JESUS THE PATIENT SHEPHERD

Sermon delivered on the Seventh Sunday After Trinity the 19th July 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Jeremiah 23: 1-6     Ephesians 2: 11-22     S. Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Jeremiah 23: 4 "I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing," says the Lord.

For those who have had the good fortune of growing up in stable families, it can be difficult to imagine other situations such as being an orphan, or being so completely alienated from one's parents that one might as well be an orphan. In such cases the degree of caring shown by others will make a profound difference. A basic human need is the sense of belonging, and our families, society in general and certainly the Church have a great influence on our individual lives through the sense of belonging that they either give to us or deny to us. And this too is why issues such as residency, status and citizenship can be so important to us. Such issues can and often do go deeper than being merely a matter of financial advancement.

At a time in which some major human societies are re-ordering themselves to give equal respect to family arrangements that differ from the standard of "Mum" and "Dad" and their progeny that we have always known, to the standard family, the matter of a person's identity and belonging is, I consider, something that has not been properly considered. What human society appears to be doing is, once again, turning against itself in the form of committing acts of harm against its weakest and most vulnerable. I say "once again", because of the innumerably gross acts of infanticide that are daily being committed in the West against thousands of the unborn daily, in numbers that were never originally envisaged when the laws against such acts were relaxed in the last century. This indescribably dreadful carnage has overtaken the horrors of the concentration camp holocaust many times over, but for the most part we choose to turn away our attention from such matters and fail to see the irony of societies that supposedly observe human rights continuing to commit such daily horrors.

But now with the new reordering of family arrangements, we in the West, with the blinkers of blind selfishness, following whatever selfish inclination we choose to give honour to, once again are contemplating opening a new volley of harm to the young of our own race. We intend to hide from them their own identity, who they really are, or as Caymanian children often say, who they are for. The West is intending to inflict upon itself generations upon generations of lost children, growing up to be lost persons, without the fundamental sense of belonging that has always been understood to be essential to the human psyche.

To have a sense of belonging, however, is very important to all of us for our mental health, and this sense of belonging, I consider, is near to the heart of one's religious faith. Our Old Testament lesson this morning from Jeremiah speaks of the shepherds of Israel, which no doubt referred then to King Zedekiah and the ruling class of Judah, including the priests, who scattered the flock, who caused the people to be driven into exile. They symbolise those leaders of all times who cause people not to belong and care nothing for that; and those with power or influence over others here in Cayman in both employment matters and immigration matters, and of course in the wider West in the matter of the reordering of the family, should be admonished by this Word to exercise their power, to the extent that it is legitimate power in the first place, with care and compassion. The promise on the other hand that the Lord makes, is to gather up the remnant of the people and to set up new shepherds who will care for them. In our Old Testament Lesson this is combined with the Messianic hope. The "Righteous Branch" of the line of David will be raised up by God, and because of his wisdom and justice Judah and Israel will be rescued and given security. This then is a prophecy of the "Good Shepherd", and there is much to be thought about on this theme from the New Testament readings today. St Mark reports in the Gospel today that when Jesus saw a great throng of people that had followed Him, He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

We should note that this observation is made at a time when Jesus had recommended to the apostles that they should come away to a lonely place by themselves in order to rest. Like other good leaders though, they found even their rest time being disturbed by people who clamoured for attention. No doubt there would have been justification for Jesus to have asked people to let Him and His disciples alone for a time. The account makes it clear, however, that Jesus had compassion upon them. Whether or not they were a nuisance at this point was entirely irrelevant. He shepherded them out of His compassion. We are told that He began to teach them many things. His compassion for them did not permit Him to let them feel unwanted. In St. Mark chapter 6 this is followed by the Feeding of the 5000, which again was an act of compassion. After that He did dismiss the crowd, and St. John tells us that this was to avert the impending popular intention to declare him as their king. That would have been a fatal threat to Jesus' programme. But the people's clamouring went on, and Jesus' compassion went on. Jesus had told the disciples to row the boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He dismissed the crowd, and from the Biblical account we read of a remarkable night and painful progress on the sea against a strong wind, and of the mystery of Jesus' walking to them on the water. Then after all that, once again we read of the clamour of more people after they arrived at Gennesaret, and no doubt every single one of the numerous healings that took place, even of those who merely touched the fringe of His clothing, took power from Him. As always He took responsibility for them, and none who came for help went away feeling unattended to.

Jesus' compassionate shepherding should be thought of as the incarnation of the compassion of God, who we may apprehend in faith as our Father and our Shepherd, who above all, through the difficulties of our condition that we encounter, cares so greatly for us. St. Paul in the lesson from Ephesians reminds us, as he reminds the Gentiles whom he was addressing, how great was the alienation from Christ and from the divine polity of Israel that we have escaped through baptism and incorporation into Christ by His grace and power. "Now in Christ Jesus we who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ." That instantly reminds us how great is the cost of God's compassionate shepherding, and it indicates too, especially to a mind steeped in the Old Testament, how effectual it is. The blood of Christ is, in the words of the hymn, the one, true, pure, immortal sacrifice. Now, when we turn our soul to submit to the Heavenly Bridegroom, whatever our own condition may be, whatever our clamour, we are attended to and made whole, because He has compassion on us and we ought not to fear any more, nor be dismayed. May the living and dying lost of the present, and indeed of the future, know such compassion.