There is a phrase that is being said a lot, I catch myself using it too – it is “the new normal” but let us be careful of what normal is. The humanitarian and activist Sonya Renee Taylor recently wrote these words:
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction …
We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and our readings today are well known to many. In the lady chapel in our parish church the east facing widow is our Good Shepherd window, one pane the picture of Jesus holding a sheep with the words of our Gospel John 10:1-16 and the other a picture of David playing the harp with the words of our Psalm, Psalm 23
The image that both Jesus and David use of the shepherd and the sheep is one that holds great power for us all, particularly now. As I look at the world around me, as I think about what normal used to be – as I consider the words of Sonya Renee Taylor “we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction …” I look to the Good Shepherd and see how lost we had become.
In the prophet Isaiah we read “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
As we look at ourselves and our world Good Shepherd Sunday may be just what we needed. Sheep get lost, sheep get caught in thickets and fences, sheep get separated from the flock and yet I am not sure that is what we have done, it seems to me that we particularly in the western world decided we did not need a shepherd at all, we were bigger and better and stronger and tougher than your normal sheep.
We weren’t, we aren’t we won’t be ever. We need to hear our shepherds voice; we need to listen out for the soothing tones that call our name as we follow him. Will listening for that voice make it all better though? will it change the tragedy of the world around us?
The truth is that this terrible deadly virus is a reminder to us all of our frailty and vulnerability. It is a time of suffering in our community, in our nation and in our world. This is the time for Good Shepherd Sunday.
Our psalm is perfect for the moment in which we currently live, Psalm 23 reminds us of the care of our Lord, our shepherd. Psalm 23 is a promise of a God that will never leave us, a God that cares for us and provides for us. Psalm 23 is gritty and real though, I can’t promise you it will all get better and neither does the psalm, the psalm does promise us that God will be with us “even as we ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death’. It reminds us that he will lead us and that ultimately we shall ‘dwell in the house of the Lord forever’.
Today we need Good Shepherd Sunday more than ever, we need to admit that we have got lost, that we are scared, that we are frightened. When we admit to ourselves that we need our Good Shepherd we need to listen for his voice, that voice of calm and love, that voice that calls out our name.
We need to follow him, to let him guide us so that however dark it gets, however hard it becomes we know he is there with us, holding us, carting us like that lost sheep Jesus spoke of.
So perhaps there is a new normal to look for, but don’t let it be greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction … let is be us his flock following their Lord and master and trusting in him alone.
I leave you with the words of one of the many wonderful hymns inspired by Psalm 23 written by Anna Letitia Waring in 1850:
1 In heavenly love abiding,
no change my heart shall fear;
and safe is such confiding,
for nothing changes here:
the storm may roar without me,
my heart may low be laid;
but God is round about me,
and can I be dismayed?
2 Wherever he may guide me,
no want shall turn me back;
my Shepherd is beside me,
and nothing can I lack:
his wisdom ever waketh,
his sight is never dim,
he knows the way he taketh,
and I will walk with him.
3 Green pastures are before me,
which yet I have not seen;
bright skies will soon be o’er me,
where darkest clouds have been;
my hope I cannot measure,
my path to life is free;
my Saviour has my treasure,
and he will walk with me.
Your friend and vicar