Easter - Fourth Sunday -B-2018 Acts 4: 8-12 1 John 3: 1-2 John 10: 11-18
Accustomed to picturing Jesus as the "Good Shepherd", it is easy to forget that originally he did not apply that image to himself. From Matthew and Luke the 'shepherd' metaphor was employed to show Jesus' concern for sinners, the 'lost', the marginalised. Jesus was a carpenter/ mason - not a shepherd.
But by the time John's gospel is written - in the mid-90s - Jesus is the shepherd. What he once preached, he has become. "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." This is the claim of the Jesus alive and actively working in the young Christian community. That Jesus is more than just a preacher with a faith-message - he is now at the centre of faith.
We see that same process at work in to-day's other two readings. Notice in the Acts passage, how Jesus, and not just his preaching, is at the centre of Peter defense in regard to the cure of the cripple - the man Peter cured 'was made whole in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The preachers in Acts are preaching Jesus, not just the message Jesus preached.
The author of 1 John takes us one step further. Not only is Jesus important, but those who imitate him share in that importance! We like him have become"children of God". And that importance is not only for this world - it gets better in the future: "What we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". One day we also shall be preached!! How does that make you feel?
But there are certain things that have to be accomplished before that day arrives. Jesus in the gospel reading refers to one of them - "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead...and there will be one flock and one shepherd"
Accomplishing unity among ourselves and with other Christian traditions has been and is a daunting task.
The splits and divisions which originated in the Reformation, five hundred years ago, are still fresh in our historical minds. They are evident in the day by day living of our Christian lives. There never really has been a time in our 2000 year history in which all followers of Jesus have been completely one. Many of Paul's letters highlight the divisions between Jewish and Gentile Christians. And there are John's later letters that show theological chasms separating some Christian communities. As regards unity, our church has never had any "good old days" about which we can boast, reminisce and imitate. There have always been those 'other sheep'.
In these uneasy times for the Christian faith, we need, more than ever, to find practical ways to join together, seek together Gospel values and guidelines for action to know in which direction we are to walk creatively into the future. (That could well be the motto for diocesan and national synods.)
Is that happening? Are we taking steps to create a climate of mutual listening and dialogue? Are bishops and pastors in tune with our real needs - offering guidance and encouragement? Are we making avenues to overcome difficulties?
Ultimately the solution lies in putting the person of Jesus at the centre of our faith. Nothing or no one else can unite us. It is Jesus whom we imitate, Jesus whom we preach. Though many Christian churches and communities can boast of a long tradition of heroic actions and deep faith, if our faith and actions aren't rooted in the Risen Jesus among us, those actions and that faith will simply and certainly lead to more divisions among us.
Challenged by to-day's readings, we pray the Good Shepherd to help us create the climate of rapprochement, mutual listening, mutual respect and humble dialogue we need so much.