Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Good Shepherd Sunday
May 11, 2014, 11:37 am
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 11th May 2014

goodshepherdThe themes for this Sunday are the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd, and both refer to Jesus. Both these themes are featured in today’s hymns, which (as usual) Garfield has chosen with great care. I shall take today’s hymns as the basis for our thoughts.

Since the Gospel is that of the good shepherd, let’s start with that theme. We have just sung:

“The God of love my shepherd is, and he that doth me feed.”

Another word for shepherd is pastor, a word connected with feeding, with words like pasture and even pasta! Our communion hymn will be:

“Faithful shepherd, feed me.”

Both these hymns are inspired by the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Don’t overlook the implications of Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd.” It implies, “I am the Lord- Adonai- the true Shepherd of Israel.

As we came in we sang:

“The Lamb’s high banquet we await.”

John is the Apostle who stresses that Jesus is not only the good shepherd, but also the Lamb of God. Both shepherd and lamb! Look again at the hymn (NEH 101). It speaks of crossing the Red Sea, of the Passover, the Exodus from Egypt when the blood of the lamb marked out the houses of the Israelites for life rather than death. Jesus, dying on the cross, has opened for the whole human race a way out of slavery to ignorance, greed, anger and violence and everything else that holds us down (and to which human beings so often seem addicted).

In Old Testament times lambs were offered in sacrifice, representing the worshipper’s own self-offering to God. The real sacrifice was of the heart, a heart surrendered to the Creator. To offer one’s heart is another way of saying, “to love”, to fulfil the command to love God with all our heart and mind and strength.

So we have all these ideas- shepherd and lamb, sacrifice and feeding, jostling together. Most sacrifices (especially at Passover) culminated in a meal, in which the worshippers feasted with God and were reconciled to him and to one another. In the Mass, we today re-enact all these themes. In hidden form, Jesus makes present to us his once for all sacrifice on the cross. He makes himself present under the form of bread and wine, to feed us spiritually with his own life:

“Upon the altar of the cross his body hath redeemed our loss,
and tasting of his precious Blood our life is hid with Christ in God.”

Jesus gives us away of uniting ourselves with him at the deepest level, and so also with one another. In our offertory hymn we shall pray that we may all “one Bread, one Body be, one through this Sacrament of unity.” Even as Christians (let alone as human beings) we are often divided by misunderstanding, even by jealousy and hostility. Sharing in the common table of the Lord is truly “communion”, a union together, a union of hearts and minds.

We, alas, often fail in this, we often let our Lord and ourselves down. We wander away from the good shepherd, so that he has to seek us out again and again. His mercy and compassion for us know no limits. So, in our final hymn, we shall sing:

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea,
There’s a kindness in his justice which is more than liberty.”

Christians sometimes seem to think, and to talk as if, God is so concerned for his own dignity that he is eager to crack down on any who offend him. But,

“There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgement given…
for the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”

Fr Faber reminds us of God’s generosity, compared to our own. Sometimes we “make his love too narrow by false limits of our own.” Jesus is the good shepherd who gave his life, not for the righteous, but for sinners, that we might have abundant life.

“If our love were but more simple we should take him at his word,
And our lives would be all gladness in the joy of Christ our Lord.”

Let us repent of our own failings, forgive one another’s, and have confidence in the good shepherd who is also the Lamb of God.

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