Today’s gospel about abundant life offers so many things to think about—Jesus as the Good Shepherd; we sheep who follow the voice of our shepherd; the strangers, thieves and bandits who try to call us away from Jesus; and then, finding that Jesus himself is the gate through which we pass to enter into God’s everlasting security and abundant life.
Jesus used these images because shepherds and the sheep pens that dotted the landscape were a familiar sight to those who were listening to him. According to a meditation on The Our Daily Bread website, the sheep pens were probably made of stone, or possibly wood, about three feet high. Toward evening, the shepherd would lead the sheep into the sheep pen to protect them from predators. Some of these enclosures were large enough for several flocks, so a watchman stood guard and allowed only certain shepherds and sheep to enter through the one gate into the sheep pen. In smaller pens that held only one flock, the shepherd himself would serve as the gate. Once the sheep were inside the pen, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance to the pen to serve as protection to the sheep through the night, and to keep out anyone or anything who might try to harm the flock.
For us Christians, Jesus is gate through which we find God. Jesus is also the shepherd, the one who leads and guides us once we hear his voice, the one who leads us in and out and helps us to find the pasture in which we have all we need.
This gospel reminds us, though, that often we hear the voices of the “thieves and bandits” of this world instead of the voice of Jesus, and so we choose not to enter the sheep pen, even when Jesus calls us, because other things seem more inviting, or more necessary.
“In ten verses of packed metaphor, John gives us sheep, a sheepfold, a shepherd, a gate, a gatekeeper, a pasture, a sneaky band of thieves and bandits, and an even more sinister group of smooth-tongued “strangers.” At one point, the Gospel writer comes right out and says, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying.” No kidding!
“For me, a particular revelation of Jesus happened when I thought about the metaphors in this Gospel passage alongside <a href=Frykholm’s article about the tenacious little border church between the United States and Mexico. Suddenly, as I imagined eager, loving hands reaching through small gaps in a cold, steel barrier, as I pictured the insistent sharing of song, prayer, bread, and wine across a bleak, intractable border, the resonance of Jesus’s metaphor hit me full force. “I am the gate.” Not, “I am the wall, the barrier, the enclosure, the dividing line.” Not, “I am that which separates, isolates, segregates, and incarcerates.” I am the gate. The door. The opening. The passageway. The place where freedom begins.
“What is it in me that resists the open gate? Where in my life am I walled off, closed to change, averse to movement, risk, freedom, joy? What flock do I belong to, and whose voice do I follow most readily? What calls to me, making seductive promises I shouldn’t trust? Do I know the shepherd well enough to recognize his call? Am I willing to leave the fold in order to find pasture, or am I too complacent, scared, suspicious, and jaded to pursue abundant life?
“For almost ten years now, a group of Christians have gathered on Sunday mornings at Friendship Park, a plaza along the U.S-Mexico border wall, to share worship and Communion. Apparently, this “border church” has survived every obstacle the U.S Border Patrol and shifting United States/Mexico relations have thrown at it.
Where others see a place of crime, fear, death, and hopelessness, Fanestil [one of the founders insists that those who gather for worship and Communion each week see “a place of encounter, exchange, friendship, and fellowship.” In other words, they make it their practice to see Jesus. Jesus, the gate. Unlocked. Wide open. Inviting. Free. May we have eyes to see him, too.
“Needless to say, most of us — left to ourselves — don’t associate “gates” with freedom. We think of bars and locks and alarms and enclosures. We imagine toddler gates, maybe, or puppy training gates. Prison gates and “gated communities.” But what if Jesus is a different kind of gate? A gate that opens out instead of closing in? Not the barrier itself, but the aperture in it? A place of release? Movement? Spaciousness? Liberty? “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Amaryllis from Cookie on the altar
Good Shepherd Sunday
The Earth Day 2023 Theme is “Invest In Our Planet. What Will You Do?” We are focusing this year on plastics consumption. The Earth Day site has a plastics calculator
We are holding a “trashy contest.” Prizes will be given at the end of April at in the following categories for trash you pick up and throw away on walks- amount of trash, grossest piece of trash, smallest and large piece of trash. Bring your entry to church on Sunday, April 30.
Shred-it is scheduled for Wednesday, May 10. Time has not been arranged. Dispose of sensitive documents safely and securely, and free up needed space at home or work.
Clients at the Village Harvest increased from 81 in March to 104 in April. Ongoing, the church is now advertising with local social service and Caroline County Schools to increase visits. 104 represents the largest number since Jan, 2022 where there were 115. It was additionally above last year’s April figure of 70.
