Jesus used many ordinary and everyday illustrations to convey truth. But his sheep / shepherd metaphors are probably some of the most well-known.
Sheep are vulnerable and need places to gather which provide safety and protection. They are also prone to panic and a herd mentality. They need experienced guides they trust to help them find what truly nourishes them.
Most of us like to think of ourselves as rationale and independent, but often humans are very sheep-like. We too need both protection and security as well as purpose and direction. I believe Jesus offers us both – and in doing so can give us a life to the full.
1. Security and protection
In Jesus’ day, shepherds often slept across the entrance to the pen, using their own bodies as a physical barrier to guard their flock. This image of Jesus speaks of one who protects, nurtures and provides safety.
Humans need security in a world where the pressures on us, and within us, can steal and destroy our well-being.
The pressure of resources: we live in a time of extreme economic hardship where so many are anxious about how to make ends meet and there is a desperate lack of affordable housing.
The pressure on relationships: we live in a time of pressure and fragility on families and children growing up without relational stability which often connects to trauma and neglect.
The pressure on identity: it is not just people’s relationship with others that are fragile but their relationship with themselves. So much is open to question in a way unimaginable 25 years ago and this feeds anxiety and low self-esteem in the lives of those we love. And the identity politics which rages on social media makes everything worse.
Faithful church communities should offer security and some protection and balm from these pressures. Jesus comforts the disturbed. When we meet to worship, live and learn in authentic community, we do battle against the forces which threaten us.
But gathering is only half the story. As Jesus says he is a gate – not a wall. And we use gates to come in and to go out.
2. Purpose and direction
As well as providing security, Jesus also offers purpose and direction. Security in him is a base from which Jesus challenges us to take this message into our world. The theologian Chris Wright wrote:
‘God does not have a mission for His Church. He has a Church for His mission.’
Mission is the very essence of the church: the very reason for its existence.
As well as offer security, the gospel of Jesus provokes and challenges us to purposeful lives. As well as look to what he did, he asks us to follow him. To take up our crosses, to wash others feet, to love our neighbour and pray for those who hate us.
Life in all it fulness is not all about quiet comfort – it must involve taking risks for what we believe. If we don’t can we even call it faith? Beliefs only become faith when we put them into action.
I can genuinely, hand on heart, say that I have never regretted the decisions I have taken because of my faith. These have included the big decisions, about where to live and what jobs to do, as well as the small everyday decisions. A life of faith is demanding but it has enriched my life beyond measure.
So what risks is God challenging you to do?
- The risk to share your faith with a neighbour?
- To challenge something at work?
- To reach out and connect to someone who needs help?
- To text or phone someone you have fallen out with?
- To use your money more generously?
- To volunteer or set up a new initiative or campaign?
- To step outside your own comfort zone?
Jesus does comfort the disturbed. But he also disturbs the comfortable. He is a shepherd who leads us by still waters – but who also takes us through the valley of the shadow of death.
Drawn near and sent out
Look at this image of the cross in the logo of Lee Abbey, the Christian community where every summer my family goes to join the youth camp.
Look at the small arrows pointing in towards the cross. We are called to gather around the cross and to find grace, reassurance, joy and security in what Jesus did. We draw near to him in communion with other followers.
But then see the larger arrows pointing outwards. The grace and truth of Jesus challenges us to go out into the world around us with purpose and direction. In order to follow Jesus, we must leave the places of security and join him in his mission.
Faith draws us in and sends us out. It offers both security and purpose. This is the adventure of faith in which we find life to the full.
This post is based on a sermon given at St Alban’s Church, Streatham
2 thoughts on “A gateway to humanity’s deepest needs: security and purpose”
doh! – must have seen the Lee Abbey logo many times without appreciating it’s wit – now seeing it(!) it’s funny how at any one moment the eye tends to see one set of arrows or the other …
yes – its a danger with so many arrows that it easy to miss the ‘point’ – but I think its a genius of a logo