Good Shepherd Sunday sermon

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 11:14

Good Shepherd Sunday  Easter IV 2020  Year A

Many years ago the congregation at St.Mary’s Dalmahoy built a sheep fank in their church garden. It was designed to be the place where ashes could be interred. The fank was built before my time as Rector and it took me a while to ‘get why’ they had built such a feature as a last resting place for members of the congregation. In fact it was years later, when I re-read today’s readings that I finally understood the reasoning behind the design. It was the words where Jesus describes himself as; ‘the gate for the sheep’ that gave me the clue I needed.

On first reading today’s Gospel is rather strange. Jesus talks more about being the ‘gate keeper’ of the sheepfold or fank, than he does about being the shepherd of the flock. We usually have some idea of what Jesus the 'Good Shepherd’ looks like but the idea of Jesus as the gatekeeper or the ‘gate for the sheep’ is more difficult to comprehend. What, I think, Jesus is saying is that; it is through him that we enter the Kingdom of God. We need to go through Jesus to come closer to God and that it is the same Jesus, who once we are in; will guard and protect us from the temptations and dangers of the world.

A sheep fank or fold is a place of protection. It is not a place that the sheep (us) permanently reside in but a refuge in the darkness or in times of danger that we can retreat to for protection and care. It is a place where we can be looked after.

Jesus’ first followers and listeners would have been well aware of the dangers that life held and how they all at times needed a place of security. Sheep on the hillside could be prey to all manner of predators both human and animal and this analogy would have been very powerful to them. There could be many things ‘predators’ that might lead them away from the ways of God.

Life is a risky business and we all need places of refuge to retreat to in order to reflect, recover and re-charge our batteries before we feel strong to re-enter the world. As the gate keeper Jesus shepherds us in, guards us, cares for us and then once things are safe again, leads us out to face the world with all its joys and woes. This image of the shepherd Jesus is a strong and powerful one. For Jesus is portrayed as a protector and leader who is at once both strong and caring. It is his voice that leads us back in times of need and which also soothes us. Jesus is always there ‘looking out for us’.

This is perhaps very poignant for these strange times during the ‘Covid19 Lockdown’. Things can seem to be unfamiliar and scary and we need a place of security in which to hide away for a while, until our confidence returns. It is in Jesus that we can hide and it if Jesus who will strengthen us and guide us forward and we will go forward once we remember that we do so with Jesus at our side. He will never leave us unprotected or alone, even if we cannot sense his presence he will be there.

The sheep fank can also act as an ikon of the church per se. The church can be seen as offering a haven of calm, peace and security in a busy and uncertain world. It is not however a place to ‘run away’ to in order to hide because the shepherd is always there waiting to move us on and out once the dangers have past. The sheep pen can ever only be a temporary ‘holding bay’. For if the pen is seen as permanent it will become a place of stagnation and Jesus calls all of us out into the world as his witnesses not into the church as his slaves.

A good sheep fank or church needs to be a place where we can be challenged to explore and learn new things about God and each other. A place where we can have a degree of security and support to go ‘beyond our ken’ and to discover more about what it means to follow the ways of God as a Christian.  A healthy church is one that is like the sheep fank, always open and welcoming but at the same time always a place ready to leave.

I know now years later and understand more fully as to why Dalmahoy chose the sheep fank as a resting place ‘peaceful and secure’ (to quote our funeral liturgy) for the ashes of loved ones departed. The sheep fank offers a resting place but a resting place that is only temporary until Christ returns and calls us forth.

For us Jesus is no bandit or thief climbing over the wall of the sheep fold, he is the shepherd guarding our spiritual well being. He knows us by name and recognises us by sight; he leads us out into new pastures and is our protection against the storms. He really is our loving and good shepherd.




Submitted by Dean on Fri, 01/05/2020 - 14:42

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Father, thy help and comfort to all who at this time are visited with sickness and anxiety; and prosper with thy continual blessing those who labour to devise protection for mankind against plague and pestilence; through him who both healed and hallowed suffering, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

O merciful Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ did weep at the grave of Lazarus his friend: Look with compassion upon those who are now in sorrow and affliction; comfort them, O Lord, with thy gracious consolations; make them to know that all things work together for good to them that love thee; and grant them evermore sure trust and confidence in thy fatherly care; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Merciful God, who didst send thy blessed Son to be the great physician of both soul and body: Look, we beseech thee, upon those who have dedicated their lives to the ministry of healing. Bless and strengthen them in thy service; use their skill and all such means as they shall employ for the relief of suffering and the restoration of health; and help them ever to remember that in ministering to others they minister to the one who suffered for us all, the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Guide, we beseech thee, merciful Father, all those to whom is committed the government of the nations; and grant to them at this frightening time special gifts of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and strength; that they may consult and consider calmly, and act wisely and promptly, upholding what is right, abhorring what is wrong and performing that which is just; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Merciful God, with whom do live the spirits of them that depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity: We praise and magnify thy holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; and we most humbly beseech thee that, at the day of the general resurrection, we, and all they who are of the mystical body of thy Son, may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen


Hymn for Easter III

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 25/04/2020 - 20:16

With many thanks to Ian Lawson, our Director of Music

O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,

how sweet their mem'ry still!

But they have left an aching void

the world can never fill. 


