I’ve ever scene a shepherd in the flesh

So for those of you like me who are rather disconnected from the rural images of sheep and shepherds I Should point out what Good Shepherd Sunday is about
It is not a study of sheep farming methods throughout the age – though I am sure that would be interesting
Nor is it an appreciation Sunday for those who work hard on the land supplying the country and the world with sheeppy products – though again that might be a good idea
It is a Sunday where we actually explore Leadership –

I am not sure whether you have noticed this or not but Leadership seems to have been the obsession of the Church in the 21st century
A Major reason behind this obsession is I think the belief that; “Everything Stands or Falls On Leadership”
When business fails it’s the CEO being hung drawn and quartered – admittedly with a fat redundancy cherub.
When a sports team fails – it used to be because of the players - now they loose because the manager failed…

The Church is probably no different more often than not when the leadership fails the Church fails in her mission
And I think we are only too aware that these are tough times – as Peter pointed out at the AGM we have gone through 13 significant personnel leadership changes in the last 13 months.
We have had a crisis in stable leadership
Thankfully as a church you have been able to whether some of the storms.
The story of – Judges 17:6 seems:
“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes”
Thankfully in our context what is right in people’s eyes is largely what God would have us do.
As a church you have over the last few years largely done the right thing
-and for that you need to be applauded.

But there is another crisis that faces the Church
Figures out in the UK say that if the Church of England continues in its rate of decline than by 2050 there will be no one left to blow the candles out.
In our context while our decline is not as potentially traumatic as the C of E we do still have a crisis – we are not growing – and for a church like our with the resources we have that’s an issue
And if the saying is true that Everything Stands or Falls on Leadership
Than we have a Leadership crisis still.

But I believe we also have the resources to overcome this crisis – to grow again
– not just in numbers or bums on seats
– that’s easy growth
All we need to do is either put on the best show in town
Or change our counting strategy move from bottoms on seats to knees on kneelers and we can grow 100% overnight

The fact is we still face a crisis – we are failing to make disciples.

Strangely enough crisis in leadership is nothing new for the people of God…
The OT is chock full of leadership crisis’s,
And when it’s not about the leaders it about how the people have fallen away from God – why? Because the leadership failed…

Today in our reading we have Jesus offering a model of leadership to the people of God – because of a crisis.
He offers two contrasting approaches – that of the Good Shepherd and that of the Hired Hand.

To really understand the Good Shepherd you need to understand the hired hand and I guess the reason for the hired hand running.
In scripture he runs because of the threat of wolves – there is a story with that story.
John was writing the gospel for a church in crisis
While we can’t possibly know the whole situation John was working in we know that he was selective about what he includes – as he says in 21:25
“There are also many other things that Jesus did: if every one of them was written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
I guess when your time is short you want to make the main thing the main thing and For John what he includes in his gospel are the main things for his community of faith so he records Jesus words for the issues that speak to his community.

One issue we know about from history is persecution- in the early days of the Christian faith – followers of Jesus were scene as part of the synagogue – the early followers were largely Jews – and so Christianity was scene in terms of being a Jewish sect.
As you might expect when you realize who Jesus was and is
– namely God made flesh you are going to start rubbing people up the wrong way in the synagogue
– To the average Jew that’s just not possible.
– God is one
– Messiahs don’t die
– And how could Jesus be God if he hung around with sinners
The Christians then were basically excluded from the club.
And because of that exclusion they were not trusted by wider society
– They were seen as a cult
Rumors spread,
Christians were cannibals because they ate the body and drank the blood of their leader
They also would not recognize Caesar as Lord – because Jesus is Lord
That can just sound like a trait statement but in the world of the Bible that was rebellion.
Subsequently the church came under attack and persecution – So while Jesus is talking about the wolves of the Pharisees attacking the sheep,
John uses the story to warn the Church of the Wolves of Rome attacking the sheep too.
When persecution comes the hired shepherds run for the hills rather than stay and defend the sheep.
When crisis come the leaders of the Church then they are to make a choice about how they should lead either as a good shepherd or to run away, like a hired hand.
While we don’t know whether John had experienced Persecution when he was writing the Gospel we do know its something that John would experience first hand –
Revelation was written while he was on the island of Patmos
– because of persecution,
– because he had spoken out the word of God,
– Because he had stood by the sheep.
So who is the hired hand?
On one hand it’s the Pharisees
But its also a back handed swipe at Church leadership that run away in the face of persecution – when crisis emerges

