Sunday 3rd May – 4th Sunday of Easter


Collect

Risen Christ,
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father.

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First Reading

Acts 2.42-47

Many were baptized and were added to the community.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day 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, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

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 Gospel

John 10.1-10

Jesus said to the Pharisees:  ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’  Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.    I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’

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 Post Communion Prayer

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Easter 4 – Reflection

Some of you may well know that I am a great fan of the comedy series Monty Python!  And this morning I’m reminded of a classic Monty Python sketch in which a farmer states, “Sheep are very dim.”

Sheep have become the symbol, in our culture, of mindless compliance with societal norms – sheep are seen as followers.  Those who follow without thinking.

Jesus, however, seems to credit sheep with a good deal more sense – in any case, with the one important sense of knowing their shepherd’s voice. Important not because the sheep are followers in their essence, but because they are wanderers by nature. And sensible not because the sheep are dim enough to follow any voice, but discerning enough to follow only the right voice. That discerning ear matters because the sheep are facing real dangers, from without and from within.

Jesus promises that with the Lord as our shepherd, we will “come in and go out and find pasture.” Outside the fold, sheep are under threat from predators. The shepherd’s rod and staff are not only comfort, but protection. But the biggest risk comes from the sheep themselves – they are apt to wander off, each to its own way. God promises to sustain us, but it’s sometimes hard for us to believe in God’s abundance. Instead, we look for greener pastures, imagining that we do not have enough by God’s hand.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus, however, seems especially concerned about dangers inside the sheepfold. Even in our place of shelter and rest, thieves may come in to steal and destroy.

Then, sometimes, our own wandering hearts tempt us in the same way, giving us false hope that there’s an easier path to follow.  A path without all the work and uncertainty of transformation by the grace of God.

In that same Monty Python sketch, a visitor to the farm is shocked to see sheep up in the trees – nesting, as the farmer tells him. The sheep are also trying to fly, convinced by a sheep named Howard that they are, in fact, birds. The farmer explains that Howard is “that most dangerous of all animals: the clever sheep.”  I’ve always said that there is much theology in Monty Python!

Sometimes we try to be too clever. And wouldn’t it be easier if we didn’t need to be patient followers, trusting beyond our immediate desires? If we weren’t called to ease the sufferings of those in need or distress?

In the eyes of the world, it may seem foolish to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. A thousand competing voices call to us that we should look for escape instead of sacrifice, should seek an easier bliss than the peace of God, should search for our own greener pastures and leave the rest of the flock behind. Christ crucified is still a stumbling block, still looks like foolishness to many. Why would we worship a God who became like us?

But Jesus doesn’t call us to become something different; he calls us to grow into who we truly are. The Good Shepherd doesn’t round up the sheep with a whistle, or herd them with prods. The Good Shepherd calls the sheep by name.

In the end, our only wisdom is to know our shepherd’s voice. Our one skill as Christ’s flock is to listen – to listen from the deep place in our hearts in which we recognize who we truly are, and whose we truly are. Because the Good Shepherd is the only one who calls us by our own names.

Being part of Christ’s flock is our safety and our blessing.  And Jesus knows us as individuals because each one of us is called by name.

Amen