The dearest idol I have known,
whate'er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne,
and worship only thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

                                                                William Cowper (1731 - 1800)

Tune CAITHNESS - melody from the Scottish Psalter of 1635

Sermon for Easter III - Thanks to the Rev'd David Warnes

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 25/04/2020 - 20:10

Easter 3 Year A 2020

Today’s Gospel story of the encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus reminds of us a wisdom that it easily forgotten in times of fear and stress; the difficult truth pithily expressed by the Danish thinker Soren Kierkegaard:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Cleopas and his companion have lived through what seems to them a tragic disaster, the crucifixion of their Lord and the extinction of all their hopes. They are returning home from Jerusalem in despair. They have heard others testifying to the Resurrection but for them that news is so improbable that it is impossible to believe. The unrecognised stranger who accompanies them on the road to Emmaus encourages them to revisit the scriptures in which their beliefs are grounded and to find there teachings which make sense of the traumatic experiences of the past few days and of the testimony to the Resurrection which they have heard.

This a helpful Gospel in a time of anxiety, uncertainty and the grief for it reminds us of the truth that the Risen Christ walks alongside us, even in those times when it is difficult or impossible to recognise his presence. Even in that difficulty, that impossibility, Christ is with us, the Christ who, on the Cross questioned the absence of God, using the words which begin the twenty-second Psalm:

“My God, my God, who have you forsaken me?”

For Cleopas and his companion, the move from despair to hope, from a sense of God’s absence to a realisation of the presence of the Risen Christ, was possible because they stopped talking and started listening. At the beginning of the passage we read that:

“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

The talking and discussing were, perhaps, the reason why they were unable to recognise that Jesus was present with them. It was through listening that they began to gain the perspective that would enable them to see that Jesus was present rather than absent. When they reach their destination they want to go on listening, they ask their unknown companion to stay with them and it is then, in the moment of the blessing, breaking and sharing of the bread that they recognise Jesus and recollect how they felt during the walk with him:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

An experience of that “understanding of life backwards” of which Kierkegaard wrote. And so the story reminds us of the value, in dark times, of stilling our hearts, of listening and of engaging with scripture.

The Road to Emmaus was also, for Cleopas and his companion, the road back to normal life. They had been followers of Jesus. They had expected him to inaugurate a new order and to put everything right and those hopes had been dashed. They were returning to the jobs and routines that they had abandoned when they became disciples. They were seeking the comfort that normality can bring.

For us at the present, the road back to normality seems very inviting. If only it was possible to visit relatives who stay in care homes. If only we could get back to having friends round for a meal. If only I could hold that birthday celebration. If only we could go on holiday. If only the shops could re-open. If only the churches could re-open. It’s a natural and understandable instinct. In so many ways it is a good instinct, because (as we are painfully discovering) there is much in our normal lives which is good and fruitful. But the present crisis challenges us to think carefully about the normality to which we might return. It was not a normality that was safe, comfortable and just for everyone.

The rough sleepers of Edinburgh were not being housed in the relative luxury of the Old Waverley Hotel. Is the return to normality for them going to mean joining the queue for the limited shelter offered by Bethany, the Salvation Army and other charities or camping out in the waste ground by the former Murrayfield railway station? The care workers, many of them from abroad, who have risked and, in some cases, lost their lives looking after vulnerable people during the Pandemic were mostly earning the minimum wage, though their work is skilled and requires deep human resources of patience and love. Is a normality which values them so little one to which we should return? It was normal for a high proportion of flats in our city centre to be advertised on AirB&B for short lets at high rents rather than available to local people for a fair rent. Is that a defensible normality? Among the results of the lockdown have been cleaner air in our cities, cleaner rivers and a drastic reduction in car use and in air travel. Will a return to normal mean a return to dangerous levels of pollution and the imminent threat posed by global warming?

A return to normal was not to be the experience of Cleopas and his fellow traveller. They had thought that Emmaus was to be there destination, but it turned out to be a turning point. Recognising the Risen Christ led to them returning to Jerusalem and witnessing to the Resurrection. Their discipleship was renewed and, according to tradition, Cleopas went on to be one of the Seventy Apostles, one of the leaders of the early Church. That’s a reminder of our calling to pray that for us and for our leaders, the Pandemic may be, like the disciples’ journey to Emmaus, an eye-opening experience. Let us pray and work for a new normality, informed by the values of the Kingdom of Heaven.




Submitted by Dean on Wed, 22/04/2020 - 12:36

I recently finished Stephen Cherry's writings for Lent and Easter entitled 'Barefoot Prayers'. It is a collection prayer poems and a companion volume to 'Barefoot Ways' which takes one thorough Advent and Christmastide. I very much like his pithy words and thoughts and have found myself pondering his phrases as I go about my daily routines. The last prayer poem for Easter is entitled 'Amen':


I have never started a prayer with that word before.

Yet it is right.


This one-word sentence says enough.


Acceptance. Gratitude. Joy, perhaps.


pause for breath. Look up. Take another step.


Desire expressed. Longing left. Hands open.


Request for answer. End of me. Over to you."

Like Cherry, I have never thought of starting with 'Amen' as a prayer and doing so really makes one think about what prayer is and how we articulate what we want to say to God and why. 'Amen' is a word of hope, reading, gratitude, acceptance and dependence. It sums up all we feel about God and all we try to comprehend at the same time. 'Amen' in itself is a good prayer for God knows what our prayers are before we say them. God knows the cares and concerns we carry in our hearts and God helps us to express them, no matter how poorly we feel we do. Sometimes 'Amen' is perhaps all we can say or pray but as Cherry suggests 'Amen' in itself is enough and says it all anyway. 

In this time of pandemic when words fail us in prayer just say 'Amen' and God will know all that we want to pray.