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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's sermon


2nd May 2004

Fr David Shepherd

Easter 4

Last week Peter the fisherman was given the task of being a shepherd, commissioned by the Risen Lord for a ministry of pastoral care. 'Feed my sheep'. In today's Gospel, Jesus' words echo his earlier self-identification as the Good Shepherd. This follows on from the OT description of God as shepherd. Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my shepherd'.

Behind this is the ever-present Johannine question as to Jesus' identity. Who is he? It was the Jewish festival of dedication, the festival of lights, Hanukah. Jesus was walking in the temple seeking shelter from the winter weather. He must have had a certain presence, a reputation to attract such curiosity from those around him. They wanted a straight answer. 'If you are the messiah tell us plainly'. Jesus fails to give them the answer they were hoping for. Yet his answer takes us to the heart of Christian belief.

Christian belief is not so much something we have to find within ourselves. It is not something that we acquire or build up until we have enough to take the leap of faith. Rather it is something that is given to us by God through Christ. Our belief is his gift to us, a work of his grace in us.

There are those who keep asking questions that have already been answered. 'I have told you and you do not believe.' These answers come through what St. John records as Jesus' works. We discover who Jesus is by reflecting on what he does, (the signs), as well as through his teaching. 'The works I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.' Belief has to do with belonging, with God's choice, with our election. What does this belonging mean? What does it mean in biblical terms to be Christ's sheep? The next few verses give us some clues.

  1. 'My sheep hear my voice.' We can't of course literally hear Jesus speak but we can still hear him spiritually. As we read the Bible (out loud) Jesus' words will enter into our hearts. Certain words and phrases will strike us and we will want to ponder them more deeply. Others will speak to us. A 'word in season', a divine prompt can be given to us. 'Have you thought about doing such and such...?' Then there is the inner voice of the informed Christian conscience that tells us that a particular action is right or wrong. In these ways those who belong hear his voice.
  2. 'I know them'. As human beings we like to know and to be known. Hence the terrible sense of isolation and aloneness in those who are cut off from human company by circumstance of infirmity or imprisonment. Christ knows those who belong to him. We in turn know him as a friend. No isolation can destroy that, hence the inner strength of the saints persecuted for their faith. They are never alone.
  3. 'And they follow me.' Once again we the right order is revealed; Jesus knows us, so we follow. We belong because he calls us to be disciples. In acts of discipleship we discover the full extent of our belonging and give it expression.
  4. 'I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.' That Christian belonging which is God's gift to us in Christ is eternal. The death of loved ones becomes hard to bear if we fear that we have lost them forever, that they have perished never to be seen again. Our own existence can seem futile if it is finite, subject to decay and death. It is not easy to believe in eternal life. The harder we try to believe the more elusive that belief can seem. But, again we don't have to try to believe. Jesus says, 'I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. ' In the end we are of infinite value to God, safe in his hands. No circumstance can snatch us away from that.

In a few moments we will ask God for his healing in our lives. We can ask him to grant us a greater sense of belonging to his sheep. In our prayers we can ask to hear his voice more clearly in our reading of the bible, through the words of others, in our conscience. We can pray for grace to know that we are known and loved by him, giving expression to that in lives of service to others. As we reflect on the Paschal mystery, the story of the death and Resurrection of Jesus, so we discover that we have already been given a share of that eternal life that nothing can snatch away.

Amen

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Last updated 2/05/04 99:00:00 Author: David Shepherd