Sunday Sermon – Easter 4 – 17 April 2005

A few years ago, in my last job, there came a time when we had a problem. I was working up the road I the Cathedral church of this diocese. And the thing was, we had just done our mission 21 programme called ?Making Your Church More Inviting?. Our problem was, we needed something to use as a symbol. We needed a new logo.

Some of you will have gone through rebranding procedures at work. They are often expensive and often very unpopular. We had to try to choose something which said something about what kind of church the Episcopal church is and what the place of the cathedral was.
We looked around and saw heraldry. How tempting to represent our life together with an artistic shield. Yet we decided that it was not right. It simply made us look like a historical society, as though the church was the Sealed Knot at prayer. We decided that we were not a historical re-enactment society. So, the heraldry idea had to go.

We looked around again, and thought about a mitre. You see, that was distinctive ? it spoke of the ministry of bishops which is so important to our church. We were getting warmer, but it still was not right. For a mitre is a ceremonial crown at best. It is supposed to represent the tongues of the Holy Spirit, but few see it like that. No, being represented by a comical hat (or a chess piece) was no good. That idea had to go too.

In the end we came up with an idea which they are still using up there even now. It is a bishop?s crook.

You know, the staff that the bishop carries when visiting. When Bishop David was with us for the first time at Easter, he had his crook with him. It must be a strange thing to have with you in church at first.

I thought that this morning, hearing so much about sheep and shepherds in the bible, I would reflect on the pastoral image of leadership that we have in our church.

The first thing to note is that in all my time in the Episcopal church, I have very rarely heard anyone preach about bishops or about the crook that they carry. Often we take the ministry of the bishop for granted. Often we simply don?t see it.

Yet when the bishop arrives, we know who it is by the staff that is carried.

And that staff is not just a reminder of who the bishop is, it is a reminder of who we are. For the staff is there to nudge us. To poke us. To cajole us.

For the image that the bible readings suggest this morning is not just that Jesus is the good shepherd, but that we are silly as sheep.

Yes ? the image is not a flattering one ? it is that we are like sheep who need to be herded, called, pushed and shoved into the good things that God has for us. And sometimes it feels like that too.

It is worth reminding you how Episcopal ministry works. The idea is that the bishop, the shepherd represents Christ the shepherd. It is a biblical image of leadership. And it is the bishop that stands at the altar of God offering the Eucharist.

And as the lamb of God is offered on the altar, perhaps there are all kinds of ideas that linger below the surface which we may even find disturbing.

But it is the bishop who represents Christ at the Eucharist. And as a priest, I represent the bishop, who unlike God, cannot be in every place at all times.

As a priest, I am merely the bishop?s stand-in. Which is something that some priests would do well to remember sometimes.

The stick that a bishop carries takes us right into the image that Jesus offers us this morning ? of one who will fend off danger. In the West, we have a bishop?s crook that has a curved top, the better to hook us back into the fold. That is not actually definitive. Eastern bishops often have a straight stick, more like an actual shepherd?s stick.

It is interesting that the church has mostly chosen men for this task. It is a nurturing task. A caring task. Episcope ? oversight is something that we are all called to exercise. That is my understanding of ministry. That we all have within us the ministry of deacon ? that of service, the priest ? the one who stands in and stands before God and bishop ? the overseer who cares.

The idea of sacramental ministry in our church is that we each are called to these tasks, but that some are called in a particular way and in a particular time and place to exercise them in a symbolic and special way that we call ordained ministry. (In other words, the time when the community orders someone to do it).

In all of this, we are building up an image of leadership which is distinctive. It is an image of leadership that is worth celebrating. And as Episcopalians, it is a set of ideas that are ours to share with whoever is interested.

Leadership then is something that

? is primarily pastoral
? fends of danger
? means making care the top priority in governance.
Maybe, just maybe we have an image of leadership which we can offer to the world. Amen

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