Sunday, 25 April 2010

Good Shepherd

John 10:27-30

Jesus said:
‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

'The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;’

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one that we have all found easy to relate to from our earliest years. In fact the very first ‘artist’s impression’ of Jesus is though to be an early Roman wall painting of a young man with a sheep held safely on his shoulders.

From our earliest years the pastoral style of the Children’s Bible illustration has given us this lovely, warm image; an image of comfort and protection; the gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

Except that now we know, that the shepherd is not who we used to think he was.

Shepherds in the time of Jesus were thugs with a day job. They were hard, itinerant men with little regards for polite society. The hills were wild places, living in them meant you had to have a certain wildness yourself; there were few places to safely lay your head and the ability to survive did not mean living by the rules but knowing how to go around them; to become a law unto himself.

So, what would be a good shepherd? Certainly not one that had gone over to a genteel way of life.

In the wilderness there is no delegation, nor deciding that the job is not for you. It is all on you. Months at a time when you have a flock to protect from wolves, wild dogs, thieves and other shepherds; when you have to provide that flock with food, water, shelter; when you have to know the lie of the land and the cost of safe passage. Experience builds a good shepherd from one who has been there, done that, walked that, fought that and suffered that.

He has to have done it for the least as well as the most valuable of his flock and he has to have put them first over and over again, so that they are safely delivered to his Lord’s enclosure.
This is an image of a fierce man; but you will not get sheep to obey through fear. A fat, healthy sheep depends on being part of a flock; of feeling safe; of being cared for.

So there is another side to the shepherd – the mother - who imprints his voice, his smell on the young lambs by being there at the birth, by carrying them around with him. He lives in and among them; knowing them intimately. As we wish to be known. All we have to do is to listen to his voice. There is a tale that if a lamb is very wayward, a bit too much of a risk-taker then the shepherd will snap a small bone in the leg – meaning that he has to carry the lamb around – it has to learn, the hard way to rely only on him.

they will never be lost’

But that still doesn’t stop us going astray as sheep go astray. And that is where the Good Shepherd who seeks out the stray comes in. Who puts those woolly headed beasts, who all look alike, ahead of his own safety.

When I was younger, I remember finding a sheep on the Great Orme, stuck upside down in a ditch wrapped in barbed wire, its heavy fleece soaked with rainwater. Heaven knows how long it had been there. The hills of Wales are as wild as any Palestinian range in their way but we just don’t have that sort of shepherd any more.

Impulsively, I climbed into the ditch and started to pull the wire away, ripping my own hands open, the sheep turned and twisted until it could feel it was free, then jack-knifed itself out of my hands, kicking back and sending me flying 200 feet down the Orme; the scree stones ripped the rest of my skin off before I was able to stop. For the sake of one sheep – that will never know what it nearly cost me and wouldn’t even know the meaning of gratitude.
I nearly died that day and always remember it every time this Gospel comes around. A stupid sheep – an even stupider me; but only one sheep and only the once. But for me it serves as a real reminder that Jesus takes that risk; makes that sacrifice and more; every minute of every day for those that belong to him.


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Think again...

Mary Magdalen

I’ve been watching your men, Peter.
Chattering like rooks in their bell towers;
Covetous of their traditions, their status quo.
Sending us back to the kitchen and bedroom yet again.
What dogma did they use this time?
Which chapter and verse?
The only time I ever saw the Master write
Was in the sand at a woman’s feet
And that was swept away by His Word.

There were always women, Peter;
Uncompromising, bleeding, sinful women.
Causing embarrassment even then.
You may have been the first chosen
But we were never an afterthought.
We sat at the Master’s feet
Spoke the words of faith,
Loved without compromise,
Believed without proof.

It wasn’t only you He sent out
And it wasn’t only you that came back.
And I know you remember
When the time came, where were the men?
Where were you?
Who walked the Via Dolorosa at the end?
Who cradled the Child of Light
in the bloody mire of Calvary?
Who were His witnesses?

He has forgiven you, Peter.
But you have forgotten us.
Remember He loves us both.
Are we not both Children of the Way?
Remind your men we are sisters
Not harlots
Change their hearts,
Change their minds.
Change them.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fishing for God

John 21:1-14

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied, ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.
It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ And when they answered, ‘No’, he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ At these words ‘It is the Lord’, Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land. As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.

This is actually only half of the Gospel reading for today - John knows how to write for the big screen, but then he had more time than the others.

You would think that after hearing, reading, studying the Gospels for however many years that there would be, somewhere, a definitive homily or reflection. But there won't be. Or, there may be for the way we are feeling and understanding today, but tomorrow we may hear the Word in a completely different way. This is why Scripture is important both to the Church and to the individual; there is a message for each one of us, every day.