Food in pounds were 1,365 representing the largest amount of food available since last Dec.
The food is divided into produce, grocery items and meat. The graph compared April 2023, 2022 and 2021 and then 2019. (There was no distribution in 2020 due to the pandemic.) Produce recovered in April, 2023 up to 51% of the total after slipping to 35% and 27% in 2022 and 2021, respectively. It now exceeds in percentage 2019, the last normal year prior to the pandemic.
Despite the improvement year to date after 4 months, we are 12% below 2022 in clients and 20% under in available food.
I.Theme – Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the many ways this is fulfilled.
"Jesus the Good Shepherd" Jacques Le Breton and Jean Gaudin (1933)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
The first weeks from Easter were different lenses on the resurrection and appearances of the Risen Lord, first with Thomas and then the Road to Emmaus. After this Sunday attention will turn to the teachings of the departing Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit in preparation for Pentecost. But this week its the shepherd/ sheep image as a way of talking about the enduring and deep connection of Jesus and those who follow him
Psalm 23 provides the role of God as good shepherd in terms of defense (protection amd care and the idea we having nothing to fear) but also in direction ( guidance, reviving our lives).
The final verse of the Epistle makes the connection to Good Shepherd Sunday. "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." Suffering isolates. This passage and Christian faith connect and keep us connected when suffering.
John’s reading speaks of Jesus as both the Shepherd and the gate. The connection is both personal and loving. "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." We have to listen to his voice and watch out for strangers. There are those who are false shepherds, who are more interested in themselves than in caring for the sheep.
The final verse, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" is a good corrective to what can be an overemphasis on selflessness, self-sacrifice, deprivation and denial as the sign of true faith. Jesus speaks of abundance not in terms of material goods but a fullness in life.
1. May 4 – The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May. On this day, people of all faiths pray for the nation. Since the first call to prayer in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation, the call to prayer has continued through our history, including President Lincoln’s proclamation of a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1863. There will be a national service on 8pm-10pm or here
2. Julian of Norwich, May 8. What does a 14th Century Mystic have to with us ? One of the first women authors, her visions (“showings”) of Christ continue to inspire.
We also know her by her famous quote “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” We celebrate her day on May 8.
Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love is based on a series of sixteen visions she received on the 8th of May 1373. In her 30th year she was expected to die from an illness. “Then, on the seventh day, the medical crisis passed, and she had a series of fifteen visions, or “showings,” in which she was led to contemplate the Passion of Christ. These brought her great peace and joy. She became an anchoress, living in a small hut near to the church in Norwich, where she devoted the rest of her life to prayer and contemplation of the meaning of her visions.”
Listen to a podcast on her with a brief article.
3. “The Balanced Diet of Prayer” This is an article by the Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew R. Wright.
“However we pray, it’s important to attend to the range of ways that we are invited to respond to God in prayer. One way to remember a “balanced diet” of prayer is the acronym ACTS, which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.” Check out the article!
Shepherdess with a Flock of Sheep, by Anton Mauve, c. 1870-88, Dutch painting, oil on canvas
Easter 4 (Year A): John 10:1-10
1) This is the fourth of the seven weeks of Eastertide. The gospel readings for the first three weeks were resurrection appearance stories; the next four weeks, between now and Pentecost, will explore Jesus’ teachings about living in intimacy with God.
2) Many early followers of Jesus would have been familiar with describing the promised Messiah as a caring and skillful “shepherd”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel each use such language, and likewise, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah contrast the divine shepherd with “worthless shepherds” who neglect, exploit, and scatter the flock. For listeners today, Psalm 23 (this week’s psalm) is likely the best-known reference to God as a shepherd, with the “rod and staff” evoking the hazards of the wilderness: the rod for fending off wolves and lions, and the staff for rescuing sheep trapped in thickets or crevasses.
3) In the passage immediately following this one, Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” — and the Greek word in that phrase translated as “good” (kalos) means not “morally good” but rather “real and proper” or “true,” as in, “I am the true shepherd” or “I am the genuine shepherd.” And what is that, exactly? In this week’s passage, Jesus defines “good shepherding” this way: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd…” (John 10:10b-11).
4) And what is “abundant life”? As we’ll see in the weeks ahead, the abundance Jesus has in mind isn’t a life of material wealth, but rather of love and intimacy with God, like the trusting companionship of sheep and shepherd. An intimacy so close, Jesus will go on to say, as to be a kind of symbiotic communion, comparable to the relationship between a vine and its branches (John 15:5).