Sermon for Easter 4 Year A
By Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
What is our calling?
Today’s gospel reading from John 10 if the first part of a three part story which unfolds in this chapter. In this chapter Johns gives us insight into
1. Who Jesus is
2. What that implies for Him – that He will go on to lay down His life for us
3. What that implies for us – all that hear and believe Him will be safe for ever
But so often when we read chapter 10, and even some commentaries on today’s passage rush onto the second, better known and remembered part of the story, Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, before considering and understanding the importance of the first part of the story which sets the rest in context.
Because today’s reading is not about Jesus being the Good Shepherd – it talks about Jesus as the gate and a shepherd who the sheep will listen to
It’s talking about who He is, not yet about what that implies for Him or us
Firstly Jesus tells us He is the gate, the means of access in and out of the sheepfold. Access to the Father, Jesus states, is through Him and Him alone. He is the Messiah, the one who brings salvation and a restored relationship with God to the world.
Access to the Father is about a relationship, not about cerebral knowledge of the law or scripture. A relationship with Jesus, whom John tells us is one with the Father
As we come into the Father’s presence through Jesus, so the Father’s presence comes into us through Him too
This was radical stuff to those that heard it. No more the superiority of the law and the structures and strictures that it brought. Up until now access to God had been exclusively through the Priesthood in the Temple and certainly not something that had been available to all
But perhaps more radically still Jesus alludes to Himself as the one true shepherd who the sheep will listen to, all who had come before were thieves and robbers. And in this context the implication was more than just as a pastor of some lost sheep
In the time of Jesus to refer to oneself as a shepherd in the manner in which He did had distinct overtones of kingship.
The image which many of the hearers would have would be of David as the shepherd king and leader. Jesus meant for them to make the link
Bear in mind that this exchange seems to be taking place around the Feast of Dedication (Jn 10 v 22). It was a time when the Jews assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the rededication of the Temple 2 centuries earlier at the time the Maccabean revolt had overcome the Syrian Greeks to recapture the city.
They’d found one small container of oil in the temple which still had the High Priest seal on it and they used it to light the menorah which then lasted 8 days. The Feast of Dedication was when matters of authority and leadership and kingship where uppermost in their minds.
Having stated so clearly who He was, Gate, Messiah, Shepherd, King, His hearers, including the Pharisees, just like us, were faced with two questions.
On hearing what Jesus was saying, they had to decide if it was true, for them at least.
This is important, because if we are unclear on whom Jesus is; we become more unclear about the Christian message, and especially about the certainty of Christian hope
Secondly, we have to decide if we are going to listen to Him and not the many other voices around us which distract us from taking our full part in extending the Kingdom of God on earth
Just as it was in Jesus’ time, it’s a power struggle. Does he who shouts loudest always win? Just because someone shouts the loudest it doesn’t mean they are right.
Do we give in to the things that distract us or are our ears fully open to the call of Jesus on our lives?
It’s important because as Jesus calls us He does not call us to stay in the security of the sheep fold
He calls us as the shepherd who is the gate and invites us to step out into the uncertainty of the world, with only His voice to lead and guide us.
To enter into the messy world of pain, insecurity and doubt but the world where true sustenance is to be found. Where in living out our Christian calling we can find life in all its abundance.
If we stay in the security of our own sheepfold it initially may seem secure and cosy but ultimately we will wither away. We need the sustenance and experience that can only be found outside the sheepfold as we follow Christ.
It’s only by engaging with the world outside the sheepfold, with all its pain and difficulties, together with the blessings and the joys, that our faith is truly tested and strengthened and we find life in all its abundance.
Jesus actively wants us to step out into our vocation. Today is vocations Sunday in the Church of England, a day when we are called to look at our lives and understand the calling that God has for each one of us.
For many of us that will mean we carry on where we are, doing what we are doing, serving where we are serving. But perhaps for one or two it will mean a fresh challenge and a change in direction as we step out of the sheepfold once more into ‘pastures new’.
Outside the sheepfold there are no fences, there are no structures. There aren’t the constraints and guidelines of the Jewish law to guide us.
Only the voice of the shepherd who calls us out of the sheep pen and calls us to follow Him, wherever it may lead.