Homily for Sunday 3rd May 2020, based on John Ch 10 v. 1-11.
My Dear Friends,
I don’t know whether you have found the same as me, but I have found myself bombarded and bamboozled by statistics since the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic.
On Friday of this past week we were told that there were:
3,333,494 confirmed cases of people who had tested positive for the virus globally, of whom
235,136 have died.
In Europe there have been
1,311,197 confirmed cases of people who have tested positive, of whom
134,677 have died.
In the U.K. there have been
171,253 confirmed cases, of whom
26,771 have died.
What do such numbers mean to us? How can you and I possibly process this and apply it to something with which we can identify, which we can understand?
Each of those who die each day, contributing a sum of one to the horrendous daily total, is a person, someone who has been perhaps been welcomed and cherished at birth, baptised, adored as a young child, indulged at Christmas, had their first tooth, taken part in nativity plays in school, sat exams, fallen in love, fallen out of love, been rejected, found happiness, been on holiday, had interviews for jobs, laughed, sung, worked, commuted, had memories, been loved, been disappointed, had faith, lost their faith, been lonely.....etc. Each and every one of those who contribute to the statistics we read have had a myriad different experiences and been an incredible example of the complexity and wonder of human existence.
When I turn to God and bring these thoughts into His presence, seeking to pray for all those throughout the world who are struggling at the moment, I am at a loss if I think of the magnitude of suffering and need. I need to break it down into small pieces, as Christ once broke a piece of bread, and concentrate my prayer on just one who then represents for me the magnitude of lives I seek to honour and intercede for in my prayers.
And I have been so encouraged in those prayers recently by wonderful words in the scriptures which celebrate the fact that each person of God’s making is of unique worth to Him. We hear in today’s Gospel (John Ch 10 v. 1-11) that Jesus speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd, who cares for His sheep and like each member of a shepherd’s flock, each one is known and loved personally as if it is only they who live. In the Bible we hear again and again how personal Christ is in His ministry and relationships. How He looks into the eyes of each and every individual we are told He interacts with, delighting in them, understanding them, reaching out to them as would only be appropriate for them. Each feels loved and accepted and understood and touched by Him in a way they have not encountered anywhere else or by anyone else. To Him everything is precious and personal about His creation.
When he feeds 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, (Matthew 14 v 13-21) even though He is capable of such production, He still asks His disciples to gather up the left overs into baskets, and we are told there are twelve.
When He rises from the dead, He takes care to fold the grave clothes and lay them down with respect and reverence for each part of His creation. (John 20 v. 7) Marvellous!
When He speaks of sparrows (Matthew 10 verses 29-31) He tells us that when a sparrow falls, God their creator sees it and knows it in His heart and that every hair of our heads is numbered....
When He speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd (eg. Luke 15 v. 3-7, Matthew 18 v. 12-14) He speaks of one who, even when He retains 99 of His flock, still searches high and low with commitment, concern and compassion in order to find the one sheep that is lost.
Our creator God is one who cares about every part of His creation and every one of His making. To Him, we are not merely statistics, each one He uniquely and personally knows and loves.
We are told in John 20 v. 16 that when Jesus rises from the dead and appears to Mary Magdelene He says to her "Mary." He knows her name, He uses her name, He calls her by name. And He knows each one of us in that personal way too. How can we possibly doubt it? All of Christian revelation confirms it, that He wants a personal not a collective relationship with us as human beings. He knows, understands, loves each one of us and has been with us at every moment of our lives, even from our mother’s womb (Psalm 139 v. 13)
As I am sure we have all found, to use someone’s name is to establish a far more personal relationship with them. That is why I have been praying for each one of you on the Church Membership List each Sunday, personally, by name in church. I then lay the book I have written all your names in, on the altar and celebrate Communion on the book where those names are inscribed. That helps me make more sense of what I am doing: praying God’s presence and blessing on each one of you and asking "Please Lord, keep my people safe; each one of them is precious to me." And of course, it is a God for whom you are all precious, one who is indeed a "Good Shepherd" to whom I pray.
So, as we continue to be subjected to statistics day by day as this pandemic proceeds, let us remember that each one of us is important to God and always will be. We remember too that all those who are part of the statistics we hear about are important to others too, who love them, care for them, worry about them, grieve for them, miss them and remember them. And don’t let’s think that God loves others uniquely and wonderfully and does not also love you and me, incredible though that is to contemplate. He is a Father God, A Good Shepherd, who loves each and every child of His making, even you, even me. And so in humility before that reality, let us pray:
Thank you for being a God who creates all that is, the whole universe and beyond,
Thank you for caring about each bird that takes flight and all that lives on the ocean bed.
Thank you for being attentive to each life that’s being lived, to have accompanied each one, reached out to each one, offered redemption and resurrection to each one.
Thank you that you have sought to make yourself known to everyone we hear of in the scriptures and all who have become saints in your church.
Thank you that your love continues to stir when each new child is born.
Thank you for caring when each person calls to you in need.
Thank you that you love even me.
May I be more alive to your presence in my life,
Your purpose for my life,
Your forgiveness, truth, loyalty, calling and strength.
May each day I live beyond today be one when I recognise more deeply the incredible gift which life is.
Awaken my senses to sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, that I may enjoy more fully
The life you have created me to know.
Help me to see others as people whom you similarly accompany, reach out to, believe in, understand, forgive.
May I know ever more deeply all that I should be grateful for and live my life in gratitude and thanksgiving.
This I ask as I entrust myself to your protection, blessing and love.