Reverend Rob Lamerton
17 April 2005, Easter 4
In the twenty third psalm, the Lord is the shepherd:
ultimately welcoming into the eternal banquet.
In the psalm it is David the shepherd/king who reflects on his own care for the flock and sees God doing the same for him. "The Lord is my shepherd."
The tradition of the shepherd/king grew and the kings and religious leaders of Israel were called and anointed for the task of pastoring and caring for God's people. So the concept of the shepherd and the sheepfold as a way of talking about the relationship between God and the people was well established in Jesus' day.
In the gospel, when Jesus talks about those who enter the sheepfold surreptitiously or by the wrong way or who are strangers and not known — he is referring to the failure of the leaders to know how to care for the sheep — how to care for God's people!
We are told "Jesus used this figure of speech with them… but they did not understand what he was saying to them."
So Jesus is blunt. "All who come before me are thieves and robbers." Surely if they knew their scriptures they would know what he is talking about!
We are probably now wondering why we did not hear Jesus say anything about being the "Good Shepherd".
This whole chapter is broken into three parts to be read on the fourth Sunday of Easter each year.
[Year A — v1-10; Year B — 11-18; Year C — 22-30]
But this first part of the story of the sheep Jesus speaks of himself as the gate for the sheep.
On the one hand, the gate gives access — it is the way in.
On the other hand, the gate protects and holds.
In this story, Jesus draws the comparison between those who enter through him — his way into the sheepfold — into God's people and those who think they know best and do it their way and in so doing frighten and distress the sheep.
Some people I know took a trip to the coast and deciding to stay, rented a room, but they had a whole crowd.
The room was for four people, but about twelve stayed…
So in the morning, some started climbing out the window not to be seen. When somebody saw them, he said: "Why don't you use the door like normal people?" [ed. note. I'm sure I heard this being told in the first person!]
Jesus is saying "Why don't you use the door or the gate?"
It is a challenge tot he religious authorities. Will they accept Jesus' WAY into the sheepfold — will they accept his teaching?
The later words of Jesus about being the Good Shepherd make a similar point.
Jesus the gate for the sheep is about the right way
the way of Grace.
Jesus the Good Shepherd is about right leadership
But Why, when we are celebrating The Risen Christ do we reflect on Jesus' words about the gate and the shepherd?
Because in his death we see clearly the way and
In his resurrection we think of him in our midst in heart, mind and spirit, and in the midst of our community, to show us the way.
We have too those whose task it is to lead and guide in the ways of Christ and among the early Christians. Peter was the one called to feed and tend the flock by the Risen Christ.
He begins his letter by giving some clear guidance.
Rid yourselves of
And then he uses the image of a building to describe the Christian community — he point to the Lord as the cornerstone of that building —
If he is NOT the cornerstone then he will be a stone that makes them stumble, a rock that makes them fall.
If we don't build the Lord into the building then he is the stone that lies around the building site for everyone to trip over. If we don't include him, he becomes a problem to us.
Finally, there is a wonderful picture of the Christian Community in Acts 2 —
Baptism added to their number
Devoted to the apostle's teaching
also to fellowship
to breaking of bread
Filled with awe
shared what they had
Many wonderful signs of God's activity
Now we know that such unity was not universal that in other parts of the church there was division. But we see here Christ's presence bringing joy and celebration. showing his way within and among —— that they were able to make known his way to the local community.
And so here is the risen presence of Christ revealing his way — among believers so that the wider world may see.
quote from An Easter Message to the Anglican Communion from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev'd Archbishop Rowan Williams:
"The document that came from the recent meeting of Anglican Primates in Northern Ireland has been read and discussed very widely. But one paragraph has barely been mentioned by any commentator, inside the Church or outside. The Primates repeated and underlined their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals defined by the United Nations — including the hope to reduce poverty and hunger by a half before 2015. They also renewed their commitments in respect of HIV/AIDS education and prevention, noting too the need for similar work to get rapidly underway in dealing with the spiralling threats of TB and malaria.
It should not need saying, but it must be said: our Christian faith is a faith in the rising of Jesus Christ from the tomb in his glorified body; and so it is about leading lives that take the life of the body seriously. The words for 'salvation' and 'health' cannot be distinguished in most languages, and this should remind us that faith in Christ has to be bound up with care for suffering bodies as well as suffering souls."
Our pastoral care for one another is not just about spiritual need or about caring for the body it is about wholeness. It is about people finding their true self within the context of Christian community.
Our parish vision now reads "To be a caring Christian community which embraces and honours difference and offers a place to celebrate and grow spiritually within the Anglican Tradition."
Jesus said I am the gate — mine is the way into the presence of God, I will keep you.