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Vicar's Sermon for APCM 21st April 2024

Acts 4:5-12

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is

“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

John 10:11-18

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’

‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’

What a great question to ask?

When I look back on the events of last year which were very full, I wonder how we manged to fit everything in. I am constantly amazed by the commitment of our members and your willingness to journey with me and one another to create such a wonderful community here at Christ Church. We cannot do this in our own strength but through faith in the one who lays down his life for the sheep. Our church is Christ’s Church not Rosemary’s or Andy’s or Essine’s or Gabriel’s I could go on. Christ is our cornerstone the one in whom we put our trust and depend on to make the impossible possible. There is salvation in on one else. We often refer to the church as a body. Bodies have hands and feet, and they work together to enable creativity, hospitality and generosity. On behalf of the staff team and PCC may I say a big thank you to all who contribute to our common life, which includes both regular worship, ongoing discipleship, pastoral care, stewardship, buildings maintenance and outreach. We do all these things because we want to follow the Good Shepherd and they demonstrate our devotion and willingness to serve Him.

The image of God as our shepherd, and Jesus as our good shepherd, is such a familiar one. But I wonder: is such an old-fashioned image still helpful to us? In biblical times, everyone knew a shepherd. It would have been a very recognisable and useful metaphor. But is that still the case? Yet Psalm 23 is still one of our most beloved psalms and passages in scripture, and Jesus as the Good Shepherd is still one of the most well- known ways of thinking of him, and of picturing him.

So, as I thought about why this is still the case, in this very modern, post-agricultural world of ours, it struck me that the answer is quite simple: We all long for a shepherd. We all know that we need someone to lead us, to protect us, and to guide us. We are a lot like sheep. And sheep need shepherds. The world, then and now, looks for someone to lead, because we need someone to lead us.

I suspect that is why superhero movies are still popular, and probably always will be. Because our world needs heroes. Our world needs leaders. Our world needs good and faithful shepherds, to take care of us, and to lead us. Our world certainly needs a good shepherd right now. We need someone that we trust to lead us, as a nation and all around the world. We are in uncharted territory. There is no road map for the future. There is no handbook to turn to. We live in the here and now and behave a lot like sheep.

Sheep are what is known as “flock animals.” They like to be together. They don’t do so well on their own. There is safety in numbers, and sheep seem to know this. So, they tend to spend a lot of time together, and they find a lot of benefit from being together. And we as humans are “flock animals” too, are we not? We like to be together. We like to gather in groups. There is this innate drive to surround ourselves with like-minded people, in sports and politics, at work and at school. We tend to flock together. Birds of a feather flock together, as the old saying goes. Congregations, of course, are sometimes called flocks.

We are a community that recognizes that there are important reasons to be together. To worship, to celebrate life’s milestones, or national events, to promote worthy causes and simply for fun as we saw in the PowerPoint of slides as we arrived today.

But what is unique about congregations is that we are not necessarily birds of a feather. I mean, we are all Anglican, and we all live in this community, but beyond that we have several differences. We are different ages, we grew up in different parts of the country, we have different tastes in music, we support different sports teams, we have widely varying political views. We are not exactly birds of a feather, except that we are all followers of Jesus, and we are all here in Epsom. And so, we are here, flocking together, as best we can.

When you spend any time studying Scripture, it becomes obvious that God’s plan is for us to be together, in a community of faith like this one. You might remember that the first thing Jesus does when he begins his ministry, is to call a group of disciples together. And the early church – after Jesus is crucified and raised – spent a lot of time together. In the Book of Acts, we learn what life was like for those early Christians. In Acts 2:46, we find this description:

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”

Christians are supposed to spend time together. We are not intended to be on our own. That’s why Jesus created the church. That is one of its primary purposes: So that we sheep can come together and be kept safe. And so that we can join in seeking guidance from our shepherd especially in uncertain times. Which brings us to the second way that we are like sheep.

It turns out that sheep are very good at hearing, and especially at hearing the voice of their shepherd. A practice typical in Jesus’ time was for shepherds to get together with other shepherds and their sheep during the day. A bunch of shepherds, all together with lots and lots of sheep, usually at some kind of watering hole. It was noisy and chaotic, to say the least. But at the end of the day, the shepherds would call for their sheep. And the sheep would follow their own shepherds to a safe place to sleep. Amid all that chaos, and all those competing voices, the sheep would hear their shepherd’s voice and follow their shepherd. And that is, of course, what we are supposed to do, too: Listen to our shepherd, the Good Shepherd, and follow Him.

