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I suppose you might find it difficult to imagine now but there was a time when I used to jog quite regularly; perhaps even as often as every other day. Anyway, one Saturday morning, while speeding effortlessly along with a gazelle like stride, the complete master of the John Bunyan trail, I came across a sheep, not unusual in itself up there but what was peculiar was that it did not turn tail and run at my approach, like most animals. I discovered that the reason for this was that it was completely entangled in brambles and was stuck fast to the hedge. Now often maybe but never far was my jogging regime so it was the work of a moment to pop home and return with the secateurs and cut the beast free, not that it was especially cooperative. Nevertheless, I can say that I did, once in my life, rescue a lost sheep.
Being a shepherd in first century Palestine was a much harder job. Firstly, the flocks were huge, very usually counted in their thousands and sometimes there were as many as ten thousand in a single herd. Watching over these bleating armies required great care and attention. There would always be some who would wander off so far that the dogs could not bring them back and then the shepherd himself would have to go looking. Being a shepherd was physically tough work, you were outside for months of the year on end and there was blinding heat by day and biting frosts by night. As well as the thousands, special attention needed to be paid to the sick sheep; those that were hurt not to mention the pregnant ewes and the new born lambs. As our reading said, “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness, I will bring them back to their own land.”
I rather think of the St Margaret’s Waywardens as a team of good shepherds reaching out into the community and looking after the flocks. Certainly, the service you all give by delivering the Messenger is invaluable in itself but I know you do more, that you look out for the needy around you and take care of them either directly or by letting someone else know. You are the first line of our pastoral antennae and for this we are all grateful. For to look after sheep you have to be watchful, even at my slow speed there was a chance that out of breath and thinking of something else I may not have spotted my sheep at all, and that is the point, being a Waywarden is about being attentive: “I will seek the lost, I will bring back the strayed.”
Today is the feast day of St Peter and St Paul. Peter, the rock upon whom the church was built and Paul, the great traveller, preacher, writer and evangelist to the non-Jewish population. Between them, they spread the word of the Gospel throughout the known world from the tiny insignificant village of Galilee to Rome itself. It has been said that the success of the early Christian church was due very largely to the generosity of these first evangelists and early Christians. They looked after one another, something that was unheard of in the Roman world, where even relatives in difficulty were frequently left to fend for themselves, never mind complete strangers for whom there was little or no charity.
So it is appropriate that tonight we celebrate the Waywardens’ work, that we share in fellowship and a supper together and that we give thanks for your care and concern for the community and that you do find time to slow down a little, observe your surroundings and know where the help can be found for any sheep you might find in the brambles.