Easter IV — The Good Shepherd [Acts 4:5-12; 1John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18]

If you ask people about Wales they will probably mention Rugby Football, Singing, and Sheep. The first two we do with great passion or hwyl, and thanks to the large amount of hills and mountains there are here, it is ideal countryside for rearing sheep. As animals go, they often don’t get a good press: they are seen as simple creatures, unable to give birth without assistance, it’s hardly flattering to be compared to sheep, and yet throughout the Bible we see references to sheep and shepherds, important for a nomadic people.

Sheep are gentle creatures, they need help and protection, so that they don’t wander off, and are protected from wolves. The relationship between God and Israel is often described as like a shepherd and his sheep. They know each other, there is a close bond between them, and they need the care and protection of a shepherd. They love company, they like to be together in a flock. Their needs are simple: grass and water. They are not violent or nasty, but they need to be cared for, and loved, and helped.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (Jn 10:11 ESV) Jesus lays down His life for us. He offers it willingly, and out of love, to die, and to be crucified for us. This is the heart of our faith as Christians: Jesus loves us, Jesus dies for us, and rises again. It is simple, profound and extraordinary. God loves us this much, that he suffers the most painful, shameful, and degrading death for us, to demonstrate love in action. 

Such love requires a response from us, and John, the beloved disciple puts his finger on it in this morning’s epistle, ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers’ (1John 3:16 ESV). We lay down our lives for each other, in love and service. This is what being a Christian looks like in practice — we do the right thing, regardless of the cost. The world around us will tell us to be selfish, and self-centred, to think of ourselves before others, the ‘I’m alright Jack mentality’. It is selfish, and sinful, and wrong. We offer the world something different, sure it is costly, but it proclaims the simple truth that another way is possible, and that we march to the beat of a different tune. We can have the courage and the confidence to do this because Christ rose from the dead, and offers eternal life to those who follow Him. This life is not all that there is. We are preparing for the hope of Heaven, made possible by Christ, by living out our faith here and now. It has the power to the change the world, a soul at a time, because we ARE revolutionaries. We want people to join us, and be like Jesus. He lays down His life for us, and expects to follow His example, and lay down our lives to follow Him. It takes commitment, it isn’t just something you do in a building for an hour on a Sunday morning, it takes over your entire life. I know, for a variety of reasons. Firstly in ordination I offered my life to Jesus, for the service of his church, and secondly in last twelve months I got married, and we got a dog. Marriage and dog ownership are both lifelong commitments, and are both about learning to love, and forgive. My life is far more wonderful and richer than I could have imagined because of the commitments I have made. Yes, they are costly, but they are wonderful. To a world scared by commitment I would have to say, don’t be afraid, dive in, and have a go. You will make mistakes, but as love and forgiveness go hand in hand, through them you have the chance to change, to blossom, and become something other than you were before. This is true for the Christian faith. It offers salvation, through faith, as St Peter puts it in this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, ‘And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’(Acts 4:12 ESV) Jesus offers what no-one else can, salvation and eternal life to those who believe in Him, and follow Him. This truly is good news, true freedom, which the world needs to hear. No-one else can save them, money in the bank, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, they may be pleasant and useful, but they can’t save you. Only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can do that. He still offers the chance to become bart of His flock, under the One Shepherd, to have life, and life in all its fulness, eternal life, with Him, forever. Just as the apostles testified to the healing power of His name, so that same healing is offered to all who believe and trust in Him. It’s not a magic wand, but a chance to enter into a relationship which can take away our sins, heal our souls, our bodies and our lives. 

He lays down His life for us, and He gives himself here today, under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we can be healed by Him, and given a foretaste of heaven in His Body, and His Blood. Here today, as on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, we meet to be fed by Christ, and fed with Christ, to be healed, to know his love, love you can touch and taste. 

What more wonderful proof could we ask for than this, to feast on the Body and Blood of Him who died for us, and rose again. Who gives himself so that we might have life. Let us be filled with His Love, and His Life, let it transform us, and all the world that it may come to know Him, to trust Him, to love Him, and be fed by Him, to give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever…


Gŵyl Dewi Sant – S. David’s Day

Frodyr a Chwiorydd, byddwch lawen a chedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred, a gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch a welsoch gennyf fi.
Brothers and Sisters, be joyful, keep your faith and creed, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do. 
These words are the words spoken by St David on his death-bed. As such, they represent an important distillation of his life and teaching. They are as relevant now, to us here today, as they were 1400 years ago. And I would like to go through them to see how they can still speak to us. The first command that David gives the Christian community is to be cheerful, to be joyful: just as the Psalmist encourages us to be joyful in the Lord and to serve the Lord with gladness, so as Christians we should live lives which proclaim in thought and word and deed the joy and freedom which Christ came to bring, it is through our example that the world will come to believe. To be joyful is to live as an Easter people, confident in Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is not to say that life will be difficult, but that in all things we must hold fast to the source of our joy, namely Christ.

          We are to hold fast to our faith and our creed. Throughout David’s ministry he found himself combating the heretical teachings of Pelagius, who taught that it was possible for humanity to enter into a right relationship with God through their efforts. Sin was not a problem, and the saving work of Christ wrought upon the altar of the cross was diminished by this. David fought for an Orthodox understanding of the Christian faith, the teaching he opposed was popular, but it was wrong, and for the good of people and their souls he bore witness to the truth. He was not afraid to go against the prevailing opinion when the good of people’s souls was at stake. So we should be inspired by the example and witness of David to hold fast to the faith which comes to us from the apostles, the same faith which David believed and taught. This will not be easy and certainly, given the current state of the church, it will not be popular, but it will be right.
In doing the little things which people heard and saw David do, we are reminded that for most Christians, ourselves included, it is how we live out our faith in everyday life which matters. The small acts of kindness and generosity, of Christian love and service, which we often do without thinking, are the key to putting our faith into practice. Rather than worrying about the bigger picture, or the grand gesture, we can bear witness to our faith in the ordinary humdrum mundane existence of daily life. This may not sound exciting, it may not sound terribly encouraging, but it is nonetheless still true. When we reflect upon Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, we can see whether a lot of it happens in the context of ordinary day-to-day existence. In the miracle of the Eucharist, Jesus takes the ordinary stuff of daily life, the basic foodstuffs of bread and wine, and transforms them into his body and blood so that our souls may be fed. So as we prepare to be fed once again by him let us pray that he will also take the ordinary stuff of our lives and, through his grace, transform and transfigure them for his glory. That strengthened by him, our lives may reflect that glory, joy, and love, which is the nature of the triune God that which we hope to enjoy forever in the life to come.