Holy Trinity Compline, 02/09/22
Ezekiel 33.23, 30-34.10, Mark 9.30-37
Shepherding is the oldest job in the world. It goes way, way back to the very sons of Adam. While Cain worked the soil his brother Abel kept the flocks.
Genesis 4 doesnıt really tell us how good a shepherd Abel was. But he was good enough to find favour with God, and to arouse Cainıs jealousy, the jealousy which led before long, to brutal murder, fratricide.
And shepherding continues today, across the world, almost unaffected by the constant shifts and changes in technology and agriculture and trade. True enough, last time I saw a shepherd in action, in the hills of Northumberland, he was using a Quad Bike to get from field to field at high speed, pulling a trailer behind him on which his sheepdogs hitched a bouncy ride.
He was using the tools of today in his work, but essentially what he was doing was the same as it had ever been - looking out for his flock, keeping them together, stopping them from straying, protecting and feeding them. Strenuous work, self-giving work, constant work.
Shepherding is so much part of our heritage that we instinctively understand and appreciate it. Even those of us who never usually go near a lamb except when roasted and served to us with mint sauce. Itıs certainly part of our religious heritage, from Abel through David to Jesus, who called himself the Good Shepherd.
And we understand Shepherding as a model for Christian behaviour; for church leadership in particular.
At their ordination the bishop entrusts deacons and priests with the care of Christıs own flock, the church, his body:
Serve them with joy, build them up in faith, and do all in your power to bring them to loving obedience to Christ, the bishop tells the candidates:
With the Good Shepherd always before you as the pattern of your calling, care for the people committed to your charge, and join with them in a common witness to the world.
Today weıve been celebrating the ministries of two of this churchıs most faithful shepherds - Bob on his retirement, Leslie 30 years a priest.
And it has given us the opportunity to reflect on the value of good leadership, the effect on the church of a good shepherdıs work. And perhaps too, on our own place in the work and witness of Godıs people.
Tonightıs readings are relevant to all this, but severe, sober, deeply serious.
Shepherding is a serious business; Ezekiel rages at those shepherds who lose their way, who start caring for themselves more than for the flock, who leave them alone to wander and scatter. Jesus reminds those who want the glory of leadership that as far as heıs concerned itıs only achievable by those who are prepared to serve.
There is plenty of material in these passages for us when we want to criticise or condemn our leaders when they fail or lose sight of their responsibilities. Better if we use them to help us in our prayers for the shepherds, that they would keep their faith and vision intact.
Which brings me to a final point. Not only is shepherding a serious business, but so is the business of being part of the flock, the people the ordination service describes as a treasure of God.
Ezekiel reserves some of his harshest words for those who come to hear the message of God, who listen to the words of the speaker, but who donıt let them have any effect on their lives:
With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain, God tells the prophet. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
The shepherd has been reduced to a performer; Godıs gathered people choose to be merely an audience. This, says the prophet, is not how it should be. There is mutuality in the relationship between the shepherd and the treasured flock. Each one is called to combine in Godıs work and witness.
So tonight in our prayers let us thank and praise God for those who guide and lead us, care for us, look out for us, protect us.
Let us thank and praise God for the places we have been led to on our journey of faith, the difference this journey has made to our lives.
And let us ask God to help the shepherds in their task, and to help us to be hearers and doers of what we hear, and not just hollow listeners.
Ven Bob Metcalf was Rector of Holy Trinity Wavertree from 1975-1994. Since then he's been Archdeacon of Liverpool. Bob and Rachel's ties with Trinity remain close and there were many Trinity folk at his retirement service at All Hallows Allerton today. back
Revd Dr Leslie Bruce today celebrated thirty years as a non-stipendary priest; all of this service being at Holy Trinity, Wavertree. Leslie's a supposedly-retired GP but still pops into the Upper Parliment Street practice he's served for many years. And he continues to play a full and active role in the leading of worship and pastoral visiting of the church. back