Saturday, 6 May 2017

Easter 4 - following the Good Shepherd

John 10: 1-10, Acts 2: 42-47

I hope that since Easter you have spent these few weeks celebrating – not just the signs of Spring around us and the chance to enjoy a few days rest, even time away and then the May Bank Holiday - but of course we have been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from death and all the hope, joy and new life that our Easter faith brings.

But life isn’t all celebration, is it? These weeks since Easter have also brought news of tensions around North Korea, terrible suffering in East Africa, continued killings in Syria: and I’m sure we have friends and relatives who have been unwell, or struggling in some way.
I’ve had a few weeks when I seem to have had one doctor’s appointment after another to try to clear up some medical issues. Life certainly has its ups and downs: so what exactly is this “full life” that Jesus promises his disciples and promises us?

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, as we started to earlier on.

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 telling us that he is 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 as a stand-in for 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. He 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. We know that Jesus lays down his life for the sake of his sheep.
I don’t believe for a moment that as Christians we 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, and that in the end we will be raised up by the love of God the Father, as Jesus was.

Here in Jesus’ phrase ‘I am the Good Shepherd’ is an invitation to all of us to follow him and 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 had all things in common, signs and wonders were being done, they were adding daily to their number.”

How we would love someone to be able to describe our church like this!
Signs and wonders,  people added to our number, caring and sharing together…
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.

So how can we do that? How can we be a church growing and living the kingdom?

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.

In the strength of Christ we can share God’s love with those around us.
One of the greatest difficulties people have in our society is loneliness – the feeling that no-one cares about you, that you don’t matter is a terrible thing. We know that Jesus is the good shepherd who knows all his sheep by name – and we need to share this sense of being known and named and cared-for with our neighbours.

We can also share with others what we know of the power of Jesus Christ in our lives – how Jesus has given us life in all its fullness – a life of love and joy. We should always be ready to tell other people what God is doing in our lives – in small ways and great ways.

And we can add to our number – we can make sure the door is always open for others to come in – that we offer a warm invitation, a real welcome, and open arms for others.

So may we, as a church and as individuals, know, proclaim and enjoy life is all its fullness.
He is risen indeed, he is living and calling us still – let’s hear his voice and follow Jesus – to the glory of God. Amen.

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