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Sunday sermon 17 April, Easter 4 – Sheep and shepherds

Family Service Readings: Psalm 23; John 10:22-30;

FAMILY QUIZ – for all ages.

  1. Who wrote the Psalm “The lord is my shepherd?” (David)
  2. What is the number of that Psalm? (23)
  3. Who had the first sheep dogs in the bible? (David – Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life – “Surely” or a dog called “Shirley”). [This is a joke by the way :-)]
  4. What part of a bible days sheep was very fat? Was it the tummy or the tail? (Tail)
  5. Which way did bible shepherds may their sheep move. Did they drive them from behind or lead them from in front? (in front)
  6. If a sheep was injured say scratched by a sharp thorn bush or sunburned – what did the shepherd use to heal them? (olive oil)
  7. What would a shepherd carry the oil in back in bible days? (a ram’s horn).
  8. What was the name of the shelters made for sheep to be sheltered in/ (sheepfold)
  9. What material was a permanent sheepfold made of? (stone)
  10. What was used to guard the door of a sheepfold? (a watchman or shepherd).
  11. When David was a shepherd boy what animals did he protect his sheep from? (lion and bear. 1 Sam 17)
  12. Did shepherds really know their sheep by name? (yes)

And then two key questions:

  1. Does Jesus know you by name?
  2. Do you REALLY listen to Him?

MESSAGE FOR ADULTS AND KIDS

As this is a family service, here are some questions to discuss with someone younger or older than you in church today:

  • When do you feel the most unsafe?
  • Who are the people you should be safe with?
  • Have you ever been abandoned?
  • Do you remember being lost? In danger?
  • Have you ever been left behind?

When you’ve been left behind, perhaps after school,  and no one came to fetch you. How did you feel? Scared? (not really/maybe).  Unloved? (toughen up kid –  or maybe you felt terrible unloved?)  Angry? (probably – because you’re a kiwi kid and have a sense of entitlement?)

We watched a presentation about children in Romania being abandoned totally by parents – children who lie in hospital cots for years. It’s a great story though of a kiwi woman who started an orphanage there – and eventually a whole organisation to rescue children.

The bible has a lot of ways of describing God’s love for us as God’s children. The Good Shepherd is a great one – this Sunday Easter 4 is always Good Shepherd Sunday. He really does care for us as part of his flock. And of course he speaks of “lost sheep” in another place, describing how we get separated from Him. Here’s a great video telling that story:

 

Thankfully we are found by Jesus – and part of our work is to help lost people get reconnected to Him too.

Here’s one way of looking at Psalm 23 which is one of those passages that are our bread and butter – like 2 Corinthians 5:17 (if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation) and John 3: 16 (God so love the world). It’s by Ben Witvoet.

_______________________________________________

Dialogue with Scripture:

This has been another busy week. I don’t know whether I can focus on worship this morning. Something is nagging at my feelings.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
Life is busy. There seems to be no end to work. I can’t relax.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.
I have bad, painful memories.

I am hurting inside.

He restores my soul.

I struggle with sin. The good I want to do I cannot do. The evil I do I do not want to do. Who will rescue me from this body of death?

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 

I am getting older and may soon die. Someone I love may soon die.

Even though I walk though 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.

My fellow workers look down on me. My boss gives me a hard time.  have few friends at school.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Life is full of troubles. My health is not as it should be. Where can I find meaningful work?

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

I am worried about the future. Will I meet a partner? Can I repay my debts? Is my business going to fail? Will my marriage last?

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.

Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

________________________________________________

John 10 – the good shepherd.

The Gospel reading has a number of great things that are a strength to us as well.

The whole of John 10 is worth reading. It doesn’t all take place at the same time. This last part is at the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in winter and takes place on the east side of the temple where pronouncements and judgments took place.

The Jewish leaders are eager to pin Jesus down on his claims. In fact, there’s only one verse in the whole of John’s gospel where the question is asked directly? They encircle him, corner him and ask: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24).

He answers in sheep and shepherd language. They would pick that up quickly – because they would have known Psalm 23 too (The LORD- YAHWEH – GOD -is the shepherd) – and that there and in other places God is the shepherd of the flock. Jesus is making a claim to be this shepherd. Here is his reply:  Joh 10:25  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, Joh 10:26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. Joh 10:27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. Joh 10:28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 

Importantly, eternal life – in John 17:3 – is described as a relationship – knowing God. And Jesus is claiming here that we are safe in his hand.

