For Mary and I, one of our favourite holiday locations is the Derbyshire Peak District. This is an area steeped in history, full of natural beauty, ideal for walking or cycling (as long as you enjoy hills). The southern, White Peak presents a quintessentially English countryside scene with little white dots littering lush green fields marked out by dry stone walls. The northern or Dark Peak presents a harsher, moorland environment. Both are good grazing grounds for sheep (those little white dots). For the visitor, the sight of one of these self-propelled bundles of fleece, whether munching peacefully on the lush grass or balanced precariously on the gritstone edges, conveys a sense of timeless tranquillity and peace.
However, for the sheep it’s not just the gritstone edge which is precarious. We have yet to visit in the depths of winter, but even in summer, when the weather turns it can be an unforgiving place. There is a good reason both for the lush green grass and for the many water mills that once powered the local economy. Peak sheep, especially in the Dark Peak, are bred to be hardy, robust and weatherproof. They are well adapted to their environment; they need to be.
Although they spend much of their life alone on the hills, sheep are domesticated animals; ultimately, they rely on their shepherd. Medical care, lambing, shearing and at times food; all essential care. Where I, as a tourist, enjoy the peaceful sight of sheep gently grazing; the shepherd knows how much work goes on in the background. The good shepherd is not intrusive, but he or she knows when to cut in.
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are frequently referred to as ‘like sheep’. Independent, strong-willed, well adapted though we are; we still need to be cared for. In every age there are those who are called to shepherd the community; some are better than others. This Sunday we hear again God’s promise (Jeremiah 23:4) to raise up shepherds over his people who will do the job as God wants. These will be human shepherds, but we know in due course, God himself came as a human, to be our all-time good shepherd (John 10:11) – and still is.
Rev Philip Payne
The Notice Sheet for 18 July can be found here