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Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Good Shepherd: Learning the only true leadership

Here is my sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

“In a pastoral society like ancient Israel, sheep and shepherds were used to describe the relationship of God with his people: ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ and ‘we are his people, the sheep of his pasture’ (Pss 23:1; 100:3)” (Richard A. Burridge, John).

In Jesus’ time, sheep were very important as they provided both food and clothing. Shepherd’s had to have a nomadic lifestyle because of the available pasture. They had to travel with their sheep from one region to another as the seasons changed. This created the close relationship between sheep and shepherd that we hear Jesus describing and using in this reading: “The Shepherd cares for his sheep, calls them by name, leads them to pasture and water, finds shelter for them in inclement weather, defends them against bandits and wolves, and willingly lays down his life for them. The sheep have great confidence in the shepherd. They recognize his voice, obey his commands, and they follow wherever he leads them” (

“The word “good” (kalos …) means first and foremost beautiful – the good shepherd is attractive. At the same time he is good at his work. So this attractive and very skilled shepherd draws us to himself and is able to provide accurately for our needs” (Stephen Verney, Water into Wine)

“Jesus … is the good shepherd, who knows his own sheep as they know him (10:14). Shepherds called their sheep out of the fold by their names and the flock followed their voice (10:3-4). The Greek word for church literally means ‘called out’, ec-clesia, from which all our ‘ecclesiastical’ words are derived. Jesus’ knowledge of his sheep is rooted in his knowledge of his Father and his Father knowing him as his Son.” (Burridge)

Stephen Verney writes that “… the Son can do nothing of himself, but he simply looks at the Father and whatever he sees the Father doing so he does too … the Father holds back nothing for himself but gives everything to the Son. So it is, says Jesus, between the Good Shepherd and his sheep – between me and mine, and mine and me. They are in my heart, and there I see them in all their human ambiguity. I see what they are and what they can be, and I give myself to them. And I am in their hearts … That is how the Good Shepherd knows his sheep, and how they know him. They do not simply know about him, or pass examinations in theology, or even read books about John’s gospel. They know him in their personal experience.” (Verney).

“What is more, God’s love is universal, so the shepherd must also be concerned for ‘other sheep … not of this fold’, who will also hear his voice and be brought together into one flock (10:16)” (Burridge). What Jesus says here is that what he offers is not simply for a little exclusive group but is for the whole human race.

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep: “The word “life” (psychē …) is impossible to translate by any one English word. The psychē means the self, or the ego, or the soul. It can be the centre of our earthly life, or the centre of our supernatural life. If the shepherd lays down his psychē for the sheep he is offering them this centre of his inner life, in all its varied aspects …” (Verney).

Lesslie Newbigin writes that: “Here is the unmistakable criterion by which true leadership is to be distinguished from false. We are familiar with the kind of leadership which is simply a vast overextension of the ego. The ultimate goal – whether openly acknowledged or not – is the glory of the leader. The rest are instrumental to this end. He does not love them but makes use of them for his own ends. He is a hireling – in the business of leadership for what he can get out it. By contrast the mark of the true leader is that of the cross” (The Light Has Come).

This is a challenge then to all involved in the pastoral care of God’s people. It takes time and effort to know everyone individually, even as God knows us, and caring for them as Christ laid down his life for us may demand the ultimate sacrifice. The ordination charge for priests in the Church of England says ‘as servant and shepherd … set the Good Shepherd always before you as the pattern of your calling … to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations … the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock’. This is true whether we are an Archbishop or a bible study group leader, a minister or just visiting an elderly person around the corner – we love others as the good shepherd loves us.” As Lesslie Newbigin writes, “This is the way for all humankind, and to follow this way is to learn the only true leadership.”


The Crown College Choir - The King Of Love My Shepherd Is.

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