Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Of Sheep and Annual Meetings

Both our parishes held their Annual Parochial Church Meetings on Sunday. This Homily was intended as part of the "Chairman's Remarks" (as the agenda put it):

We’re still in Easter-tide, the season of Easter. But we’ve now run out of Resurrection appearances by Jesus for use in the Gospel reading. Last Sunday we had the final appearance recorded by St. John as Jesus came to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee - and his last instructions to the disciples… what they should do to live out their faith in the risen Christ when physically he has left them.

But there’s a link between last week’s Gospel reading and this week’s. They both involve sheep. Last week we heard Jesus ask Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And to Peter’s reply, Jesus answers: “Feed my lambs…” “Tend my sheep…” “Feed my sheep…” Love for Jesus is put into action by care for the flock.

Today we hear Jesus on an occasion in his earlier ministry and he says, “My sheep hear my voice.” But there’s also a problem - because he tells the people he is speaking to, “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”

Who are the sheep? Who is in as far as the flock of Christ is concerned? - and who is out? And if Jesus says “Tend my sheep, feed my sheep…” does that mean there are people who don’t need his care or who don’t deserve it?

Today is observed by the Church as a whole as “Vocations Sunday” - a day to think about being called by God. It’s also the day when our parish has its Easter Vestry and Annual Parochial Church Meeting. And our Gospel reading has us think about sheep.

They’re all connected. It’s quite appropriate that all three coincide. A vocation is a calling to do something. It might be a job - and knowing that a particular job is just right for you, and you are just the person to do it. In the Church “vocation” has been particularly associated with a calling to the priesthood in particular - and more generally to other forms of ministry. We need to keep that definition in mind. We need to pray for more priests - and for the right people to test their vocations. That’s not just about the right person to do the job, it’s about the struggle to be the person God is calling. And when we understand this, then we see that really every Christian has a  vocation - every Christian is called to live out their faith on a daily basis, to be who and what God wants. Are we ready to ask each day what God wants of us? Do we seek to know where he is calling us? Do we want to be the people God wants us to be? If we think we are, does God recognise us?... those words of Jesus, “you do not belong to my sheep,” might seem quite judgmental - but they might also be a prompt to take a good look at ourselves and ask how God sees us.

And vocation is not merely something individual. God calls me - but the Church has its part to play in recognising it. That’s why we say that a vocation to the priesthood has to be “tested.” But not just priesthood. Today we have our church’s Annual Meeting. It’s a time to take note of reports on what we’ve been doing over the past year, to check the accounts, to vote for churchwardens and members of the PCC. But not just to look back or to do what is legally required of us. Today’s meeting invites us to ask how close we can come to fulfillment of our calling as God’s people - to be the  Body of Christ; to be a sign of his Kingdom. It’s not just that we are sheep - Christ’s flock who need looking after… We have a calling to look out for other people too - those who are outside the doors of our churches, those who need our help and care, people looking for faith, people who don’t even recognise their need.

Who are the “sheep?” The real question is “who is the shepherd?” Always we are called back to Christ - and when we are called we share in his care for the flock. But Jesus doesn’t only call himself a shepherd to his flock. He also calls himself “the door to the sheepfold.” He’s the way in. If we wonder who are the sheep he calls into his flock, the way forward is not to judge the answer for ourselves. It’s to see that we keep the door open for those who might come in.

There are some well-known words often used at the door of a church - and we might use them as a prayer for ourselves in our vocation and on this day of our Annual Meeting:

O God, make the door of this house
    wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship;
    narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife.

Make its threshold smooth enough
    to be no stumbling-block to children,
    nor to straying feet,
    but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power. 

God make the door of this house the gateway to your eternal kingdom.

Can we open our doors to all who are in need? Can we be faithful to our vocation as Christ’s people - and help other people recognise their calling?

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me,” says Jesus. On this Vocation Sunday the Church reminds us: "The young are called; the elderly are called. There is no retirement from the Christian pilgrimage. …... Women are called and men are called….. God 'has no favourites' …. We are all called no matter what our occupations may be. There is no special status in the Kingdom for those in 'top jobs' or 'important responsibilities' "   

May that be true for us! May we help other people find it is true for them!

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