Abundant life

Rev Sue gave this sermon on Sunday 30 April 2023, the on which we remember Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as well as the day of our parish Annual Parochial Church Meeting.

20230503_114548Rev Sue began by collecting single words from members of the congregation that expressed why they come to church each week.

It is traditional in the sermon on the day of the APCM to talk about the life of the church over the last year. Quite honestly, I simply don’t want to do that. We have suffered from bereavements – our beloved Deborah, and others as well and we have had to contend with practical problems in the shape of electric wiring and boilers. So many people have contended with illness, accidents and family issues and yet have continued to contribute to the life of the church. And the backdrop has been a country in political turmoil, a cost-of-living crisis and wars in Ukraine and now Sudan. Enough said. We have survived. We have in many ways got back to normal after covid. We can congratulate ourselves that we have had the strength and courage to persevere. Just staying afloat has been an achievement.

Now it’s time to look to the future, with faith, hope and love.

In the Mediterranean the practice of moving flocks between summer and winter pastures has continued since before the time of Jesus. There are no sheep dogs to gather the sheep from behind, but the shepherd walks in front of the flock, calling them from the communal pen. There is no need to daub each animal with a mark to show which farmer is the owner – the sheep know the distinctive sound of their shepherd’s voice. They follow, nibbling the grass as they go, not even bothering to look up. Their trust is complete. Jesus, the good shepherd, calls us to have faith in him. This is no sentimental promise of sunny days and carefree lives – he does not hide the fact that sometimes we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The way will, at times be steep, stony and frightening. But he is there to lead, guide and guard us, as individuals and as a church. We need to have faith. Jesus does the rest.

One of our strengths, I believe, here at St Margaret’s and St George’s is that we are a caring church. There are bonds that go back generations, yet newcomers are welcomed and accepted, too. The good shepherd laid down his life for his sheep – for he is not just the shepherd, but the lamb of God. He loved us enough to allow himself to be crucified for us. The shepherd knows the name of every sheep, and the sacrifice Jesus made was for each one of us as an individual. He cares about us and every aspect of our lives. The way forward is to live in the knowledge of that love, and to share it with each other. We heard in the reading from Acts how the first disciples met together every day and were so full of love for God and each other they shared all the money and possessions that they had. That sort of community has been tried many times since, but human frailty has a habit of derailing the good intentions – nevertheless it is an inspiration even if we know that actual communal living is beyond us. We must care for each other – and part of that must be sharing the burdens of running the church. We have our elections coming up, and so many faithful servants are prepared to stand again, although given the opportunity they would lay down the burdens of office today. We must show our love and gratitude for them by each of us doing what we can to help. It 12 months’ time we need the next generation of leaders and helpers to be ready to take over, and now is the time to prepare for that.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. Abundant life is full of joy and happiness, far more than mere survival. My hope is that we will flourish. There is the potential of the church, what we have to offer… We have here amazing people with great gifts. Can you share the vision of a thriving, worshipping community open to all, where gifts are recognised, and people are encouraged to try new things. Where we make an impact on the local community, and we attract new people who want to share in the way we express our love for Jesus in our care for each other and our concern for the world.

It all comes down to faith, hope and love. Faith to follow where our shepherd leads, love for our Lord and each other, and the hope that God will bless our faithful, prayerful, loving community and lead us into pastures new.

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