Posted by: mikebackup | May 9, 2009

The Good Shepherd

John 10.11-18
14″I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

The Good Shepherd’ is a well known Gospel parable. It speaks of God’s self giving, love and understanding. The challenge with parables like this is that they are not literal, they are to be reflected on and their meaning found beyond what we read. Over time one type of understanding can be the one everyone thinks of and gets limited by. We should avoid this as parables are some of the richest texts in the Bible as they encourage us to seek God beyond the text itself. So to begin to understand what being the good shepherd is from God’s perspective and therefore what we should be trying to live out in our discipleship we must break away from a limited understanding of this scripture.

Let us begin that break by looking at this picture called ‘The Good Shepherd’ (from Thomas Hawk, flickr.com).

Good_shephard_Thomas_Hawk

What I’m about to reflect on is to encourage you to go away and think more on what God and the good shepherd is about. I’m not telling you how to think about it, just give you food for thought. So in this picture, gone is the man on a hillside, here we have a young women in a meadow, shepherding the sheep. Straight off this asks us to acknowledge that the fullness of God should never to be limited by our own understanding of who God is and looks like. Let us reflect on the good shepherd as more than a male God looking after his disciples, as more than a male minister looking after a congregation.

Some Christians cannot address God as anything other than ‘Father’. This can have its roots in seeing the Bible as the dictated word of God. Others see the Bible as a human book written in certain social contexts over many hundreds of years, but one where God was involved and through reflection on these texts, God speaks to us today. Looking at it from that perspective tells us the Bible was written in a completely male dominated society where women were treated as near worthless. God was of course going to be a man in this situation. Could God have been incarnated in a women? Of course, but a male dominated society would have prevented the Good News coming out. The sad thing is 2000 years on, has that much changed? We still live a male dominated world and our Christianity is still so male it’s embarrassing. Even our Bible are affected by this. In Genesis the male was not created first, humankind was. The different sexes were in fact introduced with equal status at the same in Genesis 2.23-24. Yet all our English Bibles ignore the true meaning of the original Hebrew (adam) because the Christian world is still so male dominated. It puts man first and women second. The more you look into the original meaning of both the Greek and Hebrew used in the Bible, the more you realise we should go away and make our own conclusions. The Bible may have been written and influenced by a male dominated society, what you don’t want is further male bias in it today.

So perhaps ‘The Good Shepherd’ of God can be Father, Mother and child to us. The best father is unable to have the qualities of a mother or have the innocence of child. If that is something you are not comfortable with, reflect on why that is, looking at your own understanding of who God is to you and why you believe what you do. Whatever any of us decide God is wider, bigger and better than we can possibly imagine.

The good shepherd of God has such a difficult job, because we are all sheep in need of shepherding and Christian or not we all get lost sometimes. The good shepherd looks for the strays, the forgotten, the outcast. The metaphor works so well here, because the shepherd has to take risks looking for those that are lost. The shepherd could stumble and fall at any moment. How good are we at risking ourselves?

The Journalist Louis Theroux gained access to the Coalinga Mental Hospital in California and produced a programme called ‘A place for paedophiles’. Coalinga Mental Hospital houses people that have served their sentences for crimes against children, but have not been released. It is not called a prison, but no-one can go out. People that could be released are kept in as no community on the outside wants them. Most will die there, not serving time, but serving a life sentence because no-one is willing on the outside to give them a chance. Does the good shepherd of God find these type of lost people and bring them back into the fold or leave them to wolves and the elements? If there was a local outcry close to you because it was learned that paedophiles were being given sheltered housing as part of their rehabilitation, would you be on the streets shouting ‘out, out’ or would you be prepared to offer the love of Christ to them and risk yourself at the same time?

As Jesus says in Mark2.17 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Who are the demon possessed, the paralytics, the tax collectors ,the ones with leprosy in our society today. Those people were the complete social outcasts that Jesus spent time with and showed the love of God to. He went out of his way to find them, even when his own disciples tried to stop him. How good are we at seeking out the drug addicts, the drug dealers, the prostitutes, the homeless, the rehabilitating paedophiles, those still in prison and showing them the love of Christ? We are perhaps too eager to not only cross the road from people like that, but side with those on the easy wide path that shout ‘out, out’.

The good shepherd lives life on the edge and that is precisely what Jesus did in his ministry. It is on the edge that we are at our most vulnerable yet at the same the most alive we can be. This sort of attitude is rarely seen in the Christianity of this country. We have become the equivalent of couch potatoes. Happy to sit where we’ve always sat, comfortably flicking through the channels and murmuring our distaste for what we see. We have become fat, unfit and separated from the outside. We live a Christianity so far from that of Jesus, the disciples, the early Christians and so many Christians today around the world who share their faith even though they might be murdered because of it that we cannot be compared. Would we risk being spat at, hit or worse because of our faith? Or in the heat of the moment would we take the position of Peter in Mark 14:66-72

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.
But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.
After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

How close you get to the edge is something only each individual can decide. But disowning Christ and not being prepared to risk at least something of ourselves is the danger. The Good Shepherd shows in abundance the enormity of God’s grace and we have got to let that grace work through us and be experienced by others.

The good shepherd of God calls us to get those butterflies in the stomach, to try and do things we want to run a mile from. It is there though that we meet Christ who wants to be with us in shepherding the people in God’s arms.

As a final reflection, let us reflect on ‘Bring many names, beautiful and good’ by Brian Wren.

Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!

Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:
Hail and hosanna, warm father God!

Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!


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