Fourth Sunday of Easter

Prayer of the Day
O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 2:42-47  The believers’ common life
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25  Follow the shepherd, even in suffering
John 10:1-10  Christ the shepherd

Title:  No Fear for the Following Flock

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia

Let the alleluia joy wash over you as you melt into the wonderful pastoral images of the beloved 23 Psalm, green grass – filet minion to a sheep, still waters – calm to a most anxious creature, freedom of want – that means peace for anyone and anything, a table set in the midst of enemies, flowing oil and overflowing cups, eternity in God’s house.  What more could anyone, sheep or person ask for?  Even the walk through the valley of the shadow of death doesn’t sound that bad when we know to sing our alleluia songs and are fully confident in our Lord and Shepherd’s presence.

But there is not so much peace and soothing quiet in the sheepy images Jesus sets before us in John’s gospel.  There we are the flock back in from the freedom and joy of the pasture and now the focus is on life in the flock, with all its challenges.  Brought (forced even) together in a pen.  Rubbing up against those fellow sheep that irritate and annoy.  There is kicking and biting as we are challenged to connect with those with whom we disagree.  Co-habitating with those we judge less than.

But Jesus teaches, he is not only the shepherd who leads, he is also the gate through which we all enter, we don’t choose who is in the flock and who is not.  We do not set the standards of membership.  Ours is not the job of judging or rating the value of another.  In this small section of our Lord’s great flock – St. Johns by name, we have challenged ourselves to embrace and imitate the welcoming gate that is Jesus – as we seek to share his love with all creation.  As we strive to emulate the reach of our Lord’s shepherd’s crook that is great and all inclusive.

And so, what about living in the fold, once we have entered through the waters of baptism, joined to Christ’s death and resurrection, once we are one with others in him?  In Christ, we are gathered in with the other sheep:  walking and learning, feeding and watering, sleeping and serving.  Are we one flock?  Are we letting Jesus do the leading?  Or do our egos and our desires, our determination to have it our way, cause us to transform from sheep who have entered through the gate of Jesus, — turning into thieves and bandits who seek to steal away members of the flock from the way our Lord would lead us;  or chase members away by our less than Jesus-led behavior.  When we enter through Jesus the gate, confessing our sinfulness, we are aware and assured of forgiveness and we are called to live doing the same as we work for justice and love mercy.

Once in our Lord’s flock, do we trust in God’s abundance so that we are able to see that God provides for all our wants?  Or are we so traumatized by the myth of scarcity that can spread through the flock, misguiding us into thinking that there is not enough for all so we better hoard what we can:  hoard resources, hoard power, hoard control.

But more important than what we, the flock, say about ourselves through our actions; what does the flock proclaim about the shepherd through its behavior?  After all, if we tell the world that we follow the Good Shepherd, that through him who is the gate we have entered and by his leading we continually find our guidance, care, protection and identity; how does the world then see this King of Love we call shepherd in the way that the flock walks together, cares for one another, carries out the mission of the one we follow, reaches to the ones who appear to be not a part of us?  In us and through us do others see the Good Shepherd’s flock as something that they are drawn to, or repelled from?

Listen again to this morning’s reading from Acts where we see the witness of that first flock, those who had followed Jesus and who were now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming the good news and the invitation for all to enter.  Peter has just finished his sermon and 3,000 people were baptized on that first PentecostAnd we read:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  44All who believed were together and had all things in common;  45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,  47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

Their life in the flock brought awe upon everyone who saw what was going on.  There was total equality.  There was no “mine and yours” they had all things in common.  They gave to others according to need.  They ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God.  And hear this:  they had the goodwill of all the people.

 I think of this witness of life in the flock for our congregation.  Today as we plant and spruce up the front of our property so that people might see symbols of the life with which our Lord is filling our community.  What else are we saying to the passer-by about this flock found here at St. John’s?

I think about the witness of our country at this time of turbulence and divisiveness. As so many of the most frightened voices that are calling for excluding practices, and fueling anxious actions belong to people who boast loudly of their own inclusion in our Lord’s flock.

Sure, we are wise, and it is good to bask in the peace of still waters and green pastures, but also hear the calling voice of our Good Shepherd, the one whose voice his sheep know.  Hear him calling to you – “fear not” even in what you think is your darkest valley.  Fear not for you have entered the fold, all is safe.  Fear not and welcome others in.  Fear not and provide for all.  Hear the voice of the shepherd, the good shepherd, who is worthy of trust and confidence, he him say:  Fear not.  Fear not.  Fear not.

As members of our Lord’s flock, we can fear not for:
Jesus is the gate, through whom we all enter
Jesus is the gate, the protector and guardian of our souls
Jesus is the shepherd, the leader of the flock
Jesus is the shepherd who finds us when we have gone astray
Jesus is the shepherd who leads us in the ways of righteousness and peace
Jesus is the shepherd who calls us to be one
Jesus is the shepherd who sets a table, when all we see are enemies
Jesus is the shepherd who is still leading as we travel the valley filled with deaths shadows
Jesus is the shepherd who gives his life for the sheepJesus is the shepherd who leads us to eternal life.

Is this the shepherd that our flock proclaims, witnesses to in our life together?

May all that we say and do, as his sheep and as his flock, proclaim the good news.  So that our Lord’s desire for us might be realized:  that all might have life, and have it abundantly.

Certainly this good shepherd is the reason for our shouts of:
Alleluia, Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.

The Rev. Mark Erson,

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