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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 22, 2018

Psalm 23; Acts 4:5-12; John 10:11-18

‘Threefold Amen’

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. I have no sheep-herding experience to speak of but have prepared today’s homily at the new manse-garden table with marigolds, lemons and limes, numerous succulents, olive and fig trees, and cats not at all easy to herd – so in some way attuned to realities common to both human beings and sheep: this world of flesh we experience as the good creation. God be with you …

On reflection it seems there are three things we can say about today’s Gospel and in relation particularly to the image of the sheepfold.

First, that believers from the Gentile world (most of us here) can think of themselves as sought out, gathered, and brought into the life-giving fold of Israel by the Shepherd who enacts the divine outreach of love to the world (John 3:16). This first affirmation might even be understood in response to a fundamental question: What is Christianity? Christianity is Judaism for Gentiles (if that’s not too crude a definition).

Second, and perhaps in response to the question: What is Christian faith, we can say that to be a member of a Christian flock is to know oneself included among those for whom Jesus is willing to die. Faith is to know oneself included, counted, cherished, nourished in the name and power of grace, courage, passion – and if we’re careful with the word – self-sacrifice.

A third affirmation is crucial, however, lest we reduce the gospel to something dualistic or passive. It’s not simply the case that we are sought out, gathered, included and nourished. It’s not simply the case that we are the sheep of a shepherd, however good and noble. In fact, the meaning of the sheepfold image folds back on itself, and unfolds over time. In the final chapter of the Fourth Gospel, the risen Christ says to a penitent and ardent Simon Peter: “Feed my lambs … Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep.”

Ultimately, we are called to imitate the nobility and goodness of a shepherd who truly cares.

In response to the fundamental question: What is the Church?, we can say that it is a community – more than a society – in which members participate in nobility and goodness. The Church is a community in which participants imitate the generous and loving ministry of Jesus. As a community of Christ-imitators, we nurture and celebrate free and faithful leadership, free and faithful service, free and faithful care, free and faithful witness.

This world of flesh we experience as the good creation, then, is at the same time creativity itself.

At least one theologian invites us to understand the world as flesh, “created with intrinsic structures and with the power to unfold, to produce and to bring forth, a being constantly becoming, in which the human is a particularly rich intertwined pattern, a being … made and sustained by God the creator … [A]s such a world unfolds in life, sentience and human consciousness, these things all turn back on the world – engaging in an ever more complex conversation with the nature of things – and in this way actualizing more of its inherent potentiality” (Andreas Nordlander).

Likened to sheep, we are called to be part of this creative creation. We are called to be good shepherds, co-creators. Not surprisingly, in one and the same Gospel, Jesus the Good Shepherd is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

What is Christianity? Christianity is Judaism for Gentiles. Amen.

What is Christian faith? Christian faith is to know oneself included, counted, cherished, nourished in the Spirit of grace, courage, passion and self-sacrifice. Amen.

What is the Church? The Church is a creative community (a community of co-creators) in which all members participate in nobility and goodness. Amen.

In conclusion …

The first verse of a potential country-gospel song: “Called to be a shepherd/ Counted with the sheep/ I spring up unexpected/ My roots entwining deep …”

A paragraph from an article in the latest issue of The Big Issue: “Loneliness is a response to the need to belong. There is something inherent in the human brain that wants to socialise. We need people. But not just any people. We need to practise quality control when it comes to those we hang out with because the deeper the connection, and the more authentic, the better we live” (Elly Varrenti). Amen.