Scripture for the fourth Sunday of Easter (also Good Shepherd Sunday): Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-25; John 10.1-10
In the middle of the film Michael, in which an unlikely group, including an angel, travel from Iowa to Chicago partly to redeem a couple of news reporters’ careers, one of the characters sings a song that includes the words: “Sittin’ by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere; I don’t know where I’m goin’ but I hope I know it when I get there.” Actually, the song is a summary of the plot of the film, because even the characters who think that they know where they are going, don’t really.
The church, of course, has a long history of sitting by the side of the road, seeming to go nowhere, hoping that it will know the destination when it gets there. And its members, at the individual level, often suffer the same fate. Even at the beginning, when the church was young and idealistic and very community oriented, it didn’t necessarily know where it was going.
Nevertheless, at its best the church invests faith in Christ, as guide, or shepherd, and a commitment to live as a family. Acts describes a community of faith practising radical egalitarianism in sharing (“proto-communism,” some have called it); yet the most important sharing was of “teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers” – in other words, living the life of faith.
This was, of course, risky, raising the question that modern culture asks: where is the security? Well, Jesus did not and does not offer security, but rather freedom. We live in a world in which fear is easily generated – and fear has a role to play in protecting us. We even like a little fear – the roller coaster experience, for example.
But fear can be abused to permit or excuse the shadowy excesses of human behaviour. “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man,” wrote Samuel Johnson – the pain that includes dealing with the bigger questions of life: its purpose, its limited time-span, its frailties, and so on. These things are really fearful – which is where Jesus appears. Jesus offers abundant life as an antidote to fear, and as shepherd, guides us towards the freedom that the early Christians experienced in devoting themselves to teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and prayers.
When we seem to be beset by difficulties, lost or adrift, with no real idea of where we are supposed to be going, we need to remember that if we focus on Christ and his invitation to freedom, we will be led to share what we have been given, and to embark upon and continue on a journey that may be unpredictable, but that will lead to nourishment, healing and growth – in other words, to real life.