Readings: Acts 2:42–47, 1 Peter 2:1–10 & John 10:1–10
Our first reading this morning, from the Acts of the Apostles, describes what life was like in the early church. It was a community with “all things in common”, a community that pooled its resources and shared those resources among the community, especially with those in the community who were in need. It was a community that spent time together in prayer; a community that gave thanks to God for the gift of food that it received, and it was a community that had the best interests of others at its heart.
I wonder how you think our own parish community here at St Andrew’s compares with this picture of the early church that is painted for us? While we may not necessarily pool all of our resources, members of the parish certainly contribute individually from their own personal resources, into a shared pool of parish resources in the form of the weekly offertory.
And we definitely spend time together in prayer, whether that be gathering together in spirit as we are this morning to share in this service of Eucharist, or gathering via Zoom on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday for Morning Prayer, or coming together again via Zoom every second Thursday for Bible Study. We are a community that gathers together to pray, even during this challenging time of restrictions on social gatherings.
We are also a community that has the best interest of others at heart, whether that be in the form of the Men’s Tea group supporting mission activity in the Solomon Islands, or the Thursday Guild supporting the Caroline Chisholm Society, the monthly BBQ supporting Aberfeldie Primary School and Essendon Keilor College, or parishioners collectively contributing to the annual Christmas Bowl Appeal. There is a lot that we as a community should be proud of. I think our parish community does reflect that picture of the early church.
The obvious challenge, especially living in a world such as that we live in today, which is so focussed on self interest and instant gratification, is not to lose sight of that concern, not only for one another within our parish community, but also for the needy in the broader local community outside of the parish community. We can take heart from the instruction that the Apostle Peter gave to Christians in Northern Asia Minor, when he encouraged them to let go of all bitterness and hatred; to refrain from being devious or sly in their actions; to be sincere in their dealings with others; and not to be envious of others who may have had more than they did.
A key responsibility of any parish community, is to provide pastoral care, both for its own members, and also for the broader local community in which the parish is situated. The term ‘pastoral care’ is derived from the notion of a shepherd caring for a flock of sheep; watching over the flock, and protecting it from harm, especially from predators such as wolves.
When talking to a group of Pharisees, Jesus uses such language in today’s gospel passage, to compare himself with the Jewish religious leaders, such as the Pharisees, who were responsible for providing the Jewish people with spiritual guidance and nourishment, and for bringing them to God and salvation, but who had failed that responsibility.
Jesus begins by talking about the sheepfold, which was a place of protection where the sheep were brought in at night, and then led out again in the morning. The shepherd of the sheep would come in the morning and enter the sheepfold through the gate, which the gatekeeper would open for them. Then the shepherd would call each of the sheep by their own distinctive name. In those days, and even today in modern Palestine, the sheep actually recognised the voice of their shepherd, so they would respond to the shepherd’s call and exit from the sheepfold into the pasture.
Jesus contrasts this behaviour with that of a thief or bandit who, being there to steal the sheep, would climb in over the fence. The thief would try to lead the sheep out of the sheepfold, but the sheep, not recognising the voice of the thief, would not follow but instead would scatter.
When the Pharisees fail to understand what Jesus is saying to them, he tries another tack and tells them that he is the gate, and that salvation is the sheepfold. The people can only find their way to salvation through Jesus. He tells the Pharisees that the religious leaders, such as the Pharisees themselves, who had come before him, had failed to bring the people to salvation. That is because they didn’t really care about the people, but were only concerned with their own self interest, whereas the only concern that Jesus has, is to bring the people to salvation.
And being brought to salvation means to be brought into a relationship with God. It means to have life in abundance with God. All of us are brought to God and salvation through Jesus. Through both our parish community, and our own lives, we bear witness to Jesus, and through our witness we can help bring more people to Jesus, and Jesus can lead them to salvation.