Fourth Sunday of Easter
Introduction and Call to Worship
We are the flock of the Good Shepherd whose love for us is undeserved and whose care for us is unending. May our hearts overflow with gratitude and joy as we worship Jesus our Lord, in Spirit and in truth. May we listen carefully to the shepherd of our souls, Jesus.
First Reading Acts 9:36-end
The Christian message was spreading outside Jerusalem, and Peter visited the new Christians and did God’s works amongst them.
Second Reading Revelation 7:9-end
The apostle John has a vision of heaven. He discovers a multitude worshipping God. These are Christians now delivered from the sufferings they had endured and receiving God’s blessings.
Gospel John 10:22-30
Opinion about Jesus was divided amongst the Jews. Many began to demand that he state categorically whether he really was the Messiah they had been awaiting.
HOMILY “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)
This past week, the UN has warned us that our ongoing loss of natural biodiversity is as much of a threat as climate change. The report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history, with the jaw-dropping revelation that one million species are currently threatened with extinction. To put it simply, the impact of humanity upon the world over which God gave us dominion is devastating and we are undermining the entire natural infrastructure on which we depend for survival.
In Cambridge a new department has been established to look at the challenges of climate change and identify new ways we can all live in harmony with the natural world rather than our present pattern of using its resources and throwing away so much. They are also looking for innovative ideas that could bridge the gap between our perceived needs and the ability of our world to adapt. The Church faces this challenge in the same way as all other people on planet Earth, but we have a unique voice and could, if we choose to speak into this debate with real conviction, lead change by example. It could be argued it is our destiny as people of faith!
But change doesn’t come easy to most people. Sometimes I think it is even harder for people of faith! Yet Jesus tells us that his flock, his sheep listen to his voice and that he leads them to pastures new. Are we listening to him now? Are we willing to change in the face of climate change and natural biodiversity loss? For the Jews of 1st century Palestine, the first five books of scripture, the TORAH or Law was their bedrock. Upon this all their traditions, rules and practices were founded and their hope for the future is magnified in the words of the great patriarchs, the kings and the prophets. At the point in time Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem, teaching, healing and loving, many of the people were longing for a saviour; a king to save them from their desperate plight at the hands of the Romans and renew their faith. So, this morning’s Gospel opens with the Jews crowding around our Lord, desperate for him to announce that he was their long-awaited Messiah, their King! He is reluctant to do so, probably because he knew that many had preconceived ideas of this king-like figure, a mediator, and what they wanted was not who he is! (A bit like when churches appoint new vicars… they have all sorts of ideas about what they want or think they need!)
If the people thought Jesus was about to lead a rebellion against the Romans, they would be in for a big disappointment! But our Lord also knew that an open proclamation would give the perfect excuse for those in power to attack or arrest him. The historical context was obvious: the people had failed to heed the warnings of their scriptures, the challenge of the prophets! They had failed to recognise the signs of God’s kingdom breaking. Jesus believed that if people were genuinely seeking him, they would work out who he was from his miracles and teachings and listen to him. Did they really listen to him? In the face of the warnings about climate change and biodiversity loss, are we listening, perceiving, acting, changing? Genuine seekers our Lord likened to sheep; that is those who belong to him. In Palestine in those days, shepherds did not drive sheep where they wanted them to go but the sheep were taught to recognise their own shepherd’s voice and followed when he called them. It was a relationship of total dependence and trust because Palestine was a harsh environment. The sheep depended upon their shepherd totally for their survival. The shepherd led them to food and water, protected them from wild animals, tended them when they were sick and carried them when they were weak. A shepherd’s care was not dependent upon anything the sheep did: all the sheep needed to do was follow where their shepherd led them.
Likewise, our Lord has genuine concern for his sheep who belong to him; you and me, we belong to him and we must listen to his voice, which I believe is speaking loud and clear today. Do we listen for Jesus, speaking in the Gospel, challenging us about our need to repent of the ways in which we are harming God’s greatest gift to us, our world in which we live and move and have our being? Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares so much for all people that he is willing to lay down his life by his death upon the cross. Remember how Jesus told the Jews that he would always protect his sheep, his flock, and would never let anything steal them away. His flock had been given to him by God and so not only knew his protection but that of his Father, too. Jesus associated himself closely with God, saying: “The Father and I are one.” No wonder the religious leaders wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy – they must have been outraged that he was saying he was one with God.
Yet, the truth is that God loves us and has given us Jesus to mediate, to bring us back to his creative love. God has also placed us in this incredible world with all its natural diversity and with it everything we need for human flourishing. As the sheep of his pasture, we need to be attentive to our master’s voice, listening to his call to change and acting upon that call. As we plan at St Mary’s and begin to look beyond our 20:20 Vision, we need to place our environment and God’s people right at the heart of all we are about, seeking to build this church up in ways that also protect our natural world. To do this we must take time now to listen and to hear God speak to us today, as the Good Shepherd will lead us to pastures new…and how exciting that is! Amen.
Climate change is happening now, and the impact is disastrous for life in all its forms. We have a God given responsibility to act now.
We must listen to the voice of the master and hear where he is leading us as individuals and the church. Being a Christian should lead to changed behaviour, not in order to earn God’s acceptance and blessing but as a grateful response to his unfailing love and the gift of creation in which we flourish.