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Sunday Worship 3 May 2020

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Worship for Sunday 3rd May What are good and bad shepherds for us?

Let us praise the Lord who is a great God – the God who brought us to birth,
and who cares for us as a shepherd cares for the sheep.
Let us praise the Lord whose Son Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd,
who came to rescue us, and lead us out into the warmth of the sun.
Let us praise the Lord who breathes the Holy Spirit upon us
to convince us in our bones that the Lord is God
and we are God's people, the sheep of God's pasture.
Let us praise the Lord, the source and word and breath of life,
the one true shepherd of the sheep. Amen
(Julie Hulme (Companion to the Lectionary. Vol. 2, 1998 Epworth Press)

Hymn StF 252 Jesus the Lord said I am the bread, the bread of life for the world am I

Bible Reading: Gospel of John, chapter 10, verses 1-10

Reflection: What is good or bad shepherding during this crisis and into the future?

During this coronavirus lockdown the Government is recommending that we each take between 30 and 60 minutes of exercise a day. For those whose health conditions don't allow them to go outside, there's the option of some online exercise classes, or we may have our own preferred ways of walking around for at least 30 minutes a day. As you'll have heard, the veteran, Tom Moore did 100 laps of his garden in North Yorkshire before his 100th birthday and raised millions for the NHS. These are examples of good shepherding in this difficult time. At the start of chapter 10 of John's Gospel we hear about what constitute good and bad shepherds. Good shepherds are open and trustworthy and are conscientious in how they shepherd their sheep. By contrast, bad shepherds are covert and deceitful, not entering the sheepfold through the gate, but 'climbing in another way'.

The churches, like most other organisations and businesses, apart from those providing life and death services, are closed for the first time in hundreds of years. Even before the coronavirus lockdown many Methodist churches were starting to have to face some tough decisions looking to the future. In many ways the lockdown is accelerating those considerations, because of the loss of rental income and regular Sunday collections. (Do go on giving in other ways, as church notices describe!) Put more positively, this is a good opportunity to consider what good and bad shepherds may be for the churches during this lockdown, and into the future.

Starting with the bad shepherds (arguably always more fascinating to reflect on!) The 'thieves and bandits' of John 10 are described as secretive with destructive intentions. What are the underlying practices and assumptions that we have in our church communities which are not good for us, long term or short term for that matter? Have we been too proud of our status, as expressed through our buildings? The lockdown reminds us that the Church is the people, not the building. This isn't to say that many of our church buildings are very well used for multiple 'Kingdom of God' causes, such as abundant life for children, or a new lease of life for adults who have lost their way. But as Methodists, have we become too dependent on rental income, which means we're not trying to share faith with other people?

John's Gospel was written around 90AD, two generations after the death and resurrection of Christ. Regrettably, there was a separation which had developed by this time between Jews who didn't recognise Christ as the promised Messiah, and Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ. No longer did Jewish followers of Christ worship on the Jewish Sabbath and then again meet with Gentile followers of Christ on what we now call Sunday. This brings me onto another aspect of bad shepherding, which is our 24/7 lifestyle, and the loss of Sabbath rest. Keyworkers (and parents looking after children) will need to be encouraged, after this crisis is over, to process, recover, and rest. Others who are home-based during this crisis, have been rediscovering a somewhat slower pace of life and the blessings this can bring.

And so to good shepherding: conscientiousness and open trustworthiness... Someone said to me recently: maybe one of the reasons why Methodist churches are still around is because they are well organised and well run. It's easy to overlook this feature of good shepherding. Are our churches easy for newcomers to join? What is our online presence like? This is something which has become so important during this lockdown. Co-operation with other churches is another aspect of good organisation and stops us from becoming too inward-looking. Prayer for and with other churches is really important, as we join alongside other good shepherds.

The other aspect of good shepherding is openness – in contrast to the covert, secretive aspects of bad shepherding. Are we being open enough at this time with our neighbours about our faith? Someone said to me she felt that people were turning to prayer at this very difficult time. Do our neighbours know we are Christians? Are we suggesting resources of Christian spirituality to friends online? We're approaching the period of nine days between Ascension Day and Pentecost, called Thy Kingdom Come. Look it up! We're asked to pray during this time for 5 people to develop faith. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu said he was surprised when 2 of the 5 he prayed for did acknowledge Christ in their lives!

So, these are some of the bad and good shepherds in our lives, in our churches, now and into the future. Let's celebrate the conscientiousness and openness of faith and church life and let's uncover the unexamined assumptions which need bringing into the light of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Hymn StF 156 From the breaking of the dawn

Prayers of Intercession (Brian Wren, slightly adapted)

We pray for all who are linked to our own church community
that our purposes may find your purpose
and be led by your wisdom and love,
we pray in hope, and join our love with yours.

We pray for the church, local and universal,
that your Spirit may bring us close to Christ,
and closer to each other,
we pray in hope, and join our love with yours.

We pray for people in need
through hunger, illness, imprisonment,
abuse, oppression, and war,
that the Spirit of Christ may restrain bad shepherds
and bring comfort to mourners,
persistence to peacemakers,
and courage to all who thirst for what is right,
we pray in hope, and join our love with yours.

We pray for this nation,
and all who have power and influence within it,
in politics, business, the media, culture, and religion,
that we may seek and cherish
justice, freedom, tranquility, and dignity for all,
we pray in hope, and join our love with yours.

For all good shepherds, ordinary or famous,
we give thanks, and pray that
as good shepherding sustains us,
so may we help sustain others.
we pray in hope, and join our love with yours.

Prayer of Good Courage

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, but paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
(Lutheran Book of Worship, copyright 1978, Augsburg Fortress)

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