Slideshow image

Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, also called Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear a selection in the Gospel from John 10, Jesus teaching about himself as the good shepherd. Those of us who preach, and for me it will be 50 years in a couple of years, often despair a bit when a Sunday with such a familiar reading comes up again. But as one commentator I read pointed out, every once in a while, something completely fresh jumps out of a familiar passage, grabs my attention, and makes me wonder why I hadn’t noticed it before. And that’s what happened this week.

So here it is: in the middle of Jesus’ discourse on being “the good shepherd,” what jumped out at me this time was Jesus’ simple but bold assertion that, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Have you ever thought about the phenomenal implications of that statement before?

What strikes me is that, quite simply, Jesus isn’t done yet. Despite his healing ministry, despite his preaching, despite all that he had already done and planned to do, Jesus isn’t done yet. He still has more sheep to reach, sheep that are not in this fold. So, I’d suggest that God isn’t done yet.

And this matters for at least three reasons.

First, God continues to call people from all walks of life, from every nation on the face of the earth, and from each and every generation across the  two thousand years or so since Jesus first uttered those words until today. If that were not true, you and I would not have come to faith and we certainly would not be giving our lives to the task and joy of living the Gospel of Christ.

Second, God is at work in our midst and through us and gatherings like St. Margaret’s, to extend the invitation to abundant life offered by the Good Shepherd. Can we believe that God is using our lives, actions and words to invite others to faith? Can you imagine that simply by praying for someone or inviting someone to church you might be a vessel by which God continues to reach out and embrace God’s beloved sheep from beyond this fold?

Third, the members who will one day constitute Jesus’ flock are beyond our imagining. There is a sense of expansiveness to Jesus’ statement here, and we do not know – for neither Jesus nor John’s gospel tells us – just what are the limits of the fold Jesus describes. All we know is that Jesus – and therefore God – isn’t done yet. Jesus is still calling, God is still searching, and in time we will all be, as Jesus says, one flock under one shepherd.

In a period in time when there is a decline in attendance in many churches more than a few of us are concerned because people we know, friends and family members, who no longer go to church, who don’t necessarily identify as Christian anymore, or who have explored other faiths or life with no faith. I think Jesus’ announcement in John 10, lets us say with confidence that God is not done yet, that God works in ways beyond our imagining to bring together one flock, and that Jesus Christ’s mercy and grace are for all.

What makes me bold to proclaim these promises even though I don’t know for sure the fate of the various people you and I are concerned about? Just this: Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who laid down his life for the sheep – all the sheep! – and who was raised to life once again, confirming the validity of his sacrifice and promise. This means, I think, that while we may not know all that God has in mind for those who have followed different paths, I nevertheless entrust them all to the mercy and grace of the Good Shepherd.

Sometimes I have travelled to a small Episcopal parish on what is known as Hawaii Island, the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Thanks to the active volcanos there it is still growing in size as from time to time lava flows from the volcanos to the sea and creates new land. The parish has no resident priest but depends upon a rotation of clergy from the mainland that come for a month or two. There’s often a waiting list of clergy to go there. There is no stipend but a pleasant house and a car are at the disposal of the visiting clergy and their family, even their guests. The parish is titled St. Jude’s. It is in Ocean View which is a somewhat disadvantaged community. St. Jude, you may know, is the patron saint of impossible situations, lost causes and hope. As patron saint, Jude has more than enough to keep him busy in Ocean View. The parish is always alert for ways to reach out to their community. This has taken many forms. One of the most unique programs from about a decade ago is the building of a community health shower with a really big catchment tank to supply it with water. Many homes in the community lacked electricity and some didn’t have running water. The cost of running hydro lines is prohibitive for many people in the community. So the idea was born to provide a place for folks from the community to shower and through the generosity of people in the parish and the wider community it got built. On Saturday mornings people start arriving around 9 and sign up for a shower time. The attendants invite the next person on the list once the shower has been vacated and cleaned. After all the years this has been operating most of the regulars take it upon themselves to clean the shower after they use it leaving little for the attendants to do other than a quick check of the facility and get soap, shampoo and a towel before the next person comes in. Saturday morning soup or chilli or hot dogs or something like that is prepared in the church kitchen and served to anyone who would like to have some, no charge. The multipurpose room that serves for worship on Sundays becomes a kind of community centre with a group playing cards at one table, folks chatting over their lunch at others and some people charging their phones or iPads at outlets in the building or on the patio, even using the WiFi that the church keeps open for general use throughout the day. In the early days there were two groups at St. Jude’s on Saturdays, the “church people” and the “shower people.” Years later it’s harder to categorize as some of the “shower people” have also become “church people” and are there on Sundays as well. Hundreds of showers and hundreds of servings of soup later, the Good Shepherd has found some who hear and recognize his voice and been gathered into this fold through the practical and caring response of a small, faithful group of Anglican Christians.

So perhaps some of the anxieties we harbour and concerns we hold regarding those who have left the faith or seem to be on the edge of our community or have not heard of or yet believed in the good news of God’s grace. We might also pray for them, asking that God would work in us and through us to share the abundant life we’ve experienced. But we might also pray that we grow to entrust to God the fate of all God’s children and God’s flock simply because of the faith God showed in us by sending the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for us and all people out of nothing other than sheer, abiding, and eternal love.

Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd can bring a measure of encouragement and comfort to all who bear concern for those who may appear so far from the fold. Who knows? Those who look so far off may be just a few hot showers and bowls of soup away from hearing the Shepherd’s