Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life: raise us, who trust in him, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that we may seek those things which are above, where he reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
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.
The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.”
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
The Lord is my shepherd; •
therefore can I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures •
and leads me beside still waters.
He shall refresh my soul •
and guide me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; •
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me; •
you have anointed my head with oil
and my cup shall be full.
Surely goodness and loving mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life, •
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
1 John 3:16–24
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
Sermon on Easter 4
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. Amen.
This alternative collect sets the theme for my thoughts today, as I begin with these verses from today’s gospel.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. … and they will listen to my voice.
Jesus is speaking to us. However I have to ask, do we really hear him? Who is the shepherd of our souls? The shepherd of this scattered flock? The shepherd whose voice is heard and recognised by his own sheep?
As 21st century schizoid humanity, we can answer this in many different ways, one for each of the personalities we exhibit through course of our lives, or even through the waking hours of our day.
One way we can answer this is in what we call our “secular” lives by naming our head of state or prime minister. Perhaps it is our boss at work, since we are terrified by him. We stand in awe of the head of the department and bow to his authority. We quake when we have to approach his private office, his sanctum, don’t we?
In our personal lives, we name our life coach or guru, don’t we? There are many people we take as our leader, aren’t there? Sometimes this shepherd is closer to home, our loved ones, our family members, perhaps husband, wife, our children, then there might be father, mother, even a brother, or a sister…. So many people shepherd us in so many ways.
The question of this guiding shepherd presents itself to every generation. Sometimes it is a question that is never asked, as we listen to the many voices around us, as we are guided by someone else.
In our more reflective moments, don’t we wonder who cares for us as our shepherd? In this epoch don’t we wonder about the course of our life and what the guiding principles are in it? Clearly the early church struggled with this same question. Our gospel passage reveals this concern, don’t you think? Why else would this story come down to us? Why would the gospeller recount this story?
So, who is the shepherd whose voice we hear? This is not a question about delusion or brainwashing. We are not talking about the hearing of voices which no one else catches. It is a question about the voice we hear when our conscience is pricked and we are uncomfortable about everything around us. What is the voice we hear when the call of conscience – God’s call – screeches in our ear drowning out all the noise of the everyday? Who is this voice? Our gospel tells us that if we are the sheep, we hear our shepherd’s voice clearly.
Our text today sets a very difficult problem for each one of us. Do I really know that good shepherd as well as he says he knows me? I ask this question because I have been working on the farm again where there are sheep. These sheep run past me just as I want to look a particular lamb over. Whoosh, and ten lambs dash by and I am left standing there without a clue – I am the hireling, I am only a substitute shepherd, and I don’t know them well, and I certainly would not lay my life down for them at this point in my career as a shepherd.
So I am in two minds as to how helpful this image of the shepherd is for me. On the one hand, I am not a knowledgeable shepherd, for I don’t know the flock very well, I cannot tell each sheep apart from every other one. And, on the other hand, I am not very good at handling them. I am not sure of myself as a shepherd, and I cannot extrapolate from my knowledge to that symbol of the good shepherd, the symbol which the universal Church has held before us in so many ways in its history.
Does the good shepherd know me in that same way as I know that small flock? When we all begin chattering away in the anonymity of the crowd, does the shepherd get confused when my voice is raised in petitionary prayer amongst the gabbling of the rest of humanity. That shepherd has told us that he knows each and every one of his sheep – and I don’t know a thing when I stand there in the midst of the small flock I help with. I am dumbfounded as I stand in the midst of the pen – I am struck dumb as I stand here before the Lord.
“And they will listen to my voice…” Those words come to me and bolster me, even if I am not a very good shepherd. I know that I am not a very good shepherd, and my consciousness of my own deficiencies informs my image of the good shepherd. I know what I should be able to do with the sheep, but, like all humanity, I fail at the task before me.
So I have confidence in that good shepherd whose voice I hear in the call of my conscience. I hear a voice which is not tainted with the clamour of the everyday crowd which presses all around me, much like those sheep who congregate around me in the pen. I am able to look and observe what is happening. I am able to assess what is right and what is wrong around me. That sheep with a dodgy something clearly stares at me and I need to care for it.
When I hear the call of conscience, it is an imperative which drives me away from the crowd. Sometimes I do not even understand it either, but I am caught up with it – I am driven apart. I can no longer follow the herd. That call of conscience drives me into myself so that I must act on my own, for myself. Yet that doesn’t mean I withdraw from the world. Not at all! The call of conscience has driven me here, to stand before you and talk about that call, to speak about that voice of Jesus which speaks to my very self. It is nothing more, and nothing less, than pure authenticity, I may agree with the mass of humanity, but that decision is not just “going along” with the crowd. I stand as myself hearing the voice of my shepherd causing me to act consciously and conscientiously.
That shepherd’s voice is one we all hear, if we would take the time to listen. It is part of the clamour of everyday life. That voice underpins everything. When we can strip the everyday, ordinary things away from our lives, when we still those things that distract us from the good and noble, when we take away everything which deflects us from the divine, we are left with our conscience as it calls us to ourselves. IF we listen, then we will be able to follow the true path, in that flock which gathers together under the protection of Jesus, our good shepherd.