This is a theme that brings great challenge and also great comfort.
The Good Shepherd passage in John 10 contains a big challenge. I think the most important world in it is, in Greek, ek – out
The good shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Out of where?
The picture is one of the sheep safely gathered and congregated in a cosy sheepfold. They feel safe and secure there. They are protected by a fence. But the Shepherd wants to lead the sheep OUT of the sheepfold and into the place of vulnerability – out into the open hills. He wants to lead them from confinement to adventure, from safety to risk…
This image also resonates with us at this time when we cry ‘lead us OUT!’ When we crave to be released from our prisons to taste freedom once again. Enough of the sheepfold!
But at a deeper level it becomes a picture of what is happening to the Church.
The Lord wants to lead us as a Church out from the safety of the sheepfold, out from the security of the enclosure, which represents our ‘comfort zone’ and stands for the way we have always done things, our routines and self-preserving traditions.
The Lord is leading his people into a place of risk. We are learning to do things differently. We are discovering new forms of community. We encounter new ways of praying and worshipping. We long with nostalgia for the sheepfold, for the reassuring ways, the old routines, inherited conventions, ‘normal’ Anglican practice. But it seems we are being led out of the sheepfold. We are being summoned to explore new ways of relating, different patterns of prayer and alternative ways of worship. Maybe we will never be quite the same again. Maybe the world will never be the same again. We find ourselves changing…. Certainly we rediscover the Church to be not so much a settled instruction, a stable fortress of faith but rather, essentially, a pilgrim people, a people on the move, a people stepping forwards with the Risen Christ, a people on a journey of faith…facing the unknown with trust in Christ.
Even it is not possible for us physically, then spiritually, let us dare to allow the Shepherd to lead us out.
It feels strange and disorientating when we are out of the sheepfold and find ourselves in unexplored territory of open countryside.
But one thing is sure. We are not alone. We do not face the future by ourselves.
‘When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.’
Our hearts brim with hope because today Jesus reassures us:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
What image forms in your mind as you read Psalm 23?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me (RSV)
This image, as in today’s icon, is of a strong shepherd who picks up a fragile lamb and carries it on his shoulders through very difficult terrain. Indeed the terrain is ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ (RSV), ‘the darkest valley’ (NIV). We are the lamb: