Saturday, April 28, 2007

Following the Shepherd

Easter 4 Year C John 10:22-30, Acts 13:14.43-52

You may recall that in my homilies since Easter I have been talking about the ‘penny slowing dropping’ for the disciples. Each time they encounter the Risen Lord they understand a little more of what he had been trying to say to them before he went to the cross.

Over the next few Sundays our lectionary readings take us back to some of that teaching that the risen Lord refers to in his post resurrection appearances. In last weeks gospel Jesus tells Peter to “feed my lambs…look after my sheep” and today we have Jesus walking in the portico of Solomon during a very important Jewish feast, the Feast of Dedication.

Jerusalem, and especially the temple, would have been bustling with the faithful from all around the country. A group gathers around Jesus and asks him directly “how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah tell us plainly.” And Jesus gives the response we have just read – “I told you and you don’t believe; I have done works in the Father’s name that testify to me and you still don’t believe…my sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.”

This controversy with the Jews is the same debate that Paul and Barnabas are having in Acts 13 and it reflects the tensions between the synagogue authorities and the Christian community for whom John’s gospel was originally written.

For the Jews could not believe that they were no longer God’s chosen people, they wanted a Messiah who would put down their oppressors and liberate them once and for all. The liberation and the Kingdom that Jesus offers (not of this world) is not what they had hoped for, it wasn’t their reading of the prophets. As the church grows rapidly after the Day of Pentecost, as gentiles are added equally to the number being baptised, those of the old dispensation are not happy.

They are especially not happy that the synagogue is still the meeting place for these ‘Christian mission events’.

So where might I be all be going with all this?

Today has traditionally been known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday”; whilst it provides us with an opportunity to refect on one of Jesus’ great “I am” statements – “I am the Good Shepherd” – it also reminds us that we have been entrusted to a shepherd and that we are to listen to that shepherd’s voice.

The instruction given to Peter and to all bishops of the church down the ages still stands today. ‘Feed my lambs, tend and feed my sheep’.

I often ponder what Peter would have made of all this shepherd and sheep imagery; Peter was a fisherman, that’s what he knew, that’s what he done all his life till Jesus came along and told him to fish for men, his life had been about gathering - not protecting. Now he had to do both.

It’s very easy, especially in rural parishes, to think that we can exist without too much interference from the wider church. But we are sheep under a shepherd and in our context that shepherd is the bishop with the parish priest “representing” the bishop when he is not physically present.

We can be like the Jews in John and Acts and not want our ‘synagogues’ used in any way other than the way we’ve always known.

We can cling on to all the ‘old’ ways of being church and stir people up to turn against and drive out the new. Note that in Acts 13 it is the ‘devout women, upper classes and leading men of he city’ who are incited to this behaviour!

Bishop Michael is shepherding us and calling us to mission. Some of this will involve finding fresh expressions of being church – our Gordon Pub mass is one such way that we are responding to this call.

For some this is uncomfortable, some don’t want the ‘newly called’ coming and changing their comfortable situations, its Acts 13 all over again.

Here is what the Bishop said on his website last Friday:

“......One of the great pictures of the Church that we have is to be found in the Acts of the Apostles, which we are reading in our worship at the present time. In particular I love the stories where the apostles are standing on the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem, preaching the Gospel to anyone who would listen. What courage! What faith! But that is what is asked of all who follow Jesus Christ. 

All too often we Christians keep our heads down, disguising our faith and religious behaviour because of what our friends or others might think or say. We risk turning religion into something private. Nothing could be further from what is expected of us by God. 

Jesus sent Christians out to be a leaven in the world, light to the world, and not to lock ourselves away in buildings or interest groups. We need to make sure that the Gospel is heard and there will be a price to pay if we do that faithfully, but it is a price we all have to pay at one time or another.” (end quote)

The message is clear, both from scripture and our bishop, we are called to authentic discipleship, and the church cannot be a club that exists for its members, it very existence is to carry on the missionary work of Jesus. We are called and sent to share what God has given us.

Let us pray that we will each hear that voice, that we will know who is calling and that we may be given all that we need to follow Him.

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