Just in case they don’t get it he spells it out further: Joh 10:29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. Joh 10:30  I and the Father are one.”

The moment he claims to be God – the next verse in fact – they want to stone him!

There is nothing worse than a closed mind. They could not get their heads around that possibility that he was “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Of course in John 1:11 John writes: He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

Jesus challenges us too – to really believe in Him – not just who he is but that he really is the good shepherd.

I suspect often we live the opposite – as if we had been abandoned by God – that he forgot to fetch us at the school of life.

Here’s Psalm 23 again – with some key words to describe God and Jesus:

Psalm 23 -a Litany

The Lord is my Shepherd That’s Relationship!

I shall not want That’s Supply!

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. That’s Rest!

He leadeth me beside still waters. That’s Refreshment!

He restoreth my soul. That’s Healing!

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness That’s Guidance!

For His Name’s sake That’s Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death That’s Testing!

I will fear no evil That’s Protection!

For Thou art with me That’s Faithfulness

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me That’s Discipline!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies That’s Hope!

Thou anointest my head with oil That’s Consecration!

My cup runneth over That’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life That’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord That’s Security!

Forever That’s Eternity!

May he bless you today with the knowledge of how good He is.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 7 December 2014 – Living under Christ, the Good Shepherd and King

Readings: Ezekiel 34:1-6, 11-16; Matthew 2:4-6    (Following the Narrative Lectionary)

Video: Part 2 of “Te Rongopai – 200 years of the Gospel in New Zealand, 1814- 2014” with Dr Stuart Lange

Available here: http://nzchristiannetwork.org.nz/te-rongopai-dvd/

SERMON

So what is so attractive about Jesus?

  • For New Zealand
  • For Maori
  • For us today

As the 200th year of the gospel in NZ approaches, what can we say about the heart of the message?

Samuel Marsden writes in his journal: After reading the service, during which the natives stood up and sat down at the signal given by the motion of Korokoro’s switch which was regulated by the movements of the Europeans, it being Christmas Day, I preached from the Second Chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, and tenth verse: “Behold! I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”

And then he says this: In this manner the Gospel has been introduced into New Zealand; and I fervently pray that the glory of it may never depart from its inhabitants, till time shall be no more.

What made this message so attractive for the Maori who were part of the first generation who heard it?

Perhaps the answer is muddled – yes there were benefits of having these settlers and their missionary message – a written language, education and skills development, and tools and guns.

The truth is that many people come to Christ seeking other things while at the same time seeking Him! Look at these examples:

  • The so called “Rice Christians” are a good example – people who come to faith while being helped in poverty or other practical needs.
  • Young people who go to church to meet the girls or boys (marriages ensue – they did in the past anyway and still do).
  • Immigrants come to make friends. And to learn English!
  • People are served in Mission (for example mainly music and Messy Church families) who may come along at first because of their children and a programme – and God willing, they may come to believe.
  • And we are not exempt. We sometimes focus on what we need or can get. Sometimes our prayer lists are like shopping lists!

We go straight into prayers of supplication – praying for God to meet needs, heal people, and bless our programmes and services.

The acronym about prayer that has been around a long time is A C T S           

  1. Adoration 2. Confession 3. Thanksgiving 4. Supplication Asking for needs to be met and programmes to be blessed, (supplication) or praying for others, is at the end.  Adoration, Confession and Thanksgiving are sometimes conspicuously absent!
  • And people come to church because they’re lonely – and they find family and community.

AN ATTRACTIVE COMMUNITY

I think it was the change in COMMUNITY that made the message so attractive when the gospel was first preached in New Zealand. Just as it does today.

And at the heart of that community is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for his sheep! The Good Shepherd who forgives those who kill him because “they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34 – And Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.)

This Jesus the shepherd King is a very attractive person.

What, then, was the impact of Christianity on life in NZ? How did things change?

  • It ended the ceremonial eating of enemies – because the Gospel values the life of all people – as does the Old Testament. We are all created in the image of God.
  • It presented forgiveness – which ended the revenge killing or UTU that they saw as a form of justice. The story we heard today about the man whose daughter was killed and he sought forgiveness rather than revenge is a powerful case in point. The results of that one incident were remarkable.
  • It offered a relationship with Jesus, the good shepherd, who lays down his life for His sheep, and who ultimately is also the judge of all. It’s a different kind of accountability.
  • God ultimately would be their shepherd king. It’s a different kind of kingship.

We’re strong on the shepherd today – and sometimes weak in our understanding of Christ as King or Ruler.

