St Cuthbert’s weekend was a wonderful experience for all of the families coming to visit the Middle School and that is because our teachers and girls did such an amazing job of showcasing what we do. There was an overwhelming amount of feedback pointing to the positive, happy and respectful nature of the teacher-student relationships and this made us all feel proud of our Middle School.
The House Leaders spent a lot of time working on their contracts as Middle School leaders and they used the Prefects’ contract as a starting point. They then moved on to organising the House events that they would like to run throughout the year. Various other committees worked on projects throughout the day and I must say the Service committee, working with Admissions, did a splendid job in the Atrium. Their task was to meet and greet visitors to the College and they were great. The rest of our girls were spread far and wide doing robotics, music, languages, sport, mathematics, art, health and more.
Cushla Hemingway led us in our combined Junior and Middle School St Cuthbert’s Day Service and I felt very proud of her and of all our girls receiving their Leadership and Deputy Leadership badges. The Service is a gentle reminder for all of us that we are trying to live up to our motto “By Love Serve”. I may be biased but I believe our girls do this with ease and it is a wonderful reflection on your values at home.
Our Year 7 Chapel service was delightful and we couldn’t be happier with our new Reverend Roxy Gahegan. She engages beautifully with the girls and their families. She talked to us about the ‘Good Shepherd’ and we all enjoyed the way the reflection unfolded. Here it is for those of you who would like to take a moment for your own calm reflection:
Year 7 Family Chapel Service Reflection 2016:
The story Eloise read to us from Luke’s gospel begins with an observation – people of questionable morals and character were hanging around Jesus, and the good, upstanding folk were disturbed that Jesus was quite content to associate with these unsavoury types.
In response to that observation, Jesus asks a question.
Now, I’ve heard this story I don’t know how many times, and I’m not sure that I’ve noticed before that his question seems, well…. the kind of question my mum had a short hand answer for.
If I had asked this kind of question…she’d just give me a look and say SQ.
which stood for Silly Question.
Which one of you, asks Jesus, wouldn’t leave 99 sheep in the wilderness in order to go and search for one lost one? Err…I kind of want to put my hand up for that… it doesn’t sound like a good farming strategy.
Well, I was in Clevedon last night, and I was with some sheep farmers, and I asked them: would you take those odds? Would you abandon the 99 who you’d got safe in order to find the one that had got lost?
They explained very patiently that they’d put the 99 in a pen first, to keep them safe, and then go and look for the lost sheep. And while that sounds very sensible, it’s not the question Jesus asks or the way he tells the story.
So let me give you some background information:
The people who first heard this story knew some things about sheep and shepherds that we don’t know.
Firstly, they knew that the shepherds in the middle east at the time of Jesus had to watch over their flocks all the time in case of attack from bears, wolves, raptors and such. They also knew that real farmland in Israel was not where sheep were allowed to graze. The fields were for growing crops. The hillsides were for grazing sheep.
And when I say ‘hillsides’, they were not even slightly like our green hills here.
The hillsides were in fact edge of the desert, rocky wilderness, where little tufts of green grow in between the rocks. From a distance, you can’t see any green at all.
They knew that for a shepherd, the need to move the sheep on to find fresh grazing was a constant one.
Similarly, water is scarce in the edge of the desert wilderness, so the shepherd needed to know where to find water, and had to make sure he was never too far away from the nearest or next watering place.
Because of these things, the sheep were familiar with the shepherd’s presence and voice. They trusted that the shepherd would lead them to more food and water. Would keep them safe and care for them.
Sheep in the middle east in Jesus’ time actually followed their shepherd. And that means that the sheep and the shepherds Jesus is talking about had a radically different kind of farming relationship from the one that my farmer friends have.
And that is hugely important, because the relationship we associate with sheep farming involves large flocks roaming pretty much unsupervised in essentially safe paddocks.
Feed is usually plentiful, although no farmer will readily admit this, and water is provided either by nature or by rain tank.
When the farmer needs to gather the sheep, she uses dogs and quad bikes to scare them and drive them where she wants them to go.
Which means that our sheep are terrified of the shepherd.
They have no reason to trust the shepherd or do what the shepherd is trying to get them to do.
The second thing that those first hearers of this story knew was that because shepherds were always on the move, they did not have permanent sheep pens to return to each night. Instead, they had to be able to make their sheep pens out of whatever was around where they stopped.
So when the shepherd gathered the sheep together for the night, he’d collect up some thorny branches and brambles and make a pen out of them in an almost closed circle. Then he’d lead the sheep inside, and lie down across the entrance.
That way, none of the sheep could get out without disturbing him, and no predator could get in without him noticing.
Obviously, if the shepherd is not there, the sheep pen is useless.
And if the shepherd in Jesus’ story had closed the pen in, his sheep would have been an easy target for a pack of hungry wolves, who wouldn’t care about an exit strategy before they went in to get dinner.
So it turns out that leaving the sheep in the wilderness wasn’t quite so much the silly idea it first seemed.
When the shepherd got back, the sheep would come when he called, and in the meantime, it was safer for them to roam freely.
Now, the third thing that the original hearers of this story knew that we don’t know, is a rich tradition from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures.
In the books of the prophets God is frequently referred to as the shepherd of Israel, and the people of Israel know that they are the sheep of God’s flock.
The people who listened to Jesus grew up hearing and knowing the 23rd psalm, which says:
The Lord is my shepherd, I have all I need.
He lets me rest in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
He restores and refreshes my soul,
And true to his name, he guides me into true and right paths.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear, because You are with me. Your rod and staff are a guide and comfort to me.
The shepherd in Jesus’ story doesn’t behave in a way that the original hearers had never heard of before.
They know this shepherd Jesus is talking about is God.
What is new for them is that Jesus is talking about God the shepherd who is not content simply to keep the sheep who have followed along and kept up, and to abandon the one who has gone it’s own way.
This shepherd, says Jesus, wont give up on anyone because they are too much trouble.
Because they’ve gone too far this time.
Because they are stubborn and won’t listen
Or because they are slow learners.
And this good shepherd doesn’t force us, frighten us or drive us into doing, believing or following – despite what you may have heard otherwise.
Jesus is clear: This is not what God the Shepherd is about.
God the Good Shepherd looks for us because we are loved, and there is no logical balance sheet economy to God’s love.
In God’s book, one shrunken life, one hardened heart, one lonely, wounded soul is one too many.
Which one of you, Jesus asks, wouldn’t leave the 99 in the wilderness and go and look for the one?
Well, honestly, we might not take those odds for a sheep. We might not.
But what if it wasn’t a sheep? What if it was one of your kids out there, wouldn’t you go and search?
Silly question, right?
That’s God’s view too.