I don’t feel very well equipped to talk to about today’s passages as I don’t know a great deal about sheep and shepherding. Many of you will know far more than me. And this is a bit of a problem really because sheep and shepherds are mentioned 247 times in the Bible. The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the most well used and powerful images for Jesus.
Many of you could be telling us what it means that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Gate to the Sheep pen far better than I can this morning. In fact that is the thing I want to highlight this morning … that Christian revelation comes to us in communion and in relationship.
Christianity teaches that God cannot be found in isolation. No one person can know God without reference to others. In all things God’s will and presence is tested in community. The fact that I cannot read the passage about Jesus the shepherd without reference to those who know about sheep is important to acknowledge. It means I can’t go off into the fields with the dog and then between the dog and myself come back certain of what God wants for our community of faith here in this Benefice .. and neither can any of you for that matter.
The Christian community must come together and weigh up all revelation to find the common faith which we can all embrace. This is how God has made it. This view sees the Church as a chalice for finding and discerning God’s will. I love that image of the Church as a chalice.
The way in which we deal with our own lack of clarity or understanding is to join with both the historical and living communion of the saints who have believed in Jesus down the ages. After all who I am to expect that I could experience and understand all that God speaks in this world on my own.
This is counter cultural in our society, perhaps best expressed in Margaret Thatcher’s view about individuals … do you remember her?? One of the things that divided opinion about was her belief that there is no such thing as society or you might say community. She thought that every community or society is simply a group of individuals. So in order to think about community you simply have to focus on each individual and that is your starting point. Make happy individuals and you have a happy community .. a happy group of individuals.
But this is contrary to what I am saying this morning. The early church learned from Jesus that to think in terms of community was vital to the health of everyone. Jesus revealed that if we think about ourselves in isolation … like Mrs Thatcher suggested … it means we are going to have a limit to what we can achieve and enjoy and discover.
Jesus did not deny that all individuals are different. I wonder what is special about you … what do you do especially well? But the fact that we are different means we flourish in different ways … most of us have some success and some failure in our lives. Most of us rely on others for certain things which we cannot do … I’m not very good with cars so I rely on the mechanics down at the garage to fix my car and if they weren’t there I would be stuck.
Without Christian community around me my understanding and encounter with God would be limited. It is why we must carry on coming to church on a Sunday and not give in to a tendency simply to come and sit in an empty church in the middle of the week. Whilst there is a place for this and a certain peace and tranquillity we will never know the fullness of God’s presence on our own.