Ezekiel 34 today speaks of a coming Messiah who will rule. He is the shepherd King. The New Testament passage today – when the wise men as Herod where to find Jesus – this is what they say.

Mat 2:4  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.

Mat 2:5  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

Mat 2:6  “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

We need the shepherding part – we get that – but we also need to do things right! We need justice – fairness – discipline and accountability.

Over the past weeks we have looked at the mess of the Old Testament and the kings that looked after God’s people, under Saul, David and Solomon – and then those various kings of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.

Douglas Stuart, an OT specialist who writes a commentary on Ezekiel, has this to say:

Throughout the Israelites are referred to as God’s flock, and the special focus of the allegory is on the kingship (here “shepherds”) in Israel. The history of the monarchy was not a proud one. Of forty-three kings from 1051 B.C. to 586 B.C., only David, Hezekiah, and Josiah were solidly, consistently loyal to God in their leadership of the nation. Eight or nine of the other forty did some good, while the majority were rascals.

In order for the new age to come, one absolutely necessary development had to be the abolition of the monarchy as it had functioned historically and the establishment of a new kingship that would truly carry out the Lord’s wishes.

This passage, then, is antimonarchical—not in the sense of being against kingship per se, but in the sense of being a rejection of the kingship that Israel had known for so much of its history. A new age was coming. The old monarchy had to go. A new Davidic kingship would characterize the restoration.

In verses Ezekiel 34:1-2 it is evident that the problem with kings in the past is that they were selfish. In the allegory of the passage, they “fed themselves” as opposed to the flocks (the people of God). Living off the people’s productivity and wealth (Eze 34:3), they did not seek to help the nation, but rather ruled as despots for their own advantage (Eze 34:4).

Well that was quite a long quote! In short – It’s not surprizing that the prophet Ezekiel’s words condemn the leaders of the nations of Israel and Judah. They were in it for themselves often.

Christians today are also accountable when they don’t live out the Gospel message.

And let’s face it. Jesus – the shepherd king – descendant of David – models a self-sacrificing kingship. A servant leadership.

We need to model our lives on his humility (see Philippians 2) and his servant-hood (Mark 10:45).

We are not part of a physical Israel today.

But the church is the NEW ISRAEL – not with a promised land but a Kingdom that we are to usher in through our lives, message, and example, living under the shepherd-king Jesus.

And as leaders we too are accountable – we need to do what is right! Otherwise we are no better than those abusive shepherds of Ezekiel 34.

Our leaders are to be the right kind of shepherds of God’s people today. (One can understand the rage of people against abuse by religious leaders who carry a shepherd’s crook as a symbol of their role of protection.)

It’s important to remember that elders in our church tradition also have a shepherding role as co-shepherds with me as the pastor.

I know that people refer to me as a teaching elder here. It’s quite a dated model really. The biblical model in Ephesians 4 is that of pastor/teacher. And if you were here at my induction, you would know that I was inducted into a pastoral charge. It’s a challenging role. I am pastor first. The feeding and care of the flock is my responsibility, with others to share the load.

As an aside – sheep can sometimes be quite difficult.

ACC figures early this year give an indication of claims by people who work with animals in New Zealand.

Guess where most injuries to farmers come from? Cattle first. Sheep second!

BY THE NUMBERS:

 

❏ Cattle: 2262

❏ Sheep: 1612

❏ Deer: 86

❏ Horses: 1285

❏ Other: 721

❏ Animal Carcasses: 52

So when we meet later today to nominate new elders – let’s remember the calling to be like the shepherd king Jesus. We are his co-shepherds.

Not only should the gospel be good news to us – but we need to be good news to others as we care for them. As we seek to protect them too. And most importantly as we help them to allow the Word of God to be fruitful in the lives of those we care for.

Paul’s most challenging line to elders in the New Testament is when he leaves the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.

Act 20:25  And now, behold, I know that you all will see my face no more, among whom I went proclaiming the kingdom of God.

Act 20:26  Therefore I testify to you on this day that I am pure from the blood of all.

Act 20:27  For I did not keep back from declaring to you all the counsel of God.

Act 20:28  Therefore take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.

Act 20:29  For I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

Act 20:30  Also men shall arise from your own selves, speaking perverse things in order to draw disciples away after them. (MKJV)

The NIV translates verse 28 as follows:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

As we move closer towards the celebration of the arrival of the Gospel in New Zealand 200 years ago on Christmas Day 1814, let’s give thanks for those missionaries who taught, nurtured and shepherded those early converts to Christianity.

