You can watch our Easter 4 Zoom Service here, or just watch the Sermon here
Our S Club Video is here, and the Puppet Video on its own is here.
The Readings were Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10
Here is our sermon:-
Another item to add to the “strange” list for this time of Pandemic is not preaching every week. For the last 10 years, apart from my 5 Sundays off every year, I have been preaching every Sunday, and some Sundays, two or three times. But it has been good to have the opportunity to hear others preach, to hear a different voice other than my own, to hear a different take on the scriptures. I don’t often get that opportunity. I am looking forward to hearing some of our other good preachers in this circuit.
It was good to hear Glyn last week, and I particularly today want to pick up on what he said about the early Christians being called “the people of the way”, as this is one of the themes of today’s reading from John.
One of the benefits from the way we are doing worship now and sending out by email or post the readings is that you will have had a chance to look at and ponder the scripture for longer than normal. In church often we have the reading, it happens quite quick, and then we are into a hymn and the sermon, all before you have had a chance to digest the reading. Take a moment to read the reading a few times through before the service, you can also even have it to hand as you hear the preacher. Perhaps that can become a discipline for us when we come out of lockdown.
You have probably heard this said many times before, but it’s worth repeating. John’s gospel explores who Jesus is, and the author does this through 7 signs, and 7 “I am” statements. The 7 signs are the miracles, the wedding at Cana, healing of the official’s son, healing at the pool of Bethesda, feeding of the 5000, walking on water, healing of the blind man, and the raising of Lazarus. I am not going to tell you all the 7 “I am” statements, we will find one in our reading today, and your challenge this week is to find the other 6. These 7 signs, and 7 “I am” statements all point to Jesus as being the true king, the Messiah, the one who was to come to save us all.
Verses 1-5 of this reading are a parable, a story with a hidden message or a hidden question for us to ponder on. John is prompting his readers to think “Is this Jesus the Messiah?”. The parable is another pointer to help the reader realise this truth. The bible often uses the image of a shepherd and his sheep to show what a good king looks like whose people hear his voice and want to follow him (or her). Another pointer to the truth.
I have many memories of using this reading at Family Services and Parade Services across my 31 years preaching. I can see myself making a circle of chairs with a gap in it at the front of the church, getting some willing volunteers out to be the sheep. (Complete with accompanying sheep noises). Corralling them in the makeshift Sheep Fold and showing how the Shepherd would have lain down in the gap to become the “gate” to physically protect the sheep and keep them safe; just as Jesus describes in the story. A simple action but bringing the parable and the explanation to life.
Just after Theresa and Gordon got married, when they went for their honeymoon, their young dog Dany, came to stay with us. Poor dog, she had adopted Theresa as her mummy and was terribly anxious, constantly looking to see where Theresa was, and looking at us with those sad Labrador eyes saying, “Why has she abandoned me?” We did our best to love her and care for her. Part way through the week, I decided I would be brave and let her off the lead in the park. I was fearful that she would not come back when I called her. She bounded across the park and ran up to be friendly with 2 greyhounds. The greyhounds were not very well behaved or controlled and started viciously attacking Dany and biting her. So, as you can imagine I was in quite a panic. Here was I entrusted to look after Theresa’s precious Dog, and the first time I let her off the lead she is attacked. I screamed at the top of my voice across the park “Dany, come here”, and much to my surprise and relief, Dany came running towards me with the Greyhounds hot in pursuit. I ran at the greyhounds with fists and feet flying shouting nasty things at them, enough to frighten them away. Fortunately, they had not broken Dany’s skin and she soon recovered from her fright.
Why did she come to me? I suppose she knew that I was her protector, the one who was caring for her at that moment, I was the one providing for her at that moment. I was the place of safety, I was the one who would re-assure her, and comfort her. I was the one who was going to show her love in that moment. She recognised my voice.
Tom Wright in his commentary on this reading reminds us that in the middle east often, even to this day, all the sheep in a village will be put into a common sheepfold, and a shepherd will call out his own sheep one by one, naming them. They will recognise his voice and come to him.
In the parable, Jesus tells of “thieves and bandits”, and he’s referring to leaders in his lifetime, either keen to bring the country into confrontation, or keen to hold onto their power by getting into bed with the Romans (ie Herod). We can all think of leaders around the world who we do not trust, and would not listen to their voice, and certainly would not follow them if they called us.
Jesus on the other hand, we are beginning to recognise his voice, and are beginning to want to follow him and follow his way, and his ways. We are beginning to trust him. One day we will trust him fully and follow him all the way to the kingdom. He knows us, each of us, and can name us one by one, and he does call us, and ask us to follow him. Let us listen for his call, and know that we can trust him, and know that we are loved and cared for by him and choose to follow him. Remember this is a sign of a true king that their people want to follow them.
Jesus has gone on ahead of us, and prepared the way for us, and prepared a place for us. One of the most comforting readings that we have in our Funeral service is that of John 14, where Jesus tells his frightened disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’
Jesus says, “Very Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep”. Its Jesus who puts his life on the line for us and lays down to be the protector of our sheep fold. It is Jesus who is our carer, our protector our provider. It is Jesus who offers us love and healing.
It is Jesus who saves us, often not maybe from nasty greyhounds chasing us, but often from ourselves and the bad decisions we often make in our lives. By following Jesus, and following the way, he encourages us to make good decisions in our lives, to love rather than hate or lust, to look to hope instead of despair, to live generously rather than in greed, to forgive rather than seek revenge, and to seek peace instead of conflict. By following Jesus, we like the author of Psalm 23 will be led to find good pasture – the promised land, the kingdom, eternal life, heaven, whatever we want to call it.
Let’s do our best to listen for Jesus calling us in our lives, and when we hear our names called, to rise up continually and follow him, and to follow all his ways, and to let him save us to be his people, his flock, his followers, his disciples. Let us go to where Jesus is leading us and serve and love those, he brings us to meet on the way to fresh pastures and the promised land.
Lastly Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. Abundance, an overflowing, “our cup overflows” as the Psalmist says. God’s love, when we look for it, when we can see it is in abundance. We are seeing during this pandemic and overflowing of love in our communities and we are recognising the sacrificial love and care that the staff in our NHS are providing, and many others. We’ve been blown away by the generosity of care and love in our community, the people who shop for others, who pick up prescriptions, those working in food banks, those making scrubs, face visors, scrub bags, headbands.
How do we respond to this? By showing our love and care back, in the clap for the NHS on Thursdays, in the minute silence for those who have died, in our prayers and in our giving.
What of a full life? Jesus died so that we can have a full life, a life fulfilled. Materialism does not satisfy, money doesn’t satisfy, love does. We will leave the last words to Tom Wright:- “The call today for Jesus’ sheep, for us, is to listen for his voice, and to find in him and him alone the life which is overflowing indeed.” Amen.