The Fourth Sunday of Easter; Year A (5/7/17)

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1st Peter 2:19-25
St. John 10:1-10

Prayer of the Day:
O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

10:1 [Jesus said,] “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

St. John 10:1-10, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America).

The Sheep Follow Him Because They Know His Voice

This coming weekend is a big one for us at Saint Peter Lutheran Church. We will offer our prayers of love and support for Julian, Olivia, Hank, Brynn, Annie, Payton and Ella as they affirm the promises of their baptism, and become adult members of our congregation.

I have been meeting with the seven of them for three years now, along with a fine group of faithful adult volunteers. We have been studying, praying, playing, eating, retreating, serving and striving to grow together as followers of Jesus Christ. We call the program Catechism. Catechism is a Greek word (κατηχέω) which means “teaching” — and in years past the Lutheran Church’s ministry with young people has predominantly been an academic one. But these days we do things a bit differently. We do want them to learn some things about God, and about their faith. Even more importantly: we want them to experience what it is like to belong to a faithful Christian community.

It isn’t enough to collect bits of knowledge about the Christian faith. Those who are most opposed to Christianity (Saul the Pharisee from the book of Acts, before his conversion, comes to mind…) know a great deal about Christian faith. They just don’t believe it, and they do their best to counteract it.

We don’t want our young people simply to learn about God. We want them to learn God. We want them to experience what it is like to trust and follow God. We want to them to know how it feels to be comforted by God. We want them to explore how a close, intimate, growing relationship with God can lead them into a richer, more meaningful life.

In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of a shepherd to talk about this. Anyone who has seen a shepherd at work has seen how the sheep follow their caretaker from field to field. This isn’t instinctive behavior. It is learned behavior. Over time, the sheep come to know that their shepherd has their best interests in mind. They discover that when they stay close to the shepherd, they are nourished and fed, rescued from difficulty, and protected from danger. They follow because they know it is the best and right thing to do.

No wonder Jesus uses this image for God.

Our deepest hope for the young people of Saint Peter is that they can have a relationship with God that is similar to the relationship sheep have of their shepherd. That they can know, deep within their being, that God loves them unconditionally, and wants the very best for them.

Our deepest hope for Julian, Olivia, Hank, Brynn, Annie, Payton and Ella is the same. May this Sunday be a new beginning in faith for each of them. May it lead to years of loving and following God. May it help them to know how rich and meaningful it can be to center our lives around that which matters most to God.

Come celebrate with us this weekend if you can. It’s going to be a big weekend for us!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is most inspiring about the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep?
  2. How did Jesus relate to his followers as a shepherd might have?
  3. In what ways did Jesus help his first century followers to find meaning and purpose?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What prevents me from following God with my whole heart?
  2. How might I grow more fully into this kind of a faith?
  3. In what ways has my faith been a blessing to me in the past?