There are plenty of competing voices these days, all clamouring for our attention. Voices from our TVs, and our computers, and our phones and tablets, and so on. But there is only one voice that truly matters to our soul. And that is the voice of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Sheep are good at listening to the voice of their shepherd, and we need to be, too. The way Esther introduced Bubble Church to us and how we prayerfully responded as a community to support it and increase giving to enable a new part time Children and Youth worker is an example of how we are good hearers. We need to continue to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd guiding and encouraging us in this ministry, as well as in our redevelopment plans and eco church initiatives. We intend holding more whole church prayer meetings and I am really excited about Thy Kingdom

Come this year too, as we pray earnestly for the fruits of the Spirit to be present in our community.

There is a third characteristic of sheep that I want to remind us of today, that sheep are natural followers. They don’t like to be pushed; they prefer to be led. And it is their shepherd who leads them. We have all probably heard that sheep are not very smart animals, but that turns out not to be true. Sheep supporters claim this was a rumour started by cattle ranchers, because sheep don’t behave like cows. Cows are herded from

the rear by cowboys. They yell and prod the cows to get them going in the right direction. But when you stand behind sheep and make noises, they just try to get behind you again. So, some cattle ranchers assumed that they were stupid animals. When, in fact, sheep simply prefer to be led. Cows can be pushed. Sheep must be led. And, when you think about it, that’s not that stupid. Sheep trust their shepherd and go where the shepherd goes. And they let the shepherd go first, to make sure the way is safe, and then to invite them to follow him.

And isn’t that what Jesus is asking of us? To be his followers? He’s not going to push us. He’s not going to force us. Instead, Jesus just keeps calling us, in many and various ways, and inviting us over and over to follow him. He promises to lead us, to protect us, and even to lay down his life for us. And he invites us to trust him. Trust him and follow him.

As a PCC we have been trying to do that particularly regarding development plans for our site. Regular members will recall conversations with our architect Brendan Tracey about our needs and priorities which have changed as time progress. The pandemic and rising building costs have had a detrimental effect on our finances, and we need to be careful with resources. Consequently, we want to do something that will have large benefits with less risk. One of the major problems with our site is accessibility for those less mobile and the inability to host concurrent events due to safeguarding considerations. Namely we only have an inaccessible loo in the church and no hospitality facilities. The cluttered and unsightly arrangement of tables and boxes in the corner are dissatisfactory and we have proved the need for improvements. We are in the process of applying for a faculty to change this and so far the DAC is being very encouraging.

What is being proposed is a self-contained pod that could literally fit discretely into the north aisle that would provide both accessible toilets and hospitality facilities.

Slide 1: This shows the floor plan of the church layout, and you can see we are only talking about altering a small area in the corner.

Slide 2: These 2 photographs show the before and after impact.

Slide 3: Finally a more detailed cross section looking side on and then front.

We can attach these images to the newsletter next week if folks want to study more. The PCC truly believe the benefits will out way any cosmetic downside and are taking the lead on this. We are aware that it will mean having beautiful windows in the toilets. And that we won’t see the glorious Palm Sunday triptych from inside the church anymore so are exploring how to recreate them using light boxes as a feature on the side of the pod. It will enable us to be less wasteful as we can wash up mugs that will be stored easily in cupboards below the servery. We are currently spending about £50 a month on disposable cups, which is also not good for our eco credentials. Please if you can bring you own reusable travel mug. There will be no more setting up an unsafe urn as we can have a dedicated hot water tap and the clutter will be contained.

These plans have evolved through prayerful discernment, listening to one another and to God. It is intended that the hall refurbishment and office improvements would be a second stage with an option to extend further as funds permit.

Nothing stays the same for ever. The only certainty in life is change. This challenged the rulers and elders in Jerusalem causing them to ask questions about authority. We are fortunate today that we elect PCC members to represent and serve the wider community. I pray that you can have confidence in your leaders to manage things well, working for the greater good and long-term future. Please pray for them and get behind them.

We are blessed to have a shepherd, who is good and loving and faithful, who promises to lead us all the days of our life, through the trials and tribulations and whatever this world throws at us. We can help this shepherd by being good and faithful sheep: By continuing to flock together, faithfully listening for his voice, and by following him.


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