Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; I Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Readings for Fourth Sunday of Easter 13 April 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 4 , 13 April 2008 Textweek

By way of context, let’s just remind ourselves that we are a post-Easter people, seeking to live in the light of the Resurrection and fumbling with the possibilities that Easter reveals. Chances are we got distracted from that context during the week, so it’s just good to come back and recapture our experience of worship over Easter, of being here at Easter, the readings and the promise. Now we’re in that place post-Easter, grappling with what was revealed.

The early church, as documented in the Acts of the Apostles, gives us some insight - doesn’t mean it’s the answer – gives us some insight which can serve as a bench mark or a reference point for us to take stock of where we are. And the reading that we had today from the Acts gives us a few points to look at: “they were devoted to teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers”. We might just underline ‘devoted’, and then put ourselves as a question mark following it. They experienced awe, ‘because many wonders and signs were being done.’ Again, just put a line under ‘awe’. And they spent much time together - they moved from a place of ownership to a place of sharing, ‘with glad and generous hearts’. ‘Devoted’, ‘awe’, and ‘together’ might well be the keys of insight that we find in that reading, and I deliberately call them keys of insight rather than idealisation, because it’s also good to remember that the early church also, treated men and women unequally, saw homosexuality as wrong, promoted celibacy, thought the earth was flat, emphasised sin and emphasised it as an act rather than an orientation and had a primary view of humanity as being fallen. So it’s good to underline the insights, but that doesn’t mean we have to take the whole lot as if there’s a ready-made answer for us.

The second reading from 1 Peter gives us some early teaching, and it’s very much in integrity with those insights of the early church that we’ve just read. The reading suggests to us - not to the original hearers - but to us that we too need to be attentive to the process of Easter, be aware of our alignment and be aware also of the corruption of that alignment; to seek continually to stay with the revelation of Easter and not nick off on the road to Emmaus. And what we get in that reading by way of process is ‘rid yourselves’, ‘long for’ and ‘grow into’. Now if we just parallel those words of advice and encouragement with the insights from Acts, what we get is, rid yourselves of that which takes you away from, so that you may be devoted; long for that which is awesome, and grow into a togetherness. There’s a real sense of the Easter promise in Peter’s words and there’s an affirming and encouraging view of us. In verse 9 we are told ‘you are a chosen race’ - not fallen humanity; ‘you are a royal priesthood’ – sounds like more than sheep; ‘you are a holy nation’ - you are God's own, not a state in Israel, you are a holy nation, God’s own people. And that reading finishes with a wonderful reflection for us, in verse 10: ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people’. It’s good to stay with that one; there’s an insight there that tells us that life is not a clock that starts ticking from the moment of birth, but rather life is a transformation from ‘not a people’ to ‘God’s own people’.

When I got to there I wrote down, ‘It feels as if there’s enough in today’s readings to take us all the way through to Pentecost’, and I actually felt like putting the pencil down, sitting with it and going away somewhere to just unpack all of that, which is a fairly pointless exercise unless we unpack it together. And we’ve not yet looked at the Gospel and I do want us to look at the Gospel, not to unpack it but rather to see it. It’s a stunningly interesting Gospel, and it might be helpful if we see it.

In verse 1, we begin with the gate of the sheepfold, an entry point. So Alan you can be gate; we’ll have the sanctuary as the sheepfold. I just want us to see it because if you read it, it’s very easy to miss the movement in that short reading. There’s a gate here, which means you block things – very gate-like! In verse 1, it talks about the thief and the bandits – they’re the ones who do not enter by the gate, the thief and the bandits come in by another way. Theo – you can usually tell thieves and bandits, they wear black shirts. Now then we have the shepherd of the sheep – Peter Smith. So here we’ve got the shepherd and by implication in verse 2, the sheep: ‘The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep’. The sheep would be there, so let’s have three sheep – you’re already in there. So we’re almost all there, until we get to verse 3: ‘The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd’. Susan – the gatekeeper opens the gate to let the shepherd in; the shepherd goes in, he calls his own, he calls the sheep, then he goes ahead of them, he leads them out of the gate, he goes ahead of them, they follow.

We get to verse 6 – ‘they did not understand’. My guess is if we get to verse 6, we don’t understand and one of the reasons we don’t understand I think, is that we’re far too focused on Jesus as the shepherd; I reckon it’s pretty hard to see that Gospel and not think of Jesus as the shepherd and the minute we do that, we put ourselves into the role of the sheep. But verse 7 says, ‘I am the gate for the sheep’: I am the gate of the sheep. The next interesting thing in verse 8 is that ‘thieves and bandits came before me’. There are more than that one there that one’s climbed in already, we’re now talking about the thieves and bandits that came before Peter Smith. Notice that the sheep can go home without the shepherd, and we’ll come back to that. Thieves and bandits came before him, these are different from that one, I’m sure, but no one listens to them – they can’t actually achieve much, this lot, so you might as well go and sit down, you’re not going to get anywhere.

‘I am the gate’, Jesus says, ‘whoever enters – sheep - will come in and go out and find pasture.’ It’s really interesting, because the question that comes up, the not-understanding, is who the hell is Christ in all this? I thought he was the shepherd, I thought we were the sheep, but this is telling us much much, much, more than that. This is saying we’re more than sheep, because you notice they can come in and out without the shepherd; they can behave as if they were the shepherd; they can behave as if they were the gatekeeper.

There’s a contrast between the sheep and the thief and the bandit – Theo (the thief and the bandit) didn’t have to do much at all. The contrast is that the thieves and the bandits take for themselves - quite deliberately chosen. Thieves and bandits, the takers of life, play no part in this story of creation. Rather it is the sheep, the seekers of life, the seekers of abundant pasture, where there is movement. And Jesus, [is] not the shepherd - following Jesus you’ve entered a cult that is worshipping Jesus; not the gate..... we’ve gone off track or have we? The saving grace is the doctrine of the trinity, where we have the gate, the gatekeeper and the shepherd, but be aware that for two thousand years we’ve been sold the story of Jesus as the shepherd. Put it down, the earth is not flat, pick up the whole book with the gate, the gatekeeper and the shepherd in and realise that we are called to come and go as the shepherd. It’s a stunning Gospel.

It’s good to see it; what we do with it who knows, but we’ve seen it. Share it, reflect on it, pray/play with it, find its meanings, its insights its light.