Fourth Sunday of Easter
Introduction and Call to Worship Today we recall the story of the good shepherd and Jesus as the gateway to eternal life. May he give us the ability to welcome that life in all its abundance for ourselves and have the confidence to share the message of faith with others - our Christian vocation. Today’s Readings First Reading Acts 2:42-47 After the awe-inspiring events of Pentecost, the new converts in Jerusalem begin to form a community of faith, sharing prayers, possessions and food together. Second Reading 1 Peter 2:19-25 Like Jesus, we may be called to suffer unjustly for our faith but we know that by following Jesus’ example, we shall have eternal life. Gospel John 10:1-10 Jesus recounts the parable of the good shepherd, who knows each of his sheep by name and leads them to find pasture through the gate of eternal life. HOMILY “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) What is your vocation? What are you called to do, to be, to share with others? Today is both Good Shepherd Sunday and Vocations Sunday all rolled into one and we are asked to reflect, at whatever stage of life we are, what it is that we can give, do and be. I was told this story about a six-year-old boy named Stuart, who was having lunch with his family at Nana’s house. Everyone was seated around the table as chicken and roasted vegetables were brought in on a large platter. He dived straight in. “Stuart!”, his mother barked across the table, “Wait until we have said our prayers.” “I don't need to”, he replied, continuing to fill his plate and his face. “Of course, you do”, his mother insisted. “We always say prayers before eating at our house.” “That's at our house, Mummy”, Stuart explained. “But this is Nana's house and she knows how to cook!” Giving thanks for our food, indeed all our gifts, is an important place to start in these challenging times, as we reflect upon the blessings of our own lives, pray for our families and friends, especially those whom we are missing; remember those less fortunate than ourselves and perhaps also ask God to inspire our sense of call and vocation to service. Basil the Great wrote: ‘God chooses those who are pleasing to Him. He put a Shepherd at the heart of His people.’ Indeed, we see in Jesus a vocation to shepherd God’s people, to keep them safe and to serve and suffer for them. Jesus is a continual presence of prayer, pointing back to God always and in all situations. As our pattern for vocation, Jesus shows us the way to the Father and a way to give of our own gifts and abilities to help others. To do something because it is our vocation means an action without a great financial reward at the end of it because vocation is not simply career driven or financially motivated. We are living through a time when the vocation and service of others is keeping food on our tables and affording us the care we need when we are most vulnerable, sick or even dying. The courage, fortitude and compassion of keyworkers in the face of COVID-19 are astounding; the medics, carers, supermarket staff, teachers and so many more people, many of whom have less income than us. Thank heavens for their sense of vocation and commitment to what they do. Rightly we applaud them and give thanks for their vocation, determination and faithfulness. Jesus is the good shepherd, who cares for his sheep, but he is also the gate to the sheepfold – he decides who can pass through to the other side, which could seem to be a controversial assertion. To understand, we need to think back to ancient Israel and the setting for this Gospel. Try and imagine the scene: an enclosure, perhaps a courtyard in which the sheep might have been kept safe at night or during bad weather. It may have been a place where they lambed – but certainly a place of safety and shelter. It could have been shared by the flocks of several owners, with an important responsibility passed to the gatekeeper. They have the knowledge of all the sheep and the shepherds that work with them and they would only let the right shepherds in. Thinking about our own community, have you noticed how many homes now have gates? I am told the ones into the vicarage car park kept going wrong, so were disabled and have not worked in nine years. With the churchyard and Vicarage car park presently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these gates are manually shut and chained, and they form quite a formidable barrier. Let us hope we can get them open again one day soon! Another example from Thorpe is that houses in this village are traditionally surrounded by high red brick walls – a barrier to keep people out who should not be inside and perhaps in times gone by, keep animals inside! In some locations we use tall fences, prickly hedges and all sorts to keep out the unwanted visitor and keep those inside safe – not unlike the sheepfold. But who guards the entrance? Farming animals, being a shepherd, is also a vocation. Historically sheep were not driven, they were led. They knew their own shepherd; he would have spent most of his time with them, nurturing them for their wool rather than killing them for their meat. He would lead them out into the pastures for their nourishment, not driving them with a dog, and they would follow only him because they knew the sound of his voice. In verse 3, we read, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Clearly the other flocks in the fold won’t be called, because they are owned by and follow different shepherds. Those who really know their shepherd won’t follow any other but will go in and out through the gate in safety with their own shepherd. Jesus is speaking here to two audiences: first of all his disciples and followers – you and I – who are his flock and secondly to the Pharisees and religious leaders of his own day who rejected his message – the “thieves”. Of course a door lets people and animals out as well as in, so the gateway of Jesus is not only our route into heaven as his flock, it is also the means by which during our lifetimes we receive the spiritual nourishment of God’s message of salvation in the pastures to which Jesus leads us, in which we are called to live out our own vocation of service. Our church community of St Mary’s is just such a place of safety in which we hear the Shepherd’s voice and learn more about discipleship, as we will do on our Emmaus Course starting this week. Our shepherd is Jesus, for he is the only “right way” in and out and he longs to look after us, as a shepherd guards his sheep. Given the safety of the fold and the way God equips us for service and provides for our needs, we have so much to be thankful for – not least the vocation of many in this time of crisis but also our own gifts – even the food on our tables, however appetising! So, friends, what is our vocation, our call as the sheep of our Lord’s flock today? Some will be called to ordination or lay ministry in the Church, some to serve their communities, some to be evangelists in their daily settings. But all of us, as Christians, have a vocation to speak God’s inclusive word to others, so that all who hear will know our master’s voice and follow him safely into his fold too, and give thanks in prayer and worship. Amen. SUMMARY 1. Our lives should be spent learning to know and follow the familiar voice of our Lord, and not in being distracted. To share our faith is our Christian vocation – as is the need to pray. 2. The good shepherd is the one who looks after his sheep, leading them out of the sheepfold to find nourishing pastures and bringing them safely home at the end of the day. 3. Jesus tells us that we must all pass through his gateway if we wish to have eternal life. To know Jesus is to know the Father – Jesus is a window onto God. 4. Once we have familiarised ourselves with God’s voice in Jesus, we too must learn to speak so that others may hear his message of salvation through us.