Homily Easter 4

Homily Easter 4 -  John 10:1-10

I and most of us here this morning, have the privilege of living in an area of great beauty, and an area where farmers work really hard to bring a good deal of that beauty to fruition – to enable it to produce the food that we need.  Around me, as there have been in other places I’ve lived, lots of sheep - and I still find them endlessly fascinating, sometimes looking up from my desk and becoming absorbed in their antics.

Over the years I’ve come to believe that they often behave exactly as their stereotype suggests. They follow one another, unthinking, into terrible scrapes; they fall over; they get stuck in hedges - or push their way through the hedges and wander into the road.

They are, from my observation at least, not necessarily very bright and really rather vulnerable.

When the Bible, or hymns, suggest that sheep need protection, some might assume that they need protection from predators or thieves. But it seems to me that sheep actually need protection most of all from themselves!

The biblical images of shepherds paint them as people of wisdom, care, comfort, reliability, fortitude, sacrifice and protection.

In the psalms, the Lord, as the shepherd, protects the flock, carries sheep and lambs, feeds and waters them, gathers them into the fold and fends off anything and anyone that could harm them.

In the Gospel parable, it is the shepherd who searches for a single lost sheep, leaving ninety-nine to find it, who lays it across his shoulders and carries it home. Jesus tells this parable relying on his hearers knowing that this is how a shepherd would behave.

The image of Christ the Good Shepherd is one to ponder, to meditate on, to sing about. Many people, reflecting on the current situation, or something in the past, will acknowledge a sense of God’s presence, of being carried through difficult circumstances, or of anxiety alleviated and calmed. We have been guided and protected, even in the most difficult times.

And on other occasions, when we have behaved foolishly, wandered off and got ourselves stuck in a tricky situation, God has been there and gently guided us back to the right path.

But in our gospel reading today, Jesus is not just the good shepherd but also the “gate”, the one who both liberates the sheep to find fresh pasture and also encompasses and protects them.  This is wonderfully encouraging and reassuring, as we reflect on how we have been vulnerable, lost or foolish from time to time in life, and how Christ has called us home to his safe keeping.

But we ought also to recognise and acknowledge those times when we are called to be shepherds, rather than sheep.

For if Christ is the pattern for our life, then just as he is the Good Shepherd, we should strive to be shepherds too; and in this time of crisis, many are –

  • by caring for others who are in real danger,
  • by having compassion for the fearful,
  • by helping in all sorts of ways those who are in any kind of need.

And, hopefully, we might also be able to act as  gates, called to offer the liberation of Christ to all.

By God’s grace, our words and our deeds can give others a sense of being led to find safe “pasture”, raising their spirit and giving life in abundance.

We can be encouragers, the openers of eyes and hearts and minds, as well as protectors, and people who offer warmth, welcome and safety.

And we do this because we believe that God, in Christ, cares for us, and has done so throughout our life.

We believe that God, in Christ, is our liberation, our life in abundance.

And we also know that there are people who, practically and literally, have guided us, cared for us, encouraged us, nourished our souls, healed and protected us. People who have, like shepherds, looked out for us.

We have been cared for, we are cared for, and so, in turn, we care.

Because, yes, we are Christ’s sheep, but we are also co-shepherds, called to care for those who are vulnerable, and offer loving guidance, that all may dwell safely in Christ’s fold.