‘The Gathering’ – God as Caring Shepherd

‘The Gathering’ – May 1st 2022 Ez.34, Jn.21

‘God the Caring Shepherd’

‘I myself will search for my sheep … I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness … I will bring them into their own land … a good pasture .. I, myself will tend my sheep.’

The last time we were together as a combined church in the Upper Dale in a service such as this was March 2020. It was our 11th ‘Gathering’ and the theme seems quite prophetic now: ‘Finding a way in the wilderness’. None of us could have perceived what lay ahead of us; the challenge, the struggle, the sadness, the loneliness. As we gather together today we’re taking early but significant steps forward. It’s good to be church again but we’re all changed. Our lives have changed, the world has changed. It is right that we acknowledge that.

Through Holy week and the celebrations of Easter we were able to begin to feel like ‘church’ again. We have kept together as a faith community through the most challenging of times since perhaps since the second world war, but for the first time in 25 months it began to feel like we were moving forward again as we gathered together to eat together, to enjoy each other’s company together, to pray together. Not returning to what we had but moving forward into what we have.

Some of you have endured the most painful of losses in this time. Those you love are no longer with you – life has changed completely. We need to be real with ourselves and real with each other in acknowledging that and understanding that BUT also real in acknowledging and understanding that there is a God who loves us and cares for us and understands us.

In our reading from Ezekiel God intervenes as Shepherd directly to seek out, care for, love, bind up, strengthen, support those who are ‘injured’. We see and hear the nature and the character of God on display.

The land has brought forth its harvest and the fields are full of lambs – they bring joy don’t they? We love to see them leap and jump and run and play … but alongside them we see the others … some keen – some tired some weary but keeping on … we see those that saunter across the field .. we see those who struggle and are lame … then the Shepherd appears – the sheep look to them …. and the care begins.

I remember a conversation had with a seasoned and wise Shepherd who told me that if you come out of a field of sheep and have not spotted a problem then it’s because you’ve missed it.

The reality is that we’re all broken in some way and we’re all under construction and reconstruction and it’s good and it’s right to understand that and to acknowledge that. It’s true for us as individuals and it’s true for us as different church communities. We have differing circumstances, focus but we share the same need … the love and care of God as Shepherd.

In John’s gospel we see the nature and the character of God on display as Jesus gently draws Peter back into relationship from the pain of his denial and rejection into forgiveness and restoration. Can anyone of us say that we have not questioned or denied or walked away from the presence of God in the last two years or even now as we witness such violence perpetrated against the innocent in Eastern Europe?  We all need the love and the care of God as Shepherd … and we all know someone else who does as well.

Our readings remind us of the nature and character of God and it’s a nature and a character that we are called to emulate. We can all follow in the rescued steps of Peter – we can all guard someone from going astray – we can all lead someone through our experience onto a good path – we can all share, live and love like Jesus and ‘feed his lambs’ –

Jesus wants his church to grow because he wants everyone to know and to experience the freedom and the joy that living Life with God brings – He cares for us so that we might care for others … we all have a part to play in that. The church of Jesus Christ grows through invitation – invitation to us all from God himself … BUT also from the invitation we extend to others. We need to grow the ministry of invitation across the Benefice and the Upper Dale.

It is the desire and the hope of the PCC’s that the new service structure we are exploring together will create new opportunity for us to invite someone we know to something that will fit with them. We will have cards printed for that to happen … our next ‘Gathering’ in June will focus on the celebrations of the Queen’s Jubilee and would make a lovely opportunity to hand an invitation over …

The narrative of the Bible is of God with us. Written by people locked down by situation and circumstance for people experiencing lockdown by situation and circumstance. We’re travellers together – we might be punched and pummelled or bruised by life but together we’re stronger.

The good news is that God cares for us like a Shepherd. We face trouble and challenge and pain – the path might be stony but it’s the right path – the path might be difficult but it’s the right path. We’re not alone.

We need never be alone – the caring Shepherd is with us – we look to Him and the care begins.