Saturday, 14 May 2011

Easter 4 (already?)

Apologies for late posting - been away from the desk most of the week.
Readings are:
Acts 2: 42-47
John 10: 1-10

Good Shepherd
Do you ever find yourself wondering quite what it is that Jesus was offering people? That’s an easy question for those who are sick and come for healing – but John’s gospel tells us that Jesus came for the sake of the whole world, so what exactly is this “full life” that Jesus promises his disciples?

The first part of the Gospel reading seems rather complicated:
Jesus says ‘the man who does not enter the sheepfold by the door.. is nothing but a thief and a robber’ but ‘the shepherd... calls his own sheep by name’. John then goes on to say of Jesus’ disciples, ‘they did not understand’.

I don’t really blame Jesus’ listeners for not immediately understanding - it does take a bit of thinking through.
Jesus is saying something about his relationship to those who follow him: he is the good shepherd, the one who cares, the one who can be trusted.

He hasn’t come to take hearts and minds by force, like a thief, but to offer a way to go which those who trust him will follow.

Jesus is saying something about his identity as the one who can be trusted and followed. He is also chiming in with the tradition that the King of Israel was considered to be leader only in the place of God, the true shepherd.

We only have to think of the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd” to see that the shepherd of Israel was the Lord God.
Jesus is identifying himself as leader of the emerging church and as the true shepherd of the people, the Son of God himself.
Jesus uses the parable of the shepherd to inspire his listeners with confidence that they can trust and follow him and that through him they will gain life in all its fullness.

But ‘full life’ doesn’t mean a life entirely protected from the ups and down – the dark valleys and the green pastures - that ordinary people encounter. Jesus isn’t offering a message to accept God’s care & so be wrapped up in cotton wool, untouched by the pain of the world.
Jesus says these words just before the Passover and his death on the cross. Following a crucified criminal is certainly not a guarantee of safety or security: there will be risk and rejection and what looks, to the world around, like failure.

I don’t believe for a moment that Christians should go out looking for suffering – but that we shouldn’t be surprised if it comes, and that by enduring it we can reveal the love of God, as Jesus did. Full life means a life unafraid, a life lived in the knowledge that whatever the wolves of unhappiness that seem to be circling us, we are safe in the care of the Good Shepherd, and that our lives have meaning and purpose, as his had.

So faithful followers of the crucified Messiah hear Jesus’ voice and follow him: he leads them and cares for them, but this is no guarantee of being treated well by the world or of what many people would reckon ‘success’.

Here in Jesus’ phrase ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ is an invitation to all of us to become a part of the project of God - the kingdom of God. A full life is one which accepts our role as workers for God’s kingdom: those who will work for a place of love, joy and peace for all people, a place where everyone will know themselves loved and cared for by God.

So the offer of Jesus to be the Good Shepherd is not just about caring for us, his sheep, but also about calling us to follow, and to become truly His. After Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension the disciples began to realise that they were now called to become the body of Christ, the new agent through which God’s love would work.
You might have felt a little overawed by the description from the book of Acts of the church at that time.
the believers has all things in common, signs and wonders were being done, they were adding daily to their number.

Just 2 weeks ago I was saying that the early church didn’t always get things right, but they’re certainly getting a lot right here! This is some time after the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. Filled with the life and power of Jesus Christ, the church is growing and living the kingdom.

I spent quite a lot of time last week at our Ministers’ Spring School, listening to lots of the latest ideas about the way society is organised, the way the world is headed, the values most people live by, and the role of the church in bringing God’s love to people in new and fresh ways.

In a nutshell, the conclusion seemed to be that in a fast-changing, self-centred, consumerist world what most people are experiencing is isolation, a sense of futility and a deep sense of longing which they try to fill with consumer goods – new houses, new cars, new phones, and so on.

In that face of all this, the church is called to follow Jesus and to proclaim the glorious truth of God’s love, showing people a route to faith in Jesus which leads to a truly full life – a life of hope and trust and love.

We might think the odds of this counter-cultural message being heard in our world is slim, but our task is to proclaim it faithfully, to model being a people who are living God’s kingdom, and to accept the strength and protection of the Good Shepherd to lead us where we must go as we seek new words to express ourselves and new ways to display God’s love.

So may we, as a church and as individuals, know, proclaim and enjoy life is all its fullness. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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