Easter 4 2014
John 10. 1-10
What was it exactly that brought so many new converts into the
church in those first few heady years?
We are told that "day by day the Lord added to their number
those who were being saved." But I can't help wondering
what they were being saved for or from?
Was it some sort of crowd effect? There has been quite a bit
of research published in recent years about the behaviour of
crowds. Being part of a crowd is different. People sometimes
act in ways that are quite different to what they might do if
alone. It seems that the crowd - if big enough and under some
sort of external stimulus - can begin to behave like one entity
- it becomes an organism itself in some mysterious way. So was
there some sort of mass hysteria that affected those who were
the first Christians?
Were they in short, behaving
There has been a deal of argument
since the middle of the last century - the 1960s onwards, that
images of sheep and shepherding are really inappropriate for
many people today. What may have served Jesus very well in the
sort of agricultural economy of 1st century Palestine, no longer
works so well in people who are welded to their mobile phones
and computers. (like clergy who insist on bringing iPads to church!).
What do we know of sheep and shepherds?
Well, many of us, not a lot
- although there will be some here this morning who still do
have direct experience of sheep and lambs (Chrissie?; Liz and
Dave?; maybe others?). But we have to acknowledge, that is a
rarity in most congregations throughout this country.
Yet we all have experience
at some time or another of being part of a crowd - whether at
a football match, music festival, demonstration, or even as a
commuter. And increasingly we are hearing about Crowd funding.
That phenomenon where companies, charities and individuals appeal
for financial backing to help get something up and running -
not by going to the bank or other financial institutions, but
by appealing directly for investors or donations from the public.
Of course this is only made possible by advances in communications
and specifically the world-wide web - which now links and unites
us in ways that only a few years ago we would never have dreamed.
But that demonstrates that sometimes it can be a very good thing
to be part of a crowd.
It was a crowd that welcomed
Jesus into Jerusalem at the start of that final Holy Week. It
was a crowd that bayed for his blood on Good Friday.
It was not wanting to stand out from the crowd that led Peter
to deny that he knew Jesus during his arrest and trial by the
We might be swayed by the crowd
to follow a particularly charismatic preacher and healer and
see for ourselves what he has to say. But I venture to suggest
that faith is something for which we cannot simply rely on the
crowd. Mary was convinced of the resurrection of her Lord when
she heard his voice calling her name. Many of us may be able
to empathise with that sensation. For it is when we feel the
gentle pull of God calling to us - as individuals, that we can
truly say - I believe. It is that calling to the deep essence
of who we really are - in all our individuality and peculiar
idiosyncrasies that time and again brings us back to the flock.
To follow the shepherd and worship him. But it is undeniable
that it feels comforting to find, when we follow and worship
him, that there are others alongside us. That is why we gather
on Sundays to share our worship. The crowd, the whole, is greater
than the sum of its parts.
So we remain a curious mixture.
On the one hand we need to respond as individuals to God's voice
- and yet there is also a powerful force drawing us in to the
crowd - to the flock. Wanting to seek out others that are like
us - that think as we think. Look at the world as we look at
And it is just at that moment
that Christ turns the world upside down again for us and forces
us to understand that his flock is not made up of people who
are all the same. Look around you this morning. Even in Pattingham
the flock is distinguished by its diversity - not by its uniformity.
And in other places the differences would be even more noticeable.
It's a funny kind of shepherd
that seems to take all sorts into his flock! Not just sheep and
goats, but the odd bear and lion too it seems! But then this
week I have seen films of two events that you would never think
possible.... A chocolate Labrador nursing a young orphaned fawn
and a mother cat nursing and cuddling three newly hatched ducklings
along with her own kittens. Both events in nature that seem to
go completely against the laws of Nature.(Oh the internet is
an amazing thing sometimes!)
So why should we not be both
sheep in the Lord's flock, but also his children and belonging
to his family? Children, like sheep are vulnerable and need to
be protected and guided, comforted and corrected. But unlike
sheep, children need to pose questions and to ask why. To challenge
authority and not always do as they are told, if they are ever
to grow up and become independent adults. So we do not always
follow the crowd unthinkingly - we are to be interdependent,
not always dependent on our shepherd and guide. And although
we can assert with Jesus that he is the the only way to heaven
- yet still the gate of which he speaks may be in many places
and look rather different at different times.
So yes, you can belong to God's family - you can hear him call
your name - even if at times, you stand out from the crowd.