Sunday 20th February 2022

Reading: John 10:1-10

Reflection

Often our two readings this morning would be read as one single reading but I have split them for a reason. I have been trying to look through a different lens when journeying through Jesus’ ‘I am’ sayings.

This morning’s focus could not be any more different from last week’s but it will take both readings to get there. Remember when addressing the Pharisees Jesus said, ‘I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going’. Our first reading is almost like a transition piece. Those who know the shepherd’s voice will follow but they will run away from the voice of a stranger. Even with this familiar description they do not understand. Jesus then lays the foundation for our second reading when he says, ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep’. ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. And then our second reading will begin with the words, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’. We will look at the other reading in a while but before moving on to unravel some of that let’s pause for a moment and look at this transition piece. So often in life we skip over the grounding of things, the preparation work, if you like, as we merrily skip towards the ending and the ‘what does all of that mean’ conclusion. What then is this preparation, this transition telling us? We heard last week the Pharisees were described as spiritually blind. Now as well as being the legal eagles and the well learned studiers of scripture this group were also meant to be the watchmen and the shepherds of Israel. Jesus likens their blindness and lack of understanding to thieves and robbers who do not lead the sheep through the proper gate. Through this proper gate the people of God will find themselves in the safety of the sheep pen. Before COVID when I was away on a ‘Path of Renewal’ conference we were discussing the different roles that ministers must fulfil. One of those roles is shepherd or pastor. We reflected on that role and if it is always to be seen as the one out front with the rest following on behind. We tried unpicking some of that and how there are times when to be pastoring and leading people there is a need to move away from that out front position and join the people in the middle of the flock and walk alongside them for a while. There are other times when to be an effective pastor or shepherd you must go the back and urge the flock forwards. I think there is much to be said in support of each of these. When out front you have that unhindered view of all that lies before you and the flock and you should be able to plan a safe journey. When placed at the back, that clear vision may be lost but what you gain is seeing the flock, looking for those who may be straying right or left and becoming dislodged from the others. Then of course walking alongside allows that more personal interaction to take place as the flock get to know the shepherd’s voice and learn to place their trust in it. Jesus concludes this first reading with a most wonderful statement or promise, a reassurance that following him will lead to eternal life, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

Reading: John 10:11-21

Reflection

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.’ The historical context is set by many as Jesus has left Galilee and journeyed up to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles in the autumn of 28AD. This is now towards the end of that year. This description of the shepherd is used in other parts of scripture and arguably the most known one being Psalm 23. We also find references in the prophets Isaiah, ‘he tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart’ and in Ezekiel the entire chapter 34 speaks about shepherds and sheep. This speaks of God’s flock being without a shepherd and has become food for the wild animals. The shepherds did not search for God’s flock but looked after themselves. Then God pronounces, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.’ Ezekiel probably develops this imagery of shepherd and flock more than any other in scripture. But the image is there from the very first book of Genesis when Jacob speaks of God being his shepherd all the days of his life. To the very last book of Revelation where we read, ‘For the lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; and he will lead them to springs of living water’. Such rich imagery, powerful but yet so gentle. This relationship between Christ and his people acted out with this vivid picture of the eastern shepherd tending to and protecting his flock from the surrounding dangers.

Jesus again speaks of him and the Father being one, therefor, all people are one in the eyes of God. There will be one flock with one shepherd caring for them. All of this talk is more than the authorities can handle and not for the first time, certainly not for the last time, battle lines are drawn as people begin to choose if they believe in Jesus or not and take their place on whatever side of this diving line they wish to stand.

Where are we the church placed in this picture that Jesus paints? Through him as the good shepherd are we leading people into the safety of the sheep pen being his church here on earth? Jesus is more than capable of being our Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for His flock. In essence, the Good Shepherd, became a Lamb, that One sacrificial lamb who died for the sins of all mankind. In Jesus the roles were reversed. The Shepherd sacrificed Himself for His sheep. Jesus laid down his life for you and me. Jesus knows he is with the father and the father with him. When you put yourself out there as a shepherd or pastor of the flock you make yourself vulnerable. When you are taking on the cares and troubles of those given to you to care for. You cannot help sometimes, when life’s troubles come a knocking, who pastors the pastor? Where does the shepherd go to be shepherded? When all the shepherd wants to do, or maybe even needs to do, is sit down and cry, who is there for them? In another agricultural image to describe this. Being the shepherd, being the pastor can sometimes lead to you ploughing a loan furrow and that can be a really draining experience both physically and emotionally and it is at this point the shepherd needs to know just as Jesus knew he had the father by his side so too the pastor/shepherd has Christ by theirs.

This I AM saying of Jesus is loved by so many as we recognise within ourselves that we all need a Shepherd. However wise we become regarding the ways of the world I don’t believe there is anyone who has never need guidance on one matter or another. However learned we become of the scriptures, I don’t believe there is anyone who has ever exhausted the mysteries of God; Father, Son and Holy Sprit. The journey goes on and wherever we find Jesus on that journey we will know his voice and we will know we can trust that voice because all it ever wants to do is lead us to the safety of that pen where life will be lived in full.

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