a Homily for Easter 4A
Text: John 10:1-10
When I left for college, I was pretty conflicted. In one sense, I was confident and believed in myself. In another, I felt unprepared and was worried that everyone was smarter than I am. I did well in school and had no reason to doubt myself. I was just afraid. Afraid that what I thought of myself would actually be revealed as true.
Another conflict was my excitement to live on my own and fear that I didn’t know anybody. Through that time in my life, I was full of hope and fear. I sometimes went to church. I usually didn’t. I almost never prayed. And for a good portion of time, I felt lost.
Laying there on my bunk, I would wonder where my help was. The chapel on campus was Presbyterian and the Roman Catholic church was two blocks away. St. John’s Episcopal, on the other hand, was several miles away. Out of town and in the middle of nowhere. My people weren’t with me. I rarely felt like going to them.
The campus ministry was conservative evangelical, so I didn’t hang with them. Most of my friends were atheists or at least not religionists.
I had a hard time finding my way and rarely felt as if I had any help at all. Let alone a shepherd to guide me.
A distant metaphor
Herding sheep is not a metaphor that makes much sense, any way. Even those here that farm are not shepherds in the sense Jesus describes. Shepherds were functionally homeless, sleeping in the field with the sheep. They didn’t bathe often. There is neither glory nor esteem in the job. Calling Jesus the Good Shepherd meant nothing to me because I knew little about shepherds or sheep. Nor did I feel comfort in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, for I didn’t feel anybody with me. I felt alone.
The Easter stories we’ve had so far have dealt with the strange balance between absence and presence. Jesus has died. Jesus is risen. Jesus was gone. Jesus is here. Jesus is unrecognized on the road. Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread.
Today’s Gospel mixes two already confusing metaphors about Jesus as shepherd leading the sheep to the gate and Jesus as the gate itself. It is really no wonder His followers didn’t follow his train of thought. It made no sense.
Are we mindless sheep trapped outside the gate? Do we really recognize His voice? What if we don’t feel as if we hear any voice at all?
More useful metaphors
Last week we read that Jesus was made known to followers in the breaking of bread. This week, in the story from Acts, we get a glimpse of how the followers dealt with Jesus’s second departure–they stuck together, they sold off their stuff,
they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Their work was praising and serving GOD. They worshiped and ate together, as Jesus taught them to. They were blessed.
We learn that they continued in the teaching and the living, perhaps finally embodying His ministry after they were free to do so.
Like the image of the gate in the gospel that swings in and out as the people come and go, finding the pastures of abundant life, they are free to not only believe, but to act on their belief.
Here is Christ! Here is our work! Here are the children! Here is our community!
The shepherd, the gate, the guide, the savior. All metaphors that reveal faith, and more importantly, hope.
With generous praise
Our faith, like the apostles’ faith, is revealed in how we live. It is found, most especially in generosity; in giving. Of our time, of our resources, and of ourselves.
Faith has some of the old chicken or egg argument: a link between isolating ourselves and feeling abandoned. Sometimes by GOD. Sometimes by friends. Sometimes by both.
We are not alone. We have each other. And when we are together, Jesus is with us.
For Jesus to guide us, however, we have to let go; trusting that the way Jesus leads us doesn’t pass only through abundant fields, but desolate valleys. In many ways, that’s the proof we need, for doing things “right” doesn’t yield universally happy results. We are assured there will be valleys and we are assured His presence, whether or not we feel it.
When we gather and break bread together. A lot. Generously, hopefully, thankfully, joyfully. Until we depart in praise, saying “Thanks be to GOD! Alleluia, alleluia!”