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The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

What a Fine Mess!

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:18-24; John 10:11-18

Slap stick comedy like Laurel and Hardy was so predictably funny that you laughed before you even heard the lines. They would get themselves into a mess. Ollie would invariably blame Stan for the mess. “I thought you knew where you were going,” he would say.

“But, you told me to turn here,” Stan would say back.

It would always end with, “What a fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Stanley!”

What makes it so funny is that it is so true to life. Yet when it happens to us, when we are in the midst of such a situation, we don’t find it amusing at all. Like Ollie we are quick to declare it someone else’s “fine mess”!

The early followers of Jesus found themselves surrounded by people who stared blankly at their stories of the resurrection. They either greeted their enthusiasm with dumbfounded wonder at their stupidity. Or worse still they became hostile and suspicious. But they struggled on trying to make sense of their newfound faith. No doubt many of them simply shook their heads, saying to themselves, “What a fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Jesus!”

These faithful followers had been so certain of where this had all been heading. They had been with Jesus for three years. They had observed him in action, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, building community. Then with his crucifixion it all came crashing down around them. They found themselves in a very different place than they had ever imagined. When they realized where Jesus had brought them, they reacted as we so often do. They hid behind locked doors. Like lost sheep, they scattered in every direction.

In all of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus there is that recurring theme. “What a fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” And then Jesus comes, bringing peace, breaking bread, offering his hands to their touch, walking with them, until they see and understand that it is the resurrected Lord who is with them and will be with them. And yes! It is a fine mess! But there he is, the shepherd, caring for the flock, providing for its needs.

Put in the context of the struggle of the early church followers of Jesus, it is easy to imagine how the imagery of Jesus, the Good Shepherd became so beloved. It is beautiful, truly comforting. Even in our society, so far removed from our agrarian roots, it speaks of our yearnings to be in relationship with a loving God who truly cares for us. We picture Jesus defending the flock, laying down his life for the sheep. He walks with us through the darkest valley, leading us beside the still waters, restoring our souls.

It speaks to us of our call, not just of the call of the ordained, but our baptismal call. For the call of the Good Shepherd is a call first of all to loving. “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action,” John says in his letter. Love needs to lead to action. If we truly live in obedience to God, then it requires that we lovingly and actively reach out to meet the needs of others. In that way we live in him, and he lives in us. We all have times in our lives when we are hurting or afraid. Someone is there for us. So when others are hurting, our call as Christians is to reach out to them.

Not that it is always easy! There are many who are lost, so lost that they cannot reach out. There are those who are addicted. There are people who can’t hold a job or finish a course of studies. There are those who cannot maintain a stable relationship. There are those who wander aimlessly through life. They may be lost in our very midst, even within our family unit. It can be frustrating to feel that we may not be able to reach them all. But it is even worse to think that we often simply ignore them. How do we reach out? What is our response when someone in the congregation is hurting, or goes missing? Do we even notice?

The call of the Good Shepherd is a call to lead. It is about allowing change to transform the lives of those to whom we minister. Transformational change is something that we avoid, but it is our mission. When we hear about the closing of churches, about declining attendance, about financial difficulties, it is easy to simply give up. It is time for us to stop blaming God for the fine mess we are in and start realizing that we have a mission.

During the Easter season we replace the Old Testament readings with the account of the early Church recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. It is not by accident. It is a powerful reminder of the effect of the resurrection on the lives of the disciples. These early Christians who had been living in great fear are proclaiming the kingdom in an effective way.

Take for example Peter and John. They were arrested, and brought before the Sanhedrin for questioning. They had been talking to whoever would listen about the risen Christ. These same disciples, who had run away following Jesus’ arrest, were speaking with power and authority. They were talking about the resurrection! Not a popular topic, I may point out, amongst Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. But they chose to contest a healing, a good deed done to someone in need. They were not happy about the healing because they felt that God should work only through them.

“By whose authority are you healing,” the disciples are asked. And their clear answer is that it is in the name of the risen Lord. It is the presence of Jesus that has transformed their lives. In turn they are reaching out to others in real and tangible ways.

The proof of the resurrection is always the transformation that it causes in peoples’ lives. An awesome power has been released into the world. Can we see that power in our lives? Do we experience that kind of power at work in our parish?

That is what is behind Peter’s response to the authorities. “If we are questioned today because of a kindness done to someone, it is by the name of Jesus Christ,” he explains. It was in the presence of Jesus that something had happened to him. He was changed, transformed by being with Jesus. Jesus’ kindness became his kindness. Mother Teresa says, “It is the Lord, who fills us with God’s love!” We say as we reach out to others in Christian love, “It is God working in us.”
Recognizing the voice of the shepherd is a life-long, transformational process. It takes us from commenting, “What a fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” to being people who are truly alive in Christ. Like the early Christians we will be filled with enthusiasm and spiritual vitