Community of Baptism

 

John 10:1-10

Acts 2:42-47

Metaphors can be messy.  Understanding what they mean does not always come easily.  In John 10, Jesus uses this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

They didn’t have the context, heart, and perspective to grasp how he is the gate and the shepherd of the sheep.  They do not recognize that his voice, and what he says, is processed in terms of their understanding of God as defined by their rules and tradition.

We may experience this metaphor through our knowledge of raising sheep, through the interpretations we have heard over the years, or in light of other scripture like the 23rd Psalm, what is going on in our lives, or any combination.  Yet our understanding is likely evolving as we experience it in relationship with Jesus and in relationship with each other.

As the flock in the metaphor, we are part of one community, led by one Shepherd, but exactly how that impacts our lives may remain unclear.

In the time of Jesus, sheep pens were made out of rocks.  A pen generally had only one entrance.  When the sheep were being herded through the entrance and into the pen, the shepherd would lay hands on each member of the flock.  He would run his hands through their wool to make sure there were no injuries or burrs or other things that needed attention.  Often the doorway to the sheepfold didn’t have a gate or any other type of physical barrier, so after checking the sheep, the shepherd would position himself physically across the opening.  He would be the gate to the sheep fold, placing his body where he could keep the sheep from escaping, and thieves, bandits, and animals that might do them harm, from coming in.  The shepherd literally was the gate.[1]

In the John passage we see that the shepherd welcomes the flock into safety.  We also see the shepherd calling the sheep by name and leading them out of the safety of the pen to find nourishment and refreshment.  Together the flock leaves the known of confinement staying tuned into the Shepherd’s voice to keep them on the right path into the unknown.

This morning I encourage us to look at our faith community as the sheepfold into which we enter and from which we exit into the world.  Our faith community is a place of security, a place of safety, a place of promise.  We enter through our relationship with Jesus, the shepherd who loves us, cares for us, protects us, and saves us.  We enter through the gate of claiming our identity as followers of Jesus the Christ, many at the time of our baptism.

Jesus is our shepherd-gate and he welcome and sustains all who seek a relationship with him.  As the shepherd, Jesus actively does what it takes to gather all into the fold, those with various colors of coats, those who are crippled, blinded, wounded, ostracized, attacked[2].

But not only Jesus takes on this role, He calls his flock to take it on as well.  We are not sheep, we are created in the image of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are called to care for one another, to love one another as God has loved us.

Life is not easy.  It is in community we find support to face what life brings our way.

Over the past few weeks I have witnessed a number of times where this faith community has watched over one another in Christian love.  There are quiet visits and conversations upholding some among us who are going through a difficult time, there are compromises as the flock works toward common ministry goals, times of shared stories which build community and faith, as well as times of holding one another accountable.

I have heard conversations turn to mutual exploration of what following the voice of Jesus means in our ministry to each other and our ministry to our community.  I have witnessed many hours of shared time and resources to help others experience God’s love through the simple gesture of sharing what we have with those who face tough times.

One example which showed me vividly how following the voice of Jesus and living out the covenant made with others at the time of their baptism has to do with getting immunizations.  In an act of love, hospitality, and concern, one of our members and maybe more, specifically ask to receive all the immunizations they need to be around young children.  Not because of grandchildren and great grand children, but because of children in our flock who she wants to protect by having the shots she needs to help them stay healthy.

Another was the desire to reach out to those in our community for whom coming to a chicken barbecue is not possible for many reasons.  Those who found names for us to share a meal with were amazed that we would think to reach out that way, those who made the gifts possible were touched by the lives of people who need to feel God’s touch, and those who received the meals were touched by that love through all of you who worked to prepare the meals, those of you who donated them, and by the one who delivered the meals.

In these and many of the things this flock does and will do, you watch over others in prayer, continually lifting their needs, for healing, justice, peace, and restoration, to the Good Shepherd and listen to His voice calling you to serve with love and sacrifice reaching out to those within the fold and those yet to come in through the Shepherd-gate.

Through your witness of focusing on the voice of the Good Shepherd you ignore the things that seek to distract and harm you and the flock.

As you devote yourself to studying the words of Jesus and the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer, Others are filled with awe at the many wonders and signs you perform.  As you share common goals and focus, break bread in and eat together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God you draw others into the fold where they will find the care and love of the Shepherd and the flock.

The church or sheep-fold that Luke portrays in Acts is counter-cultural, joyful, and a community that prays, praises, breaks bread, and to which God keeps adding.  As we live by that example we too will experience growth spiritually, as a faith community, and possibly, in numbers, truly living into our baptism in new and awesome ways.

 

[1] paraphrased form Fuquay, 55-57, by Dr. Dawn Cheser, Discipleship Ministries Fourth Sunday of Easter Preaching Notes 2017

[2] Dr. Dawn Chesser Fourth Sunday of Easter Preaching Notes 2017

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