Easter 4a – Sunday 15th May 2011
John 10: 1-10
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.”
Ironic, isn’t it? I can’t think what to write about this passage, and here I am sitting on a train, going through the wonderful English countryside looking out at field upon field of sheep!
Just sheep. No shepherds. Don’t think I’ve spotted any robbers or thieves. Not even a solitary gatekeeper. So I’m struggling to get any inspiration from that at all. No wonder those who heard this message struggled to understand its meaning, and they lived in this deeply pastoral setting. What chance have I got?
I often notice that in the Bible. A lot of confusion and furrowed brows. Someone, somewhere must get it though. The trouble is we all have different expectations. We all have different perspectives. Our judgements are clouded and coloured by our experiences.
One of the reasons I’m finding this so difficult to write today is because my mind is filled with the news of the last 24 hours about the death of Osama Bin Laden. And strangely, it brings to mind this passage. One of the reasons for that is this passage – at a very simplistic level – is all about goodies and baddies. And at a similar simplistic level, the world we live in is all about goodies and baddies. But to go with the confusion and furrowed brows – see above – I’m not sure we always understand totally who are the goodies and who are the baddies.
I’ve felt a lot of anger over the last 24 hours about what has happened. I don’t mean I have any sympathy for Osama Bin Laden, he truly was a wicked man. He brought suffering and hatred into the world on an unbelievable scale and to be stopped in his tracks is good. But let’s be honest here, he’s not the only baddie in the world and frankly what kind of justice is being dished out? The same sort of justice that prevails at Guantanamo Bay?
“I am not sorry that Osama bin Laden is dead … But I don’t celebrate his death, either,” the Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson wrote on his blog. “That distinction, though subtle, is an important one for Christians who claim to be an ‘Easter people,'” Johnson wrote, noting that the al-Qaeda founder’s death came one week after Christians marked Easter. “Easter celebrates God’s decisive victory over death. We taint that celebration if we find anyone’s death a cause for celebration and jubilation, and perhaps especially when that death is violent.”
All day Monday I felt like I was walking through jam. And just as my feelings seemed to be coming to a boil I’ve come across a short but simple blog post at The Funnelcake Conspiracy, and the calmness it has brought me is amazing. All of it is good, but especially one small section:
If I am going to rally around someone’s death, it will be my Lord’s. Because of his resurrection from the dead, I will be embolden to love others radically, even in the face of persecution and death.
So, quietened. So, peaceful. So, calmed. What do I have to say about John 10? From these words I discern that the good shepherd is a humble God with a radical love. Not a God who repays violence with violence. Not a God who dances at the misfortunes of others. Not a God who has enemies or friends. I wouldn’t follow that kind of God, I wouldn’t recognise that type of God. I follow a God who’s been to the cross. I follow a God to whom every hurt and suffering in the world is a source of immense sadness. I follow a God who is the creator of all, and who loves every essence of his creation – even those parts that fail, like me.
Radical love. Loving the unlovely. Serving the ungrateful. Compassion for the corrupt. Welcoming the outcast. Radical love. God’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt. This is the Good Shepherd.
And in the image of the sheepfold, the sheep pen, the field, there’s a real feeling of security, of warmth, of love. Of course, that is the greatest contradiction to the reality of the world in which we live. With people like Osama Bin Laden roaming the world our sense of security is at its lowest, and we truly do not know what lies around the corner.
But here is our calling. Not to retreat inward. Not to pull shut the church doors. Not to be all sanctimonious and holier-than-thou. But to show radical love. To reach out to all who are hurting, to all who are afraid, to all who are lonely, to all who are vulnerable, to even those who we consider our enemies. To offer hope. To offer peace. To offer joy. To offer God’s love.
God has a wealth of riches, blessing and joy to share with us. As the Good Shepherd says, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”