20th November 2022
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
I am the door of the sheepfold
Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung,
Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place,
Not like the well-oiled openings that swung
So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace,
Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face
From house to house in brimming Bethlehem,
Not like the one that no man may assail,
The dreadful curtain, The forbidding veil
That waits your breaking in Jerusalem.
Not one you made but one you have become:
Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam
To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach
Of your high pasture. Calling us by name,
You lay your body down across the breach,
Yourself the door that opens into home.
I don’t know what you thought when you saw the theme of this Sunday. It is a subject that conjures up many images and ideas, especially with the news reports and internal reports in the various churches, followed by an ever-increasing raft of instructions, rules and regulations to be interpreted and worked through by Safeguarding Officers in every parish and chaplaincy – and our Safeguarding Officer does a great job in working out how these affect our situation and implementing them sensitively. Thank you.
But that isn’t what this Sunday is really about – the rules and paperwork. This Sunday can probably be looked at better by separating the word into its two halves: safe and guarding. It is one reason that I chose Malcolm Guite’s poem about the Good Shepherd. We are looking to the one who, like a shepherd and his flock, keeps us safe, who protects us: guards us sleeping and guides us waking – as a recent anthem told us. And it is all there in our readings today. Jeremiah describes a God who is personally concerned with the well-being of the people, God’s created beings. It speaks of the flock being in danger, being threatened, and yet God will step in, will protect and guard them: they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, or lost. God will keep them in perfect peace. It is an image which we associate deeply with Christ, and which he used to describe his ministry and mission: I am the Good Shepherd. The one, in the words of the poem, who lay his body down across the breach for his sheep, his lambs. The one whose last instruction to Peter was to tend my sheep, feed my lambs. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. All of us, and everyone. Our psalm tells us God is our refuge and strength, we don’t have to fear. We can be still and know that God is God. The God who came down to earth as a vulnerable child, to defeat the fears and the darkness and who stretched out his arms on the cross in love for his people. The God who gathers us in his loving arms as a refuge.
All of us. Everyone. The whole of creation is held in God’s hands: He’s got the whole world in his hands – you and me sister/brother; everybody here; the whole world. Held. Loved, kept safe in God’s presence. God is our refuge a very present help in trouble.
And that is what Safe-guarding Sunday is all about. This place, this building, where we are in the presence of God: The Lord is here: his Spirit is with us we say every Sunday, and I choose that opening to the Eucharistic prayer quite deliberately. Because the Lord, the Good Shepherd, is here. And this place should be somewhere where we feel safe. Where anyone who turns up through those doors can feel safe, protected, secure. Where they can bring their tears of pain, fear, distrust, and have God wipe away all those tears. Through us. Through our care, attention and welcome. We, as people of God, should be working together to make this place, our community, a place where all feel they can come for refuge, where doubts can be discussed and shared. We are called to be a pastoral church, a pastoral people – it is no accident that priests are also called pastors, but it is not just priests, ministers or lay ministers. It is all of us. We are all required by God to shepherd God’s people. Paul speaks of wishing the Colossians to be strong, to be made whole again. And this is what we are here for – to be made strong and to be made whole again. And to make others strong, to help heal them, support them, care for them. Because this is what Jesus did – he raised up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, and drove out the darkness. And we are Christians, Christ’s ones, baptised in his name and called to continue his ministry and mission to others. So this place, our place of worship, should be a sanctuary, a place of safety, where all can come and feel the love of God in action. Christ became the door of the sheepfold, Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach Of his high pasture. Calling us by name, He lay his body down across the breach, Himself the door that opens into home.
We can be people who bridge the gap, who reach out into the darkness and provide a safe haven – a heaven – for all whom we meet, and for all who cross our doorway here.
The second commandment is this: that you love your neighbour as yourself. And so we are called to work together to serve others by being safe, watching out for the sheep and lambs around us and offering them strength, hope and love.
Reverend Jackie Sellin