Today, the phrase that stuck was 'I'm going fishing'

Poor Simon Peter, a man I never liked very much, but who has become more and more of a friend. At last the disciples have received enough of the Spirit to venture outside the locked room. Peter, presumably is being treated as their leader, and for the want of anywhere else to go he is taking them home.

Surely, he is doing his best but he has still not changed very much. He doesn't see the big picture; doesn't think outside the box; doesn’t like being unsure; he doesn’t really like new things or to not know where he is going. He has leadership skills (he had his own boat) and he can be brave, that’s not in dispute, but with Jesus it suited him best to be the second in command and to leave the why’s and wherefore’s of what was going on to the Lord.

At the moment Simon Peter doesn’t know what is going on; the Resurrection brought Jesus back to him - the same but 'not the same' Jesus; and remember they still haven’t talked about ‘that night’ when Peter knew he had betrayed his best friend.

The rest of the group may be happier now they are travelling; the confidence of being out in the sunlight; living in watchful hope for the Lord to get back in touch as surely he will. But you get the impression there has been too much sitting, thinking, waiting time for Simon Peter.

So the practical man in him says ‘I’m going fishing’ and see it is ‘I’m’; he hasn’t invited the sons of Zebedee or the others; maybe he didn’t want them along; maybe he had had enough of talking and crying and wondering – he needed the space; he needed to be 'doing'. But, whether he meant it or not - it becomes a rallying cry for the others; to remember who they are; what their strengths are; to work together for a purpose'

And that is exactly what they needed; as Paul later tells his communities ‘you can’t sit around waiting for God – you have lives to live; you have work to do’.

There is this saying that people use - a 'clever' phrase- I use it myself when I feel I have to make excuses for the stillness of meditation or a quiet place - ‘We are human beings not human doings’.

But in actual fact we are both. To sit in a problem; allowing it to envelop and take over your life is not asking for God's help; to make no effort with the gifts and graces we have been given suggests that we don't believe God can help us. Because what God has already given us - is not enough.

We have to be ourselves; we have to be grown-ups; we have to get out there on the waves of our own life. Bravely taking responsibility, taking chances. Sometimes we will be getting it right and sometimes getting it wrong. sometimes finding ourselves adrift in a boat with an empty net. But only there does God gets the opportunity to guide us; to lead us to the fertile waters where our gifts can bring a real harvest.

It is there that God can share our lives – and make a space in our lives where we can be together; where we can be given the stability, the warmth and the feeding that we need.


Friday, 16 April 2010

Women's Prayers

On Holy Island I listened to a man reading from the Song of Songs. He read it wonderfully with no concern that he spoke of lying on the Beloved's breast et al. And I remembered a man saying that women should have a more intimate relationship with Jesus because he was a man - and women....
Not sure I agree, but if nothing else I guess it gives women permission to write about him that way...

Women's Prayers

Lord, God of my life
I stand before you, head bowed
Naked and ashamed
Bound in my sadness
For I know that
I am not worthy.

Your gaze is upon me
Your hand touches my cheek
And lifts my eyes to yours
Eyes offering forgiveness
Mouth smiling Love
You take me in your arms
Mercy wrapped in Mercy
And I rest
Clothed in You

Lord, God of my life
I sit at your feet, head bowed
I have given all I have
My treasure and my tears
Tongue-tied with sorrow
For I know I am not worthy

Your hand in my hair
Your words redeem me
I lift my eyes to yours
Thanks, echoed with thanks
Love with Divine Love
You take me in your arms
Mercy wrapped in Mercy
And I rest
Clothed in You

Lord, God of my life
I walk in your footprints
A follower, head bowed
Freed from my demons
I am nothing but yours
I am not worthy

You come to stillness
And say my name
I lift my eyes to yours
A look of invitation
Love’s companion
You take me in your arms
Mercy wrapped in Mercy
And I rest
Clothed in You


Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday

Magdalen Lament

I am sick.

Not the sick of an excited, shrieking, palm filled road
Not the sick of what happens next?
Not the sick of too much food, too much wine.
Not the sick of too little sleep.

This is the sick I felt lost in the market-place
This is the sick I felt sold into slavery
This is the sick I felt at a child born dead
This is the sick I felt when the demons laughed and the men spat at me
This is the sick of fear drenched, screaming desolation.

He is gone.

The one who knew me,
The one who saved me,
The one who loved me.

Oily clouds draw a veil over the night sky
Moon and stars refuse to look upon those
That condemned the Brightest One.

His light no longer in this world.

Eclipsed by the blackness of men’s hearts,
The blindness of their eyes,
The shadows of their ambition.

He is gone.

But I have a star,
Fallen from his mouth.
A promise to return.
I fear I misheard,
A demon awakened at his going
Taunts me with my loss.
For where are the others?

I have a star,
And by its light I will wait.
The garden embraces me.
My watchfulness may feed the lilies
And sparrows find a home in my hair
Yet I will not leave the place
Of his descent.

For I have a star
And I have named it Hope.