A Thought For March
A Thought for March
“The Lord is my Shepherd.”
If you are a lifelong Christian or a person who’s never stepped in a church you will have heard of the 23rd Psalm. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t know at least the beginning of this Psalm. It can evoke various memories from comfort to deep sadness at the loss of someone we love.
Many Christians like the image of the Good Shepherd and yet often they miss how very radical it is. In Jesus’s time the Shepherd was disliked, seen as irreligious by the pious and superficially holy class. Ironically, they didn’t mind the meat in their stomachs or the wool to wear when it was cold.
Sadly, in our day the image of the Good Shepherd is normally a 40ish white man with a nicely trimmed beard and a shepherd’s crook, not as Jesus would have seen his local shepherd – prematurely old due to heat, cold and all-round exposure to the elements, with sun-beaten leathery skin, drained and exhausted from looking after and protecting the sheep. His eyes would probably have been a bit sunken from lack of regular, healthy food.
These are two very different images, aren’t they? Pope Francis not long after becoming Bishop of Rome said: Priests and Bishops should have the smell of the sheep. In other words, ministers should be part of their community. I know we cannot all live in (for example) Darley, South Darley and Winster!! But I do think the Pope is right. Christians are called to be part of their communities. Not outside judging but inside serving.
Christians should get mucky and bloody along with their people. We should laugh and cry together.
This is even more important in our rural communities especially when certain factions in the churches seem to have little regard for the simple, daily rhythm of those communities we live in. Often certain churches like big, brash and loud, full of buzz words and the latest churchy language. When I think of the Jesus I see in the Bible, I think He’d want to know about your problems, your lack of buses and shops and pubs and your struggles to keep your halls and community centres open; and yes, I think He’d worry about our church and chapel buildings, small and large.
Maybe we all have to try to step back in Lent, try to clear our eyes and look with the true Shepherd’s eyes; to look at each other, our needs and the needs of our communities and ask for forgiveness for our arrogance, indifference or intolerance.
But let’s never be sorry for ‘smelling like the sheep’, because that is where God in His Son has put each of us. As we move onwards through Lent then Easter may we look together with all in our communities and ask how we can help people? There will be the need to rebuild in many ways; the need to heal and forgive, to mourn and rejoice, and simply give thanks for our lives. There will be the need to look after each other more and never tire of being Shepherds to each other.
As you move through Lent may the Spirit of God draw you much closer to himself.
Revd. Stephen Monk
Below is the 23rd Psalm; let’s pray it slowly with thought.
1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Revd. Stephen Monk