Fourth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 4. 5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3. 16-24; John 10. 11-18 (view all)
A few weeks ago, Amy, Evie and I went up to the Lake District for few day’s break after Easter. Well, it rained for most of those days, but on the final day the weather was lovely, so we decided to visit Hilltop, famous for being Beatrix Potter’s house.
But of course, when we arrived the car ahead of us took the last space in the car park, so we had to drive on for another half mile to the next village along where we were able to park, before the walking back across the countryside to the House.
Eventually we managed to find a space before walking back, and I vividly remember Amy saying to me, ‘Do you think we should change into our walking boots?’ to which I replied, ‘No, we’ll be fine it’s a lovely day’. Famous last words!
We set out on the path, and before too long found ourselves in the middle of the muddiest, boggiest field you can imagine. Trying to traverse the terrain, we managed to get our shoes completely covered in mud and Evie began to complain, and so eventually we gave up completely and gave up and decided instead to the go the pub for some lunch.
When we think of Jesus as the good shepherd with his sheep, we often conjure an idyllic pastoral scene, but life is often much more like my muddy field, much more messy and complicated.
So I wonder, what can we learn from the picture Jesus paints to help us with the reality of our lives today?
The passage contrasts Jesus, the good shepherd, with the hired hand whose commitment to the sheep is only out of self-interest. The hired hand runs away at the first sign of trouble, but the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
It is this self-giving, Jesus’ giving of himself, that creates the pattern for all future discipleship:
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another1 Jn 3.16
With the hired hand, the sheep aren’t theirs, they are just doing their job — but the shepherd’s sheep are his own. As Jesus says, ‘I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.’
It is this intimate knowledge, this indwelling of one another, this communion if you like, between Father and Son, between shepherd and sheep, that lies at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. We are made for life with God.
However, often many of us settle with life for God — trying to please him by doing good — or life under God — trying not to do the wrong things or break the rules. These two ways of living are more about making us feel good about ourselves, where as life with God in communion can actually be much more challenging and unsettling.
To be willing to actually allow God in we have to face the prospect of being truly known, even with all our faults and failings, our insecurities and our shame.
No matter how hard we might try, nothing can replace the joy of spending our lives with God — knowing the peace of an intimate relationship with him that motivates us in turn to lay down our lives for others.
It is this joy, of which the Psalmist writes in those immortal words: ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’
I wonder this morning: Will we allow ourselves to draw ever closer to our loving God, the Good Shepherd, allowing his love for us to sink into our inmost being? Will we accept that God loves us as we are, not just for our unquestioning obedience or the false humility of our service?
And will we, in response to his incredible love for us, choose to extend love to those around us ‘not [just] in word or speech, but in truth and action’?
The great spiritual writer, and Roman Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, wrote this:
To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different [to the way of the world]. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice. Our minds have great difficulty in coming to grips with such a reality. Maybe our minds will never understand it. Perhaps it is only our hearts that can accomplish this.
Henri Nouwen, p. 46-47, Life of the Beloved
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, longs to draw us into the intimate knowing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in order that we might be drawn to life for others. As we come to his table this morning, may we come rejoicing in their, and our, communion of love.
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.