30 April 2023

If we have become accustomed to think of resurrection life as something that we receive and enjoy primarily as individuals, this week’s Lectionary readings will come as something of a shock. Through the interesting collage of metaphors – sheep and Shepherd, suffering and care, life and togetherness in the community of faith – we are drawn into recognising that the life Christ offers us is always shared. If we are to know the reality of the resurrection, we will discover it as we care for one another and share life in mutual compassion and protection.

May we be drawn into unity and communion with God and each other as we seek for life in our worship.

Acts 2:42-47: A description of the life of the early disciples as they shared in worship, hospitality and caring for one another.

Psalm 23: David’s famous psalm of confidence and hope in God’s care, guidance and provision.

1 Peter 2:19-25: Peter encourages the believers who are going through trials because of their faith, and reminds them that Christ, who suffered though he was innocent, is the example we follow.

John 10:1-10: Jesus warns about those who are thieves and robbers, who do not care for ‘the sheep’, and he speaks of himself as the gate for the sheep, through which the sheep move to find pasture – and the abundant life that Jesus offers.

This week the Lectionary offers a wonderful and rich connection of ideas. In this season of the resurrection, the life of Christ is still uppermost in our minds, and Jesus’ promise that he has come to give life is at the heart of our reflections. The rest of the Gospel, though, and the other readings, all reflect on how life is lived when the care and compassion of God direct us. In the Acts reading we are given a glimpse at the true community of the first disciples and their care for one another. In Psalm 23 we are reminded of God’s care and attention toward God’s people. In Peter’s letter, written to those who are being persecuted for Christ’s sake, there is the assurance that their suffering is not meaningless, and that it is a sharing in Christ’s sacrifice, even as God – the Shepherd and Guardian of the believers’ souls – watches over them. Finally, Jesus, in speaking about his life, warns about those who pretend to care for ‘the sheep’ but don’t. In a confusing contrast he is both the Shepherd who does care, and the gate through which the true Shepherd enters to call the sheep, and through which the sheep pass in order to find pasture and life. While it is not the purpose of this short reflection to unravel all of these metaphors, the essential message is clear – the life of Jesus is given and received by mutual care, compassion and protection. The resurrection does not offer some individualised, blissful life. Rather, it calls us into a life that is shared with others who follow Christ, to whom we belong and for whom we are responsible, even as they as are called to care for us. It is only together – in community – that Christ’s life can be known and enjoyed.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: If there is one gift that modern science has given us it is the realisation of the connectedness of all things in the universe. While we have divided up our world into ever smaller groupings – nationalities, political affiliations, languages, ethnicities, regions, genders, generations, religions, cultures, economic strata, educational levels, all of these divisions are ultimately false. It is impossible to do anything to another person or group that does not have some impact on ourselves. And so, we are called, as followers of Christ, to embrace these connections, and to find in them the resurrection life that Christ promises. Like the psalmist, we can know God’s care and provision for us, but also know that this means that we are drawn into God’s house, where we are not the only inhabitants. Like the early believers we are called to share all things, to ‘do life’ together, and to endure whatever persecution or hardship we may face with the same grace and forgiveness that Christ demonstrated. And unlike the false shepherds, who care nothing for the sheep, we are both the sheep who enjoy God’s care, and the ‘shepherds’ or ‘gatekeepers’ who care for the sheep and help them to find life-giving pasture. What this interconnected experience of life means, is that we can no longer ignore what happens on the other side of the world. We are connected with the poor, the sick, the refugee and the oppressed. And, in our own way, as followers of Christ, we can use our love and compassion to change the world so that the most vulnerable people are no longer abused by “thieves and robbers” but are cared for and provided for by people who truly seek their best, and who seek a better world in which all are secure, all are provided for and all are included in the community of humanity.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Where are the lines drawn in your community? In every church we inevitably fall into lines and divisions, splitting ourselves along lines of gender, generation, sexuality, theology, denomination and function. We tend to separate ourselves when we worship – children, adults and youth in different venues with different ‘styles’ – and when we work and live together as church – with clergy and laity kept in their distinct compartments. But, what if all of these lines rob us of life? What if our tendency to use marketing strategies to identify ‘target markets’ and ‘felt needs’ only leads us into a lifeless uniformity? What if it is the very interconnectedness and diversity that opens us to the reality of the resurrection? In what ways can your community begin to identify and honour the connections, rather than the differences? In what ways can you begin intentionally to include those who are seen as different or ‘outside’? What would happen if the neighbourhood in which your church operates knew you as the church that connects people, and that connects needs and solutions, and that celebrates humanity in all of its God-given variation? In what ways could your church offer a ministry of connectedness, welcome and involvement with those who most need to be cared for and offered life in your town? Do you think that, maybe, as we seek to follow Christ’s example, we could ignore the slights and criticisms that we so easily retaliate to, and notice the ones who need to be loved and led to life? And then, do you think that maybe the people of your community would find, individualy and together, a richer, more full life, as they honour and embrace the connectedness of the world?

Good Shepherd
The Life That Ignores Limits
Finding God Together
God You Are Enough (Psalm 23 Paraphrase)

Hymn Suggestions:
The King Of Love My Shepherd Is
Saviour, Like A Shepherd Lead Us
The Church’s One Foundation
Blest Be The Tie That Binds
We Shall Go Out With Hope Of Resurrection
Though We Are Many (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Breaking of Bread

Video Suggestions
Acts 2
Fear No Evil
Psalm 23