Our readings Sunday are a rather ―mixed bag – or so they seem to me. Our gospel reading is a split with the middle section (the feeding of the 5000) taken out, because we will hear this when we move to John‘s gospel in a week or two. But it is strange to cut out the centre of the sandwich as it were! The theme which links this passage and the Jeremiah passage is [Jesus] having compassion on the people who are like sheep without a shepherd, or in the case of Jeremiah who have been scattered and driven away by bad shepherds. Our Ephesians reading continues with a reminder that we have been brought in to the people of God, into God‘s flock. Like much of Paul, it is dense and rich and worth savouring, mouthful by mouthful, a bit like a rich fruit-cake, sometimes some hard nuts, sometimes some sweet fruit. So a mixed bag, but much to ponder. As you read the passages what strikes you? What phrase or sentence grabbed your attention? If nothing maybe read them again more slowly.
The world for sheep in those days was a dangerous one – not nice fields full of grass but a dry arid semi-desert area, with the danger of being lost, of being injured, of being attacked by predators, and the constant need to find food and water. Picture what it would mean to be sheep without a shepherd in that situation. And in our world, which is apparently plush with material things, where food is plentiful (for us), where water is in the taps, we have still found that the world can feel like somewhere where we are lost, anxious, uncertain. Covid has made things worse, but opening up will make many more anxious. We would like a strong guide to keep us safe.
Navigating life is not easy for many of us; may we find the Good Shepherd close to us and may we feel close to him. May our churches also be safe places, welcoming places, non-judgemental places; places where the anxious can feel safe. May our church leaders (the pastors / shepherds) be people who help bring safety, may we be active in the midst of the real world. When Hannah was ordained deacon, she was reminded that a deacon is to reach into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible, but not just deacons, all of us.
And to return to Paul‘s letter for a moment, I hope we do know that, because of Jesus, we are no longer strangers, but citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, welcomed and secure. And as we know this for ourselves may we share it with others. A mixed bag, but a bag of goodies! I hope there is something for each of us to draw strength from in these passages. What did you get from your reading of them?
Rev’d Peter Reiss