1st Scripture Reading: Acts 2:42-47 & Psalm 23
IS the Lord my shepherd? Am I listening to anyone’s advice or guidance but my own – or some other person? Even in the reading from Acts, we hear that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” The followers of Jesus were not listening to the safe, common knowledge of the powerful people of Israel. They were paying attention to a different voice. They were in awe of the great works and miracles that the apostles were still performing – they heard God’s saving voice in the wondrous things that were happening. These were common folk – not the elite of society, not the privileged and well-educated necessarily. The movement did appeal to some of the rich and powerful, but not perhaps as much as to those who had been oppressed, dismissed, or were just plain poor. Jesus took his message to the streets and villages, and so did the apostles.
The reading from Acts shows us how the earliest converts to Christianity chose to live: generously (they shared everything), faithfully (singing praises to God and daily prayers), reverently (attending to Temple rituals), and joyfully (as they shared in God’s abundant, life-giving grace).
But we need to remember that no one forced them to make this choice – to be led by God, by the Good Shepherd. Some made the choice and were added, according to the Book of Acts, and the rest, obviously, did not. We all face that choice. Whether we choose to listen to the voice of God as Jesus, or as Holy Spirit (or both!); or whether we choose to deny the presence of God and go it alone, so to speak, that choice has consequences for our lives. Without the beacon of light that shows us the right direction, the life-affirming direction for our lives we may get lost. Without a star to guide us we may stumble into the dark and not be able to find our way out.
There is plenty of darkness in the world around us right now. But right alongside is the Way of Jesus who is still the Light of the World. I invite you to sit this morning in the very real presence of God. I invite you to declare in your hearts and minds a willingness to be guided by the Law of Love – and to let Jesus be the good shepherd who will always show you the way.
Hymn #747 VU – “The Lord’s My Shepherd”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25 & John 10:1-10
The reading from 1 Peter deals with the problem of suffering. The writer tells us that Jesus suffered for us, that by his wounds we are healed, and this had to happen because “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
Again, we see that there is advice to follow the teachings and guidance of Jesus as the Christ, the One who knows the Way and will help us to stay on track.
But there is also a reference to the suffering of Jesus, the way that he handled suffering, as a model for how we might handle suffering in our own lives. He sought no revenge or retaliation, he made no excuses, he blamed no one else, and he rested in God’s ever-present Grace. In God he found the strength to persevere, to lay down his life for his friends, and to surrender gracefully to death on the cross.
Every part of his life was sacrament – laden with meaning for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. All for us, amazing gift!
And it’s not over. He is the Good Shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and calls them out”. As in Acts: “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Again from John: “he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
Don’t know about you, but I’m not very comfortable being called “sheep”. Clarence Wood, senior was a missionary teacher in India, and he worked a lot with an indigenous people called “the Bhils”. This amazing man translated the New Testament into their language for them (first having developed a written form of that language) but couldn’t get these strongly independent people to accept the label of “sheep”. “Sheep are stupid animals,” they told Rev. Wood. He found that “goats are much smarter” and they would accept that label for these passages in the Bible.
But maybe my own discomfort comes from somewhere deeper. Perhaps I (and maybe we) are actually aware that we can be led like sheep by false gods, false teachers, the allure of money or power and such like. So perhaps the terminology fits, in that here we are reminded that we are never alone, and may easily be led astray without the guidance of the Divine, of the Good Shepherd who calls each of us by name.