Exminster Methodist Church
Exminster Methodist Church, Main Road, Exminster EX6 8BT
Email exminstermethodists@yahoo.co.uk, Minister: Rev Ben Haslam, Telephone (01392) 256716

Letter from Revd Ben Haslam

The fact that Jesus calls Himself ‘The Good shepherd’ (John 10.11) as opposed to simply ‘The Shepherd’ implies that shepherds did not enjoy a universally positive reputation. He seems to be defining himself against other shepherds who perhaps, have proved less trustworthy with their charges. This makes sense if you call to mind the words of Ezekiel 34, in which Israel’s leaders are likened to bad shepherds who have simply fattened themselves and ignored their sheep. Nor were actual shepherds any better thought of in Jesus’ own day. They could not give evidence in court, for example, so unreliable were they deemed to be. So Jesus is an alternative, good shepherd, and what’s more, the Greek word translated ‘good’ could also be translated as ‘noble’ or beautiful’. Jesus, then is not just competent and watchful as a shepherd ought to be, He is an attractive person to be around, His presence sustaining and enriching.

Jesus’ shepherding will be of a kind Israel has not been used to: it will involve Jesus laying down His life for His sheep. So often in the gospels does Jesus point towards His own death as the culmination of His mission, the crowning glory of His three years ministry. There is also a surprise here to those listening: He tells them He has other sheep (that is, Gentile sheep) to bring into the fold. Jesus’ sacrifice is presented as beneficial, not just to Israel, but to all who heed the Good Shepherd’s call. This is nothing less than a precursor to Pentecost, that great bringing together in spirit of different nations, ethnicities, and language groups. This may have sounded strange to those who doubted whether God would ever deign to include Gentiles in His purposes, but for the wider world, this is a note of hope. It is the first stirring of an idea, developed by Paul, that salvation is not down to what you do or don’t do, but who you follow. Salvation is not about gritting your teeth and ensuring you follow all the right rules. In fact, it’s not about you at all. It is about hearing the call of Jesus, putting your hand in His, accepting the new life that He offers and that only He is able to give you. After that, life becomes a process of learning to love and trust the life-giving, shepherding presence which will never fail you nor forsake you. The process of course, changes you and makes you, over time, more and more like the One you follow.

People often talk as if Christian faith were a means to an end, as if its main purpose were to help you live a good life or be useful in society or some such laudable aim. We talk about the Church needing to appear relevant, meaning it must be seen to serve a practical purpose. This misses the point. Christian faith is all about creating Christ-like people. God created us to live in relationship with Him, and this is how He has made that possible. When Christians begin their journey towards Christ-likeness, then they become a more positive force in society and when they pull together with other Christians, then that force is multiplied, and it can be a powerful and important witness to our faith. It is important, not because it points towards how good we are, but how transformative God can be and encourages others to want to see for themselves. It always begins, and should always begin, with a response to the call of the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep.

God bless, Ben