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The Shepherd of Love


This sermon was preached at Springdale Methodist Church, Wolverhampton, on 25 April 2021 (Lent 4 | Good Shepherd Sunday). The sermon is based on John 10:11-18 

Jean Vanier wrote:

Love is the greatest of all risks to give myself to you do I dare…do I dare leap into the cool, swirling waters of loving fidelity?

I must have told you this before, but one of my favourite films is Love Actually. If you’ve seen it, you will never forget Hugh Grant playing the Prime Minister and dancing around No 10 Downing Street to the Pointer Sister’s song Jump for my love. However, the scene I remember the most is the very opening scene which films the arrival gate at Heathrow Airport. Hugh Grant’s character says over scenes of families reuniting:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love.

It's a film of it’s time, released just a couple of years after 9/11 but I am sure the reflection that, when it really comes to it, our frantic messages in times of crisis are messages of love, not hate.


In our gospel reading this morning, I see a message of love. The deep, deep love of Christ shown in the image of Jesus being the good shepherd. Jesus is speaking into an agricultural community with which we may not be so familiar. Jesus was speaking as the labourer carpenter to manual workers. He is speaking the language of “no reward without sweat”, long hours, and the drudgery of work in all weathers. And into this context, Jesus talks of love. Love’s demand and love’s value.[1]


Love is the motivation for the good shepherd who took his flock out to graze and brought them back to the fold at night and watched them so they don’t become lost or injured or suffer in the wolf’s molars. The shepherd would rescue the straying lamb from the cliff edge and would search for the one who is missing.


Jesus says he is the good shepherd and his motive of love leads him to the cross as he lays down his life of his own accord and is sustained by the love of God of the Father

This image is a metaphor for Christ’s love for you and me. It is a love that will sustain us no matter what situation we face, no matter what difficulty we are walking with, no matter what we might believe about ourselves. Jesus, the good shepherd, loves us with a love so deep it is beyond our comprehension. It is an unconditional love, it is not a love that says “you’ve made your bed now lie on it.”


But these are just words and often when it comes to the crunch, we can be suspicious of words because we have been let down before when their promise has turned vacuous. That’s because love must always be a verb. We need to experience a common life founded on and motivated by love.


Our actions and our common care should never be motivated by a publicity opportunity or our desire to put bums on seats on a Sunday morning.

Our motivation must be the free, unbounded, unconditional love of Christ that seeks the wholeness of our bodies, minds and souls. The unconditional love that welcomes all: the vagabonds, the don’t belongs, winners and losers, travellers tired from the journey, the questioners, the fallen and the broken.[2]


Our actions and our common care should never be motivated by nor perpetuate our differences, disagreements or conflict that suffocate love – the love for others, the love of ourselves. Instead, we need to look for love that allows us to go deeper than the pain of our conflicts to find creative approaches to our interpersonhood that can find justice, dignity and change.


Our actions and our common care should never be a bombastic flexing of our power or status. But all that we do must be motivated by a love that is humble, that does not attract to us but points to Christ and his sacrificial love.

For when we seek to love like this we too experience a fresh insight into the love of Christ for us, for all of us.


The love of the good Shepherd.


The love that bade us welcome – as George Herbert penned:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, If I lacked any thing. A guest, I answered, worthy to be here: Love said, You shall be he. I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear, I cannot look on thee. Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I? Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame Go where it doth deserve. And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame? My dear, then I will serve. You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat: So I did sit and eat.

Amen.

[1] Padraig O Tuama Readings for the fourth Sunday of Easter, 2021. - Spirituality of Conflict [2] Stuart Townend Vagabonds