This picture is The Young Shepherdess by Julien Dupre
People talk about “sheeple” and all of that these days. I have heard ministers refer to people who come to their church as their “flock” in a fairly demeaning way. I try to be vegan. All in all I find the metaphor of Christ as a shepherd something I am ambivalent about.
Another thing I was ambivalent about this week was having to lead a service and preach. Usually I love this (as regular readers would know) but I am kind of tired and depressed and have low levels of faith and it was my weekend for going away with some friends to relax and I wanted someone else to take it off my hands and run with it. I wanted to be organised enough ahead to write the whole thing and put it in their hands and be free.
But I had car trouble and computer trouble and money trouble and a cat with cancer and it did not happen and I was left having to cut my holiday short and come back. And I had to move on and WRITE SOMETHING so I could go on the holiday in the first place instead of using Saturday to try to finish it.
And I had no idea what to do with these readings.
Well I DID end up going camping with a whole bunch of lesbians and their children in a wine region and God was there with us in so many ways (even though half the time she was quarreling with me) so no regrets. And I had not written a reflection as such but I had written some questions and I played some Latvian music that speaks to me of Godde (even though the song itself is pagan I guess). I can’t find that track on internet so I will link one called (my terrible translation) “with god you have long tables“. I played the song that celebrated the diving in ordinary things (weaving, eating, being) but of course it was not in a language anyone there speaks so I gave them a sheet of questions focussing on the readings.
Initially I had many more questions but I cut it down to one page of largish font and tried to make them sort of fit together in a theme. I was also reflective as I wrote a slightly grumpy collect. People prayed about all the things in the world that hurt and upset us. It was a very sad prayer time which fit where I am in my faith life but it was my job to lead so at the end I said “we have shared or pain, fear and sadness but we bring to you also love and laughter, good friends and beautiful meals shared” I really, really hoped noone thought I was trying to silence or invalidate their horror and honesty but I wanted them to be in a safe space too!
This is all I have this week, sharing a difficult job leading…made easier OF COURSE by the wonderful, supportive, participative people who taught me everything about liturgy so of course did it all with me and appreciated my work. I had apologised for the way I always “talk. talk. talk” at them and set up my lack of real preaching as a blessed reprieve from me when I wasn’t giving into the temptation to be always talking.
One of the leaders who is a fantastic thinker and one of the best preachers there said to me at the end she hopes (and that everyone hopes) I WILL keep on giving into the temptation to preach. Which was a beautiful affirmation. It was honestly the kindest thing to say.
So having over-explained the piecemeal blog this week I will post the shortened sheet of questions :
“all of you … should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.”
What might we have rejected, that in fact contains God’s grace and God’s word to us? How do we overcome our prejudices and our need to draw lines to find Jesus in the “stone rejected”?
“There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
Given this sort of statement, how do we work with other faiths in the world? If Jesus is the “only name” then what is his relationship to other faiths? How do we avoid having a colonising attitude to others?
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
How to work toward this with respect not chauvinism? How to achieve unity without erasing culture and diversity? Science and creation tell us that diversity is a good thing- let us reflect on the difference between “unity” as control and true unity based on trust and connection.
“what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.”
Sit with the mystery and the potential and resist the temptation to formulate answers. We shall be more…
Those were the shortened set of questions. If anyone is curious as to the other questions comment and I will post them as a reply.
I would also like to share my penetential rite and collect.
God of all kindness, when at times we are heartsore, apathetic, rudderless, downcast, empty, defensive, lonely or hungry.
Teach us to take refuge only in you.
If when we look at our neighbour and we see difference, folly, laziness, lack of worth, overwhelming need or shallowness,
show us that what we reject has worth to your better way of seeing.
Risen one we can see ourselves as weak and irrelevant.
When at time we live as if what we do has little importance
teach us your power of knowing and caring.
God of all love, you have created, companioned
and continue to call us.
Teach us to know you in one another.
But we are more than sheep oh Risen One
(or perhaps it is that we have underestimated ourselves
along with sheep)
we know your voice because you called us-
out of the abyss of rejection and gave us purpose;
out of the dimness of unbeing and gave us breath.
we know your voice and we know your presence.
When we face down wolves
you stand with us and for us.
Anyway this was my attempt this week. It’s a community where I am and I am a participant not the leader or the star so all was well. I think anyone would do well in a community like that. I pray that for everyone, that they find God with/in people who teach, support, commission and then again support their ministry.
And I will try to write a “proper” reflection next week.