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 ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ 

Sermon given by Revd Chris Moody 22 April 2018 for the Patronal Festival

Words from the gospel for today: ‘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 always taken comfort from these words, particularly the phrase ‘I know my own and my own know me’. When we find ourselves in times of darkness, confusion and distress, when we don’t know which way to go and things do not seem capable of any resolution, these words have a particular poignancy. ‘Don’t worry’ they seem to say to us, ‘I’m still here. I’m still with you. You are not forgotten. Your life is precious. It belongs to me.’ I connect the phrase with another form the psalms ‘Be still then and know that I am God’. Even when things are at their very worst, it is possible to have this moment of inner peace and tranquillity. I remember also the last verse of the old hymn about spiritual conflict
‘Christian does thou see them’
Well I know thy trouble, O my servant true,                                                                                                                          
Thou art very weary, I was weary too;
But that toil shall make thee one day all mine own
And the end of sorrow shall be near my throne.'

Today is the exact date 25 years ago when Stephen Lawrence was murdered in Eltham. Anyone who watched the documentary about it over the last week can be assured that the pain still remains. Doreen Lawrence may have become a public figure and a peer of the realm. A huge amount of good has come out of Stephen’s death, the struggle to see justice done for him and for others like him, but Doreen would still rather have her son back. The struggle for justice, particularly for racial justice, when there are always new groups to be excluded or picked on, is never over. There is still much to be ashamed of, as the recent scandal over the so called ‘Windrush generation’ has exposed. These wrongs are still things those in authority would rather we should forgive and forget. We can only be thankful that we still live in a society where it is still possible to hold those who govern us to account. But it has to be asked as we look at Doreen and Neville Lawrence’s family, but at what cost? We can forgive but we must never forget. Sooner or later, perhaps when we get to a safe enough distance, we must look back and count the cost.

Sixty-five years ago, nearly to the day, as you will see if you buy one of the reprints of the memorial booklet issued on the day, this church was rededicated on the Sunday nearest St Alfege Day after its restoration by Sir Albert Richardson. In the booklet, and as you look around you in the stained-glass panels made at the time, the emphasis is all on the unbroken continuity of English craftmanship and English history. That is what people needed most to see at the time, a phoenix rising from the ashes in a time of post-war reconstruction. But my mind goes back to the twelve years between the bombing of the church in 1941 and its re-opening in 1953; the individual stories of the families caught up in the devastation of the local area during the war; those who sheltered in the crypt and weren’t even aware the church was burning above them until they were brought out by firemen; those who kept the worship of the church going, first of all in the hall and then in the temporary church built in the south aisle as the reconstruction began. Perhaps now is the time to remember what they went through and make more room for their own accounts of what happened at the time.

Our church is built on the site of St Alfege’s martyrdom. On the plaque set in the chance at the restoration of the church in 1953 we have St Anselm’s words about him ‘He who dies for justice, dies for Christ’. St Ansel was a Norman, close kin to those Vikings who had murdered Alfege in Greenwich sixty years before. As one of the Norman conquerors of this country you might have though he would have wanted to erase the memory of St Alfege and what had been done to him. But instead he strove to preserve it, recognizing that in this innocent life caught up in the turmoil of his time and in his appalling end as the victim of senseless violence, the life of Christ had been revealed.

‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, or as the King James Bible has it ‘I am the good shepherd and know my sheep and am known of mine’. That knowledge is not something shown to the learned and the wise, but to those who hear the voice of the shepherd and follow it through thick and thin.

Well I know thy trouble, O my servant true,                                                                                                                          
Thou art very weary, I was weary too;
But that toil shall make thee one day all mine own
And the end of sorrow shall be near my throne
Amen. Let it be so.

Revd Chris Moody

Revd Chris Moody, 23/04/2018
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