Shepherdless Sheep on Fathers Day
Sermon at St John the Baptist, Felixstowe. Sunday 18 June 2017
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9v36)
Fathers Day in my mind, and certainly in the patchy observance of it by my sons, comes firmly under the heading of a ‘fond thing vainly invented’!
It is yet another in the seemingly endless list of what I have named ‘Hallmark Holidays’ and is, to me, effete and ineffectual. All it does is provide further opportunities for retailers to prise money from the wallets of Dads up and down the country so that they can have unwanted presents bought on their behalf.
If I were to lay down the rules for ‘Fathers Day’ it would involve no greeting cards, no being compelled to attend long awkward family lunches, and no ritual distribution of a seemingly endless supply of (where on earth do the shops get them from?) tacky ties, rude T-shirts and family sized bottles of Old Spice.
If Dads were allowed to organise Fathers Day it would involve cards (Texas Holdem not Hallmark), beer (food optional) and a gift subscription to Sky Sports. I promise you if Dads were locked away for a day with those ingredients the world would be a better place on the Monday following!
However, much as Dads may enjoy my vision for Fathers Day, this would not be fair on their families. After all if Mums have to endure all the tidying up and extra work that comes with over enthusiastic caring children on Mothering Sunday why should Dads be handed a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card?
Besides that as a nation we need to encourage the spirit of Fatherhood. We need people, especially men, to stand up and be counted as those who would pursue righteousness and serve the Common Good. And when people do this to celebrate their service and selflessness. Perhaps Fathers Day is not so bad an idea after all.
‘Restored’, a Christian charity I support, works against Domestic Violence by working with men. Knowing the power that Fathers have to lead society they ask men the question, ‘Why be the last man standing when you can be the first man to stand up?’ For if we do not stand up who will?
We suffer as a society from not getting involved in the things we should. We don’t stand up enough, we let things drift, we become rudderless. Not knowing where we are going and waiting to be told what to do, we easily fall into the trap of saying ‘someone should do something’ and forget that the power to do good and transform society rests in our own hands.
When no one leads we all wander and find ourselves harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Our nation need look no further than the newspaper headlines of the last few weeks to see how shepherdless we have become. No one could have predicted, and I dare say even prevented, the events of Spring 2017. Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, Borough Market and Grenfell Tower – a perfect storm of terror and disaster that leaves all of us, leaders and led alike, harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
It has been saddening during these deperate times to see those who do lead our nation from all sides of the political spectrum being pilloried by those who only seek to apportion blame.
On this Father’s Day, when we may feel like shepherdless sheep, to whom are we to look for help? Who will lead us out of our own ‘valley of the shadow of death’? In today’s gospel the Good Shepherd provides the answer to death and disaster, evil and illness, selfishness and sin.
God’s answer is not to stay here – shell shocked, angered and heart broken though we may be – but instead to answer the call to go out into the world and care for God’s flock. Jesus turns to those near to Him, says their names out loud, and calls them to go. He tells them don’t be ‘the last man standing’ instead chose to become ‘the first man to stand up!’ No longer are they to be simply followers (disciples) but they are called to become apostles, people sent on a mission giving succour to the harassed and helpless.
Having been led they are to become leaders, having been fed they are to become those who nurture others. This call is not simply for 12 men one-day some-when but a call for all who follow Jesus to become people who proclaim this Good News. All of us are called to become shepherds for sheep and fathers to the fatherless.
In answering this call what is our task? The job description is clearly laid out in the words of the Christ.
As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. (Matthew 10v7-8)
We may not be in the business of curing the sick and raising the dead but we are called to be people who bring healing, wholeness and life wherever we are.
We may not cleanse lepers but we must be in the business of welcoming the outcast and the stranger.
We may not be called to be exorcists but we must be those who name evil where we see it growing and work to destroy it by our example of love for everyone.
Not all of us have the skills or the bravery of our fire-fighters, our paramedics, our police – those beloved members of the Blue Light Brigade who run toward instead of away from danger. However we are all called to be purveyors of comfort, light and life so that the people of God are no longer ‘harassed and helpless’. Through our deeds, they will be able to hear clearly the voice of God and find their way home to be part of the one flock, one fold safe in the love of the One Good Shepherd.