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Sunday, 25 April 2021
Today, on a bright sunny, but cold day, our 10 am service was a parish Eucharist. Father Roger was with us as the celebrant, and the Covid Choir with Joanna playing the piano sang from the South Transept. The congregation, socially distanced in the pews, joined in with saying some of the service, and the Choir sang the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei in the setting by Murray. The Anthem was 'A New Commandment I give to you' by Peter Nardonne. We left after the service to glorious sunshine, and a slightly warmer air temperature. 







 Acts 4.5-12

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

The Jewish rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,

with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, 
and all who were of the high-priestly family. 

When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, 
“By what power or by what name did you do this?” 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 
“Rulers of the people and elders,

if we are questioned today 
because of a good deed done to someone who was sick 
and are asked how this man has been healed, 

let it be known to all of you, 
and to all the people of Israel, 
that this man is standing before you in good health 
by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
whom you crucified, 
whom God raised from the dead. 

This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’

There is salvation in no one else, 
for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals 
by which we must be saved.”


John 10.11-18

Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

Jesus said to the Pharisees

“I am the good shepherd. 
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd
and does not own the sheep, 
sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—
and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 

The hired hand runs away 
because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 

I am the good shepherd. 
I know my own and my own know me, 

just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. 
And I lay down my life for the sheep. 

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. 
I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. 
So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 

For this reason the Father loves me, 
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 

No one takes it from me, 
but I lay it down of my own accord. 
I have power to lay it down, 
and I have power to take it up again. 
I have received this command from my Father.”


Collect

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever,
Amen


Address

We come again to our annual Good Shepherd Sunday. The idea of the Good Shepherd is actually a particularly simple one. Whereas a hired shepherd would go to some pains to protect the flock he’s paid to look after, he doesn’t own them, and he’s not going to risk serious injury for them, if danger arises. Jesus, the Good Shepherd from God, will lay down his life, because the sheep are God’s own property. We are his own. As the meerkats would say, ‘simples’.

Those responsible will try to appoint a nice new parish priest for here, in the fullness of eventually. The Good Shepherd is a model for that: we want someone who follows Christ’s way…..or do we, ….really?  Jesus offended the religious community who then got the Romans to execute him! Do we really want that sort here?

As with many things, there might be pitfalls. There are clergy about who are very, very, nice. An attractive people person, will always have some sort of following, but they may - at the same time, - and rather importantly - be someone who has little serious engagement with Bible, or with Christian doctrine, with liturgy, or with the disciplines by which our church is supposed to operate. Liturgy, - services - in which the priest has a leading role, - that word, ‘liturgy’, means ‘the work of the people’ - which is not always the same as what the people happen to fancy. We are not a restaurant, aiming to cater for all individual tastes. We are a community to be focused on God, with larger principles. A priest should show an appropriate interest in liturgy and its proper structure, and have a good grasp of that.

Allan Jenkins used to speak a lot about ‘Christ our example’. So, what sort of shepherd was Christ, and what sort of minister would follow his pattern, and what sort of discipleship would he or she inspire in us? Jesus was a people person, but in the sense of caring for individuals in such a way as to help them be challenged and grow in their relationship with God. If you challenge, you will court resistance, and sometimes hostility, and often lose some of your popularity. So, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you’, if they do, you’re probably getting something wrong! You can have an unhelpful sort of popularity. On the way to the cross, Jesus tells sentimental bystanders that he wants followers, not superficial admirers. Followers who will rise to join him a challenging and sacrificial path of discipleship, if they are called to it, and will inspire and encourage others in the right way. When some parishes have pursued their bishop to get a priest, sometimes the bishop has replied, ‘you ask for a priest, but how many priests has your congregation produced, and inspired to give their lives to that?’
So, a priest, if they are popular, must be popular for the right reasons, reflecting a challenging gospel, and inspiring others to embrace a fuller relationship with God. Not popular simply for being chatty, easy going, having no ministerial substance, willing to ignore every inconvenient rule, not engaging with study, and never stirring things up. Such clergy often, very, very, humbly, say that they aren’t really preachers. To which the response should be, ‘if you engaged with the important things of ministry with a proper vigour, the Almighty would make you an adequate preacher’. St Paul himself needed to struggle and persevere. He says this, ‘And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.’ 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

If the priest is unpopular, it should be because people are rejecting a genuine ministry, and not because the priest is putting them off, by unpleasantly lording it over them, or being distant from them, or is sensed to be lacking integrity, or appears to be seeking an easy life for themselves.

Christ, and, soon St Stephen, St James, and St Paul, were rejected and killed, as a consequence of doing the right things, and made that sacrifice. It was a true way which led to new life and resurrection, and led to Christ finding glory, and finding followers. After a very long interregnum elsewhere, many years ago, which I was involved in, the parish was delighted that a young family man had applied. When he arrived, he told me, oddly, that he ‘had bigger fish to fry’. It became clear that he had come, merely to move on to another job, out of parish work, when the time was convenient to him and his family, and, before very long at all, he quit the parish which had welcomed him, at short notice. The time that he served there was much briefer than the interregnum had been. I had told the congregation that their new priest would not come to spend time there, but come to be spent there, but it proved not so.

Here, you could get someone younger, and self-supporting through having another part-time job. The likelihood is probably someone pensioned. Age might not be a problem, if they are willing and able to work. They would be younger than me, and I’m younger than both the Pope and Joe Biden, but to be fair, Francis and Joe have a much bigger staff than just our two stalwart churchwardens!

I’ve heard of clergy interviews where clergy were asked to give an undertaking never to change anything! But we, as individuals, and as a church, are a living organism, meant to be actively responding to God, and, with him, to the current needs of our society, in the times we live in. A parish which asks for that ‘undertaking’ needs an undertaker! 

A priest, ideally, is wise and prophetic. There is a saying in youth work, ‘if you think all is thriving – worry, it won’t last’. Nothing lasts for ever. Sooner or later, any rut – that may have had many good points - fizzles out, people move on, times change, and – in any case, that good status quo would not have been benefitting from all of the possibilities, anyway. It’s best to be inspired by a leader to a right new direction, long before a local church hits some buffers. A biblical Shepherd had the skill to keep the flock headed for nourishment in a tricky landscape, and the skill to help them to remain safe and protected against human and wild animal threats, and the skill to maintain their health. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, didn’t look for a comfortable life, but one of self-giving, in doing the necessary, and bearing the cost, as should the clergy.

Fr Roger




Service Times

First Sunday in the Month:
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Family Service

Second Sunday in the Month
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Parish Eucharist

Third Sunday in the Month
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Sung Matins

Fourth Sunday in the Month
08:00am Holy Communion
10:00am Parish Eucharist

Variations can be found in the Parish Magazine or the Calendar at the bottom of this page.

Useful links


Here are some links to resources you may find helpful:


  1. Chichester Cathedral will be live streaming services. For the Eucharist and order of service Click here before 10:00am Sunday and follow the instructions.
  2. The BBC Daily Service is available here.
  3. Prayer for today.
  4. The C of E youtube channel.
  5. Hearing You is a new phone help line launched by the Diocese of Chichester in partnership with Together in Sussex in response to the impact that Covid 19 has had on Just about the whole community. It aims to provide pastoral support and a listening ear to the recently bereaved and people directly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  6. COVID-19 advice from the Diocese of Chichester here.

Please note that St Mary's are not responsible for the contents of external links

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