The King of Love - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

The King of Love

The entrance hymn today is a good paraphrase of Psalm 23, which is closely connected with both the first and Gospel readings.

When Jesus recognised that the people gathered to hear him were like sheep without a shepherd he was drawing on the heart of the religious tradition to which he and they belonged.

So the Church today picks up the theme of the shepherd.

For the Jewish people the shepherd was a very significant figure.

The kings were seen as the shepherds of Israel, and David himself had actually been a shepherd before his anointing by Samuel.

It's not surprising that God himself is seen and addressed as a shepherd: all those caring and ruling attributes concentrated in the creator and redeemer of his people.

Like sheep without a shepherd.

The King of love my shepherd is...

I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine for ever.

The writer of the Gospel is clear that here is the supreme shepherd, the one whose care is utterly reliable, who guides his people and stays with them whatever happens.

The hope, expressed in Jeremiah, is fulfilled in Jesus: Look, the days are coming, the Lord declares, when I shall raise an upright branch for David.

The root of the shepherd-king David brings forth the Messiah, the Son of David.

So Psalm 23 springs naturally to the lips of the followers of Jesus, and we can easily see the loving care of the Shepherd reflected in the life and teaching of Jesus:

Thy rod and staff my comfort still, thy cross before to guide me.

And more than that.

We easily move from there to the eucharist, for the shepherd there leads and teaches us, as we listen to his words and make a new encounter with him.

The encounter in the eucharist isn't just one of learning from Jesus as we hear the Gospel read and expounded; it is also a feeding encounter.

The Lord feeds us with himself in this meal:

And where the verdant pastures grow, with food celestial feedeth.

The generosity of the Lord knows no bounds, and as we are anointed in baptism, so the Lord's bounty stays with us for ever.

Thy unction grace bestoweth, and O what transport of delight from thy pure chalice floweth.

And so through all the length of days thy goodness faileth never: Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise within thy house for ever.

Now we begin to realise how wonderful this psalm really is, because it sums up the assurance we have as Christian people, and it reinforces our conviction that we are one people in the one Lord, sharing the one table of the Lord.

The wellspring of renewal in the Church is not a quest for efficiency, but a realisation of where our priorities lie, and a return to the gentle rule of the shepherd King of the new Israel.

In other words, what counts in our protestation of Christian conviction in the end is our personal loyalty to Jesus, into whose body by baptism we are naturalised.

Only Jesus can teach us how to be.

Only Jesus can feed us with the food that we need for our pilgrimage.

Only Jesus can confirm in us the assurance that the eternal God pours out grace and love for us.

Living Christian life means putting Jesus at the centre, accepting his gentle rule.

But heavens above, this doesn't mean that every area of our lives is now mapped out with precise rules.

Far from it.

It does mean that our lives are now to be lived, governed, not by a system, not even by a book but by a relationship.

The return to Jesus in every aspect of his word to us, but especially in the word and food he offers us in the Eucharist is the clue to the Church's renewal, in this as in every other place.

We have been given this in order that we may live Christian lives.

The Church's worship is a channel of grace, and it is there to bring joy and sustenance, not merely to be endured.

Those who complain that the Church is in a mess must first of all themselves return to what is 'given' in our life together if they are to sound at all convincing.

So in a very real sense we are sheep, because we follow and draw our sustenance from, the good shepherd.

But in another real sense the Church actually functions as a shepherd.

The apostles (those 'sent out') were being prepared for a mission.

After the resurrection it was they, along with the other disciples, who passed on the Gospel message to the 'sheep without a shepherd'.

True, there are those in the Church who are specifically commissioned as pastors.

But the whole body has a pastoral role, to lead others to the Good Shepherd and to sustain them on their journey.

We need to recall the parable of the kingdom as the treasure in a field which a man found and buried again so that he could buy the field and have the treasure.

It's almost as if we do this, and then keep the treasure to ourselves, so that no one else can share its benefits.

Jesus didn't come to earth just to share his love and life with a select group of people to the exclusion of others.

His call came to all, so that people all over the world could be brought into one community.

Speculation as to how that could be achieved may not lead very far.

But what we have to ensure is that the missionary dimension of our Christian discipleship is taken seriously, so that we can offer something to others in terms of a living, reasonable faith.

Mission, evangelism, call it what you like, springs naturally from our Christian discipleship.

And if we consider ourselves in any real sense to be the successors of the apostles, then surely we must take this as seriously as they appear to have done.

There is substance in our faith, believers as we are in the real presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd in this assembly and in this sacred food.

Surely we can speak to the yearning of our brothers and sisters and help them also to put flesh on the bones of their pilgrimage.

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