On the other side of the image Jesus offers the model of the Good Shepherd
When you think about it Shepherd and leadership are not really two words that go together.
Though a Shepherd leads the sheep is a worth while observation –
I mean let face it we can all be as dumb as sheep at times.
And After 13 years of youth work I can tell you that most teenagers have heard instincts – if one does it they’ll all do it – regardless of how stupid it appears
In the ancient world Shepherds were at the very bottom of the status in the ancient world.
They were uneducated, illiterate, dirty, smelly, rough and irreligious men.
In our context I suspect the image of the shepherd we are most familiar with is the great southern
– The grumpy,
– beer in hand,
– One word answers don’t really inspire many people to follow – even if we are dumb as sheep.
It’s hardly the model of leadership that you would want your Church leaders to aspire to.

There are of course some aspects of the image of a Shepherd that fit well
Jesus knows us as the Shepherd knows his sheep,
Jesus protects the sheep
Jesus searches for the lost the way the shepherd searches for his lost sheep,
So while there is much we can learn from some of our rural images of Shepherds and even by giving the image the adjective Good it’s still an odd image of leadership…
Yet this is the image that Jesus draws on when he talking about those who lead and protect the Church – God’s people
But the kind of shepherd that Jesus is describing is not a normal shepherd.
It’s the Shepherd that Ezekiel talks about In Ezekiel 34 – not some smelly, illiterate, misfit of society who is banished to the outskirts of the city.
This is the Good Shepherd –
As God Says in Ezekiel 34:15
“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak.”
This is the God Shepherd that promises to seek and save.
This is the model of leadership Jesus is describing.

So what does that look like?
For the Church that has emerged out of one crisis of lack of stable leadership into another crisis of how we do mission we need to take on the mantle of being shepherds
– Good Shepherds who model ourselves after Jesus.
But since leadership is not only a function of those who get paid but a function of all God’s people as we lead in families, workplaces, schools or where ever we offer our witness to the world the model of the good Shepherd is for all of us.

In times of crisis with God‘s people he again and again brings them back to this model of leadership -
Good shepherd-leaders build relationships with people and people follow because they know and trust them.
They are not distant and isolated, not strangers.
Good shepherd-leader exercises influence with people by setting an example for people to follow.
Good shepherd-leaders are not selfishly focused on building themselves up.
Instead they focus on building other people up, helping them to grow and live a full life.
Good shepherd-leader serves people sacrificially.
This is sometimes the hardest thing to do – it’s hard to give and give, but just because we are called to give sacrificially doesn’t mean we are meant to be abused either Don Dickson or a dozen eggs.
Good shepherd leaders don't run away when the going gets tough.
Good Shepherds are Mission Shaped, they recognize that the people in the sheep are not the only people that matter – but that God is at work in the world beyond the sheep pen of the Church.

I Hope you can see Leadership in the Church of God is a huge responsibility
For John’s church when the going got tough the tough scarpered meanwhile he was left to rot on the island of Patmos
Having been involved in leadership in the Church for over ten years I can understand why sometimes they run
I may not have had my life threatened for the gospel but sometimes the needs of God’s people can threaten your sanity
And though it’s a pleasure to serve you at the same time it’s not always easy giving out when all you hear back is a lot baaaah’s
So, on this good shepherd Sunday Pray for us who are in leadership if we are to lead you through this crisis in God’s mission to draw in other sheep than we are going to need:
Your support,
Your love,
Your patience,
And your help…

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