The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
What is in a name? Well not so much the name itself, but knowing it, and the person who it belongs to? When I was around 18 years old I started volunteering in the summer travelling around Quebec and Ontario, running Day Camps for young children, and being a ‘camp counsellor’ at a residential camp for younger teenagers. It was then that I developed skills with working with children, not by having my own or doing a degree in theology.
One of the first things I learned is the importance in getting to know the children and their names. It wasn’t always easy on the first day to memorise 80 kids names, but, standing at the side and saying: 'please stop', to a general mass of misbehaving children had no effect. If you wanted them to listen to you, calling them out by name was essential.
The other thing was that kids see through a fake interest, particularly teenagers. If you take a moment to be concerned for them, really concerned, not just asking questions, looking for your own opportunity to tell them a story, or pretending to look like you’re interested, they will know, and rightly they give you very little respect. Respect is earned through real interest in the individuals. While this is true with kids, I think it’s true with all of us to, and in every context. Leaders need to earn respect by knowing and caring for those they lead and being willing to put themselves on the line for them.
In business it’s the same, I remember the best managers were the ones who were there for their teams. People felt that they could go to when they felt they needed to move onto the next stage in their career. It might make the managers life more difficult, having to replace them, but they wanted their team members to improve and grow and reach their potential - to live life to it's full and eventually that meant they’d need to move on.
As we ramp up to this election, we might wish that the leaders of the parties might know us by name, that they might know how people are feeling, and why they are feeling that way. The most successful politicians are the ones who get a real sense of how the people are feeling, who have their finger on the pulse of the nation, and convince them they understand. But not only that, they convince them that they will be there for the people electing them, for the country. That they are not just in it for their own power. A feeling which, perhaps, diminishes as a party holds onto power for a longer and longer time, appearing to put that before the voters who elected them.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells some of the parable of the Good Shepherd. That he knows each of his sheep by name, that he leads them out of the sheepfold, and that they follow him because they know his voice. He is responding to the Pharisees who have been suggesting that one of his healing miracles is an act of sin. They are so caught up in protecting their own systems of power, they are not able to recognise the work of God in front of them or the needs of the people they should be serving. When they don’t understand Jesus decides to give them a completely different metaphor, within the same context, Jesus explains that he’s the gate by which the sheep enter the fold.
For us this is a reminder that Jesus knows us each by name. More than that, he knows us intimately. Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve failed to do. Everything we wish we were. And it’s a reminder that because of that (not in spite of it, however much we think it must be), we are intrinsically loved by God. Personally, individually loved to the extent that Christ would do anything to lead us into the safety of the fold. It reminds us that Jesus has already led us into eternal life, and will lead us there again and again.
The archbishops of Canterbury and York this weekend have released a letter regarding the general election. The letter begins by reminding us to pray for those who choose to stand for parliament in the election. And discourages us from apathy and cynicism.
We could look at the parables of the Good Shepherd and simply criticise those who put themselves forward as failing to live up to this Christian model of leadership. But while we should hold our politicians to account, as Christians we also recognise the limitations of our situation and theirs.
We live in a kind of now but not yet, believing Christ has transformed the world, and yet knowing that transformation is not yet complete. We are called to live as if the Kingdom was already here, and yet we know the task is virtually impossible. The tension between these two, the expectations to live by the fullness of the expectations of the Kingdom, but knowing that we will falter and stumble, is where we sit in prayer.
This week Antonio and I went to the licensing of our Churchwardens, they were asked to take on all manner of jobs on behalf of God, the Bishop and all of you. To each they had the same answer, the same answer we give when asked to support a newly baptised child, or a newly married couple: ‘With the help of God we will’.
So as we try to lead by the example of the Good Shepherd, As we demand others to take responsibility and leadership on our behalf according to impossible standards, as we try to live by the example of the one who knows us intimately, loves us intrinsically and gave his life for us. That we might have life and have it abundantly, so let us pray that ‘with the help of God we will.’