Summary: To follow the Good Shepherd is to experience the awe felt by the early church in Acts 2
Sheep are an interesting lot. They are built close to the ground, think mostly about eating and often get themselves into trouble because they cannot see very far ahead and do not look much beyond the next mouthful. Some farmers in New Zealand have helicopters so that they can retrieve the sheep off the top of mountains who have eaten themselves into trouble. A shepherd in B.C. tells the story of sheep being trapped by a rising river. All the sheep could see was the edge of the ground, and beyond it moving water. They needed a shepherd to come and show them that they only had to swim a small distance to get back on dry land. This is a good shepherd who cares for her flock.
Jesus comes to us as the Good Shepherd, one who loves us and cares for us, one whose only concern is that we may have life and have it abundantly. The good shepherd, who is willing to die so that we may have life in abundance. One who warns us about the thieves and bandits who would rob us of life, those who would replace abundance with drudgery and slavery.
When we, the sheep, follow the good shepherd we know this life in abundance no matter the realities of life. When we follow the good shepherd we know the awe of which the writer of Acts speaks.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread and prayers. Awe came upon everyone. . . .”
When we follow a thief or a bandit, we chase after other priorities and we miss out on the awe, abundant life, and our time together can become drudgery.
We read about the church in Acts and we think, “Now there is a church, the kind of which we would all like to be a part. They had a singleness of purpose, working together with a clear vision and energy -- gathering, learning, praying and sharing.”
The world as we know it, the church as we know it, seems far from their reality. We struggle with having enough people to run programs, finding ways to include new people and identifying people who are withdrawing from our faith community. So often, we do not experience the ‘awe’ and if we looked, we would see a thief or bandit who has led us astray. A thief or bandit has put other priorities in the place of God. We read of the experience of the people in Acts and we say, “Oh, to be part of that church!” We are part of that church, but like sheep we are so often led astray.
We live in the light of Easter, just as they did. We celebrate the risen Christ, who is the good shepherd, the one who gives us victory over death. The one who gives purpose and meaning to life. We celebrate that this church has survived for centuries when there are far more reasons why it should have collapsed. The body of Christ continues to gather because Jesus rose from the dead. The body of Christ continues to grow in faith because of the apostles’ teaching, because we gather for fellowship, we break bread and we pray together. We gather to praise God.
We do not always do all of these well, yet the Church of Christ continues because of us and sometimes in spite of us. One Sunday a young pastor who thought he had preached a particularly good sermon was fishing for comments at the door. A senior member of the congregation, when he came through the door and was thrown the bait said, “Put it this way, some of come because of the pastor and his preaching and some come in spite of the pastor and his preaching. You figure it out.”
Something far greater than any one of us is happening when we gather. God is at work and we find that barriers are removed, love is given and received. That the church continues to gather is testimony that someone far greater than anyone of us is at work. We sometimes get a vision of what is possible, and we stand in awe at the power of God at work in the mundane events of our life. We gather some Sundays and the singing is less than inspiring, the preaching short of the mark and still God is at work. People experience the love of God, experience the presence of God in the sacraments and in each other. Awe fills the place.
The passage from the book of Acts helps us to follow the good shepherd. When we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, break the bread and pray, we are following the good shepherd and not a bandit. When we sing the words of the liturgy and really read them and hear them, the awe can leave us speechless. “We offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us – ourselves, our time and our possessions, signs of your gracious love.” When we merely repeat them without hearing the power of the words, we know a bandit has taken over. We sing the words of the Alleluia, “Alleluia, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia!” When we look no other place we have the abundant life, we know the awe.