We thank God that the story of the Good Shepherd impacted their lives and brought about communities of harmony and restoration, of forgiveness and mercy. We also give thanks to those many Maori in the early years who shared the good news throughout this country.

May our lives continue to reflect the love of Christ, the ruler and shepherd of His people.

Amen.

11 May 2014 – On sheep and shepherding

Readings: Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25;  John 10:1-10

The shepherd.

So why shepherds and sheep?

Is this some kind of Middle Eastern religious scheme?

Or does Christianity only make sense for rural people?

In all three readings today the shepherd is mentioned.

In the Old Testament Psalm. In Peter’s letter. And most famously the words of Jesus in John’s gospel

Of course the gospel reading mixes metaphors happily. Jesus is the gate too.

What are the main issues – the key things that we need to take for ourselves?

  1. We start with Peter.

Quite appropriate this week as the bishop of Rome recently made two new saints of previous bishops of Rome. And there was a retired bishop of Rome there.

The Pope is the bishop of Rome. Peter was given the job first (Catholics would agree on this) when Jesus reinstated him after his betrayal. Remember the words so powerful?

Joh 21:13  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Joh 21:14  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Joh 21:15  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Joh 21:16  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Joh 21:17  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Joh 21:18  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, fed my sheep.

This is Jesus after the resurrection still using that shepherding picture.

He would have learned it from his parents – who would have been his faith teachers. Maybe they recited Psalm 23:

Psa 23:1  מזמור לדוד-   יהוה רעי לא אחסר

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Psa 23:2  בנאות דשׁא ירביצני על־מי מנחות ינהלני׃

Psa 23:2  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

Psa 23:3  נפשׁי ישׁובב –   ינחני במעגלי־צדק למען שׁמו׃

Psa 23:3  he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

The shepherding touch of the LORD Yahweh that David knew as a relatively young boy.

  • Lacking nothing,
  • being refreshed and
  • rested in green pastures and quiet waters – comes out of faith that is a real trust and dependency.

It certainly is a kind of nurturing – which comes through in Jesus’ commission to Peter.

The result is PASTORAL CARE – and pastoral comes from the word for shepherd.

It’s crept into society in all kinds of places – especially schools – since the British started using it in the 1960s in their education systems. Google pastoral care and you will get information of the NZQA’s code of conduct for pastoral care of international students, apart from usage in other organisations. For example on the website of the British Law Society you find this:

Pastoral care – for solicitors – 020 7320 5795

Solicitors can call us for information on personal, financial, professional and employment problems. We will refer you to the most suitable helpline for your needs.

We’re here to help solicitors – 09:00 to 17:00 weekdays.

– See more at: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/helplines/#sthash.2pmNJZcU.dpuf

I think that lawyers definitely need pastoral care!

The church’s view developed of course through history.

The bishops (or overseers) had a shepherd’s crook symbolically. This morphed into crown like tiaras (as in the triple crown) as they become more influential in worldly politics. So much so that the Bishop of Rome is a head of state today.

 

  1. What about the Presbyterians?

So what makes us different?

It’s the “presbyter” in Presbyterian that defines us.

A “presbyter” is an elder. So we are an elderian church.

Never mind Peter the shepherd for a while. Let’s look at Paul:

1Ti_4:14  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

1Ti_5:17  The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Tit_1:5  The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Peter and James do refer to them off course:

 Jas_5:14  Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

 Of course Peter does make the link.

 1Pe_5:1  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

1Pe 5:2  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;

1Pe 5:3  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

In fact Peter uses all three words as an explanation of the role of Christian leaders:

Elders – shepherds – overseers

Πρεσβυτερους– ποιμανατε– πισκοπουντες

In fact “elders” is a noun here. The other two are verbs or actions – shepherding and overseeing!

1Pe 5:1  πρεσβυτερουςAουν TSBτους εν υμιν παρακαλω ο συμπρεσβυτερος και μαρτυς των του χριστου παθηματων ο και της μελλουσης αποκαλυπτεσθαι δοξης κοινωνος

1Pe 5:2  ποιμανατε το εν υμιν ποιμνιον του θεου AεπισκοπουντεςTSBεπισκοπουντες μη αναγκαστως Aαλλα TSBαλλ εκουσιως Aκατα Aθεον μηδε αισχροκερδως αλλα προθυμως

1Pe 5:3  Bμηδε TSAμηδ ως κατακυριευοντες των κληρων αλλα τυποι γινομενοι του ποιμνιου

The word “bishop” of course is episcopos (hence Episcopalian church in America).

And of course the book of Acts – where there is a switch from talking about the Jewish elders who were in conflict with the early Christians – to Christian elders who looked after the church:

Act_11:30  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Act_14:23  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Act_15:2  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

Act_15:4  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Act_15:6  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

Act_15:22  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.

Act_15:23  With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.

Act_16:4  As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.

Act_20:17  From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.

Act_21:18  The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.

Later in Acts “elders” once again refers to Jewish elders:

 Act_23:14  They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul.

Act_24:1  Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.

Act_25:15  When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

  1. So what does this mean:

The cure or care of souls – pastoral care – is the task of the ministry of the church. In the late 7th century Pope Gregory the first wrote a manual effectively on pastoral care, which influenced the church throughout history.

This “cure of souls” is closely linked to healing.

By implication – salvation and healing go together. In fact the word in the New Testament is the same.

So healing was more holistic before modern western medicine took control of it. When you were sick before this – you were more likely to be cared for by Christian ministers of some sort.

“Pastoral Care” is about shepherding.

About teaching, nurturing, admonishing and protecting Christians so that they grow closer to God and more like Jesus.

And in the elderian / Presbyterian church – the elders do this together.

Isn’t that good news.

You can receive ministry from a number of people – and not just the Minister.

In other words you can receive pastoral care from a number of people – not just the Pastor.

In the last line of the reading from Peter today the apostle – the catholic bishop of Rome or first pope (in their view anyway) says this:

1Pe 2:25  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Jesus remains the main shepherd – after all only he lays down his life for his sheep/friends – and overseer of our souls!

The word “overseer” there is “bishop”.

Yes he is Bishop Jesus!

And unlike other bishops – he is crowned! He can carry a sceptre and rule as King!

Confession time:

We don’t always do this stuff well. Our fault entirely. You can hang around here for quite a while and still not know who the elders are.

We will be making the names and some useful information about our elders to you in due course.

  • Some of you have an allocated elder who is supposed to care for you.
  • Others are in home groups – and they are all led by elders.

So there are options.

What we don’t do:

We don’t live in a parish any more.

Since the 4th century priests were allocated a section of the diocese called a parish. The word parish comes from the greek word παρоικία meaning district.

In that system if you lived in the district – a geographically defined area – you were in that Parish. Parish records were kept about people in the parish – and if you moved out of the area – you ended up in another parish.

The world has changed:

Consumer driven issues drive peoples’ church attendance. They travel long distances to go to the church of choice.

I don’t blame them really. And we don’t all live in the same area – people do travel. And we’re not going to draw a line on a map and send you to another church – like they do with school zoning.

But there is a different approach. It can be like this: I belong where I can be part of a community that really cures and cares for my soul.

Where I put roots down and build genuine relationships.

No more pretence. No more sweet smiles and “fine thank yous” when in fact I am suffering greatly.

  • Where I can know people and be known in a little flock of some sort – where we live out this Christian life with integrity. Honesty. And real care.
  • Where I grow in faith and knowledge – and can be strong and safe from the attacks of the enemy and of false shepherds who are wolves dressed up in some other outfit.

The home group remains the best place for this. And the wider church family forms the extended family for this.

So that when it happens as in Psalm 23: I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – I will know that Jesus is with me because his co-shepherds and other sheep are there for me too – helping me to care for my soul until the end.

And if you translate that verse 4 in another valid way –and I walk through the valley of deep darkness (in depression, grief or pain of any sort) – I can know the reality of the Good Shepherd with me not in isolation but in community where co-shepherds sustain me in love and prayer and acceptance – where the church is a hospital for the sick seeking to get better – and not a rah-rah party for people who think they have solved everything in their lives. Because they haven’t.

So there it is. We don’t have saints we pray to. Or reformer fathers railed against that. We do have saints we pray with – the people of this little flock.

Come out – people – from the isolation of thinking you have to go it alone – stiff upper-lip and all that – and be yourself in this family.

We all need feeding, care, and nurture. We are in regular need of forgiveness! We do behave as goats – even if it’s just because of our but-but-but arguing with God or the truth.

Please – I can’t offer you a new-fangled formula or super-cure and solution in life.

I’m not called to.

I’m called as the teaching-elder to lead you in the process of equipping a nurturing – building up the body of Christ in every way.

I rail against those who offer three easy steps in paper-back form.

I can only offer you a community where you can take some risks together – as we step by step get closer to the goal.

Under the headship of Bishop Jesus.

Amen.