Sermon: The Good Shepherd?

Sermon May 11 2014 St Mary’s Whitby Rev. Felicity O’Brien

Acts 11:1-18, John 10:1-10

Today we celebrate several things – Mothers’ Day, Good Shepherd Sunday, and an important event in this nation’s history – the coming of the gospel. Tradition tells us that this happened on Christmas day 1814, in Oiho bay, and while Samuel Marsden certainly did preach the Gospel first onshore on this date, New Zealanders had already started hearing about Christianity as they encountered sailors visiting their country, and worked on ships going abroad.

We commemorate Samuel Marsden tomorrow, and today’s featured guest is the person who made the whole new Zealand mission in 1814 possible – chief Ruatara, nicknamed Te Ara mo e rongopai, or the gateway of the gospel.He served on various ships between 1805 and 1809, when Marsden met him on board ship, as he was being sent back to Australia, unwell after being abused. Marsden had already met many Maori in Port Jackson, and after being very impressed by them and their potential was planning a mission to New Zealand.

Marsden must have read the story we had from acts, where Peter is given a clear message that the Gospel is for everyone, that there are no differences between people because of their race. Marsden knew that the bulk of the Maori people had not heard about Jesus, so he was determined to follow the calling God had on his life, and bring the gospel to them. He also felt that it was his duty as an Englishman to bring civilisation to them, and he believed that the best way to develop habits of industriousness in the Maori which would lead to their being able to receive the Gospel would be to teach them practical skills.

Marsden cared for Ruatara on board and back home in Parramatta, Australia, where Ruatara learnt all he could about agriculture, keen to gain knowledge to help his people. There had been an incident in the bay of Island where the whole crew of an English ship had been killed, and no one wanted to go there. Fortunately for Marsden this was where Ruatara was from, and he had inherited the title of chief, and proved himself worthy of it by showing his new-gained agricultural knowledge to his people. After another visit to Sydney, Ruatara brought Marsden back with him, with a missionary party, who were all trained artisans. They arrived on December 22, and Ruatara set about fencing land, making a pulpit and reading desks, and seats from the bottoms of old canoes for the Europeans. When he had set this all up the service could begin.

This event is commemorated in the carol by Willow Macky – Not on a snowy night – let’s sing the first verse together.

Not on a snowy night
By star or candlelight

Nor by an angel band
There came to our dear land

Te Harinui
Te Harinui
Te Hari-nu-i
Glad tid-ings of great joy

 

 

Ruatara was a good shepherd. Our gospel reading today talks abut the shepherd who protects the flock. Ruatara protected the missionaries, in a region which had recently been hostile to Europeans, and he brought new skills to develop his iwi.

 

Samuel Marsden functioned as a shepherd too, bringing missionaries to New Zealand, and taking Maori back to Sydney where he trained them in farming. Was he a good shepherd? Perhaps a patchy one. He certainly had the best interests of the Maori at heart, within the culture he belonged to. He was a stern and strict man, not always popular, but ultimately, respected.

A shepherd does many things, – providing food and water for his flock, sheltering them and protecting them from danger, and caring for all their needs. In our spiritual lives we need shepherds. Pastor is the same word as shepherd – just in Latin. A pastor should care for the flock, ensuring the necessities are there, and protection is there. But when we’re talking about people it’s not quite the same as sheep is it? Sheep tend to be more passive, have less say in their own destiny, although I do remember watching the sheepdog trials on TV and some of those sheep were decidedly stroppy!

In the same way that pastors care for us, mothers care for us. There is the usual nurture and protection, but also, like pastors, the nudging us to grow, to fulfil our potential. After all, what sort of people would we be if we never graduated from mothers’ milk or baby food? And what sort of people can we be as a congregation if we never go beyond the favourite stories of the Bible, with bright coloured pictures? That’s why it’s important to continue to read and study scriptures, to discuss them as we grow as disciples.

There are some things a shepherd has to do that the sheep don’t like – caring for their health by crutching them and drenching them, making sure that they will not suffer from disease and parasites. A good shepherd, just like a good mother, is not always nice! I’m sure my own kids can tell you that I’m mean some of the time! I make no apology for that – sometimes we have to be tough to love our charges.

The good shepherd protects his sheep form thieves and wolves, and a pastor will protect the church congregation from those who would steal their joy. Sometimes in a groups of people there will be dissent over a matter – factions will arise and harmony will suffer. I’m sure that never happens here!

It is also the duty of a Pastor to identify the threat and to protect the people from it. What sort of threat could I mean? Sometimes dubious spiritual practices can creep in, and a disadvantage of the broad nature of the Anglican church is that things which would soon be shown the door in a pentecostal church, such as the enneagram, and other new age practices, are given a very generous hearing. Our Good shepherd always has the wellbeing of the flock in mind, so we need to hold everything up to the light of the Gospel, to  ‘What would Jesus Do?’ if there’s any doubt as to the wisdom of what we do.

As Jesus says to us in today’s gospel,

‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’

Only Christ is the gate. He is the only way to be saved. It’s interesting isn’t it, that the passage doesn’t use the gate as a one -way valve- whoever enters by me will come in and go out and find pasture. That shows us that we can’t retreat from the world when we decide to go in by Jesus’ gate. We take something of him with us when we go out and find pasture. In the pasture there will be many sheep, and we can tell them about Jesus. We must never hide away from the world we live in – we are here for a purpose!

I remember a few years ago our pastor challenging us to talk to three non-Christians that week. Several people said: ‘But I don”t know any non-Christians!’

This is a head-in-the-sand attitude – how can we be salt and light to a world we never engage with?

To find the life in Jesus, we must go in by the gate that is belief in him. Getting into the fold in other ways, like jumping the fence, is for those that the scripture likens to a thief, who comes to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus comes that we may have life, and not only a little flicker of vitality but have it abundantly!

Are you ready for abundant life? That’s what we are promised. Even in our darkest days, when nothing goes right, when we receive bad news, when it’s a struggle to put one foot in front of the other, remember our Good shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.

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