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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Easter 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 29, 2012

1 John 3:16–24; John 10:11–18

Shepherding for Christ’

On this Sunday three years ago I recalled a guest speaker at our South Sydney Herald writers’ meeting, a cartoonist and journalist by the name of Lindsay Foyle. Something he said was very much in keeping with our readings about good shepherds and sacrificial love. He said—in reference to some young people keen on journalistic success or fame—that if you want to be a good journalist you need to want to tell other people’s stories. Writers tell their own stories, he said, somewhat provocatively. Journalists tell other people’s stories. God be with you

I heard in that an emphasis on listening well, on empathising, attending to what someone else is saying—laying aside one’s own feelings, beliefs, desires long enough to record with some accuracy the experiences of someone else, or some other group.

I don’t know much about sheep, but this example of shepherding, of caring for and gathering (the stories of) others, seems very much in the Spirit of what John has to say: “My children, our love must not be simply words …– it must be true love, which shows itself in action and truth” (1 John 3:18).

The image of the Good Shepherd can represent for us the ministry of the SSH, which entails attending to what others (in our neighbourhood, in our city) are saying—suffering, celebrating, and so on. We want to tell other people’s stories because we love them.

The gospel, if ever we were in doubt, bears upon our lives—our personal and our professional lives. What does it mean for us to sing, “The King of Love my shepherd is”, or to say, “Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd”? It means that, from within a place of prayer, from within a being-shepherded, we seek to shepherd the isolated, to protect the most vulnerable (a source, a child, a victim of abuse or discrimination, an immigrant ...). It is, as the gospel ever is, our gift and our task.

I am again reminded of an essay in a journal called Cross-Culture published by United Theological College—an essay entitled, “Shepherding for Christ” by Michael Earl. The author draws on his experience as an AFL player to suggest that shepherding, in the AFL sense, is a “humble task that seeks to allow others … into the centre”. Shepherding, in the AFL sense, is about “making room” for another, and “bumping” to one side preconceptions, arrogant assumptions of cultural privilege, class privilege etc., that another might advance towards the goal—indeed, might kick a goal.

I still don’t know much about sheep, or about AFL, but this example of attending to another, of making room, seems very much in the Spirit of what John has to say: “My children, our love must not be simply words … – it must be true love, which shows itself in action and truth” (1 John 3:18).

I’d like to add something new to all this. It can be helpful, I think, to have in mind some kind of model of the human person to whom we would attend and for whom we would make room. A simple model is one that imagines three circles, three layers to human identity. The outer circle or layer we can call the “world”—it represents the public face of a person, the social-symbolic self. The inner circle or layer we can call “friendship”—it represents the intimate face of a person, the relational self. The core we can call “solitude”—it represents the person face-to-face with him or herself.

When we seek to shepherd another, for Christ’s sake, we can be aware of these three layers, these three at least, these three storeys to another’s story. We can be aware of three levels of capacity and functioning, hopes and disappointments, passions and fears. Shepherding for Christ means making room for others in the “world”, as well as making room for others in terms of “friendship” and “solitude”. How might you pray for that? How might you do it? …

Who would you like to place/shepherd within the fold of Love? Or, what part of your own self needs to be gathered into that safe place?

Take a little roll of gold ribbon and place it within the square of love as you speak aloud, or place it in silent reflectionAmen.