A sermon preached at St Mary’s, Iffley by Andrew McKearney on Sunday 30th April 2023
Just a few thoughts about this morning’s gospel reading.
The tenth chapter of Saint John’s gospel is an exploration of the significance of Christ and his ministry using the image of a shepherd.
And this morning we heard:
- That he calls each of us by name
- That if we know his voice, we’ll follow him
- That he came to give us life, abundantly
It’s a chapter whose teachings we come back to year after year at this point in the Easter season, because of that fundamental experience that we have as Christians – Christ as the shepherd and guardian of our souls.
The gospels frequently comment on the sense of authority that Christ has – and Saint John draws this out in his gospel, using the phrase ‘I am’. This phrase has deep resonances in the Old Testament. ‘I am’ is the divine presence from whom Moses hid his face, afraid to look on God.
Now in the New Testament we hear Christ say:
I am the bread of life.
I am the light of the world.
I am the vine.
I am the resurrection and the life.
And in this morning’s Gospel reading from Saint John:
I am the gate, the way in, the point of access, the route to
come and go and find pasture.
No wonder when we hear this, our souls are nourished.
We heard the shepherd contrasted, firstly, with a thief and a bandit. They climb in by another way and they come only to kill and destroy.
Perhaps negative attitudes and thoughts that can diminish and destroy us. I wonder….True for us as a congregation?
Then there’s the contrast with the stranger, from whom the sheep, instead of following, run away because they don’t know their voice.
Perhaps things that we struggle with, aspects of ourselves that can seem difficult or strange. I wonder….True for us as individuals?
And a little later in the chapter, the hired hand is contrasted with the shepherd. The hired hand doesn’t own the sheep and doesn’t care for the sheep. Instead, the hired hand runs away at the first sign of danger, leaving the flock to be ravaged by wolves.
Perhaps fears that can either leave us frozen to the spot or running for our life. I wonder….True for us as a church?
These are contrasted with the way of the good shepherd.
The good shepherd enters the sheepfold by the gate – there’s an openness and transparency about the way the shepherd works.
The shepherd calls the sheep by name and leads them out – we’re in safe hands, and we can confidently come and go.
As the flock of Christ, both later on this morning in the hall and throughout the coming vacancy, there’s a particular responsibility on us to listen for Christ’s voice, to say when we recognise it and just as importantly to say when we don’t – when something doesn’t sit right or jars.
Because as Christ’s flock, we’ll only follow if we recognise the voice of the shepherd and guardian of our souls.
Only then will we be able to come in and go out and find pasture.
Only then will we have life, and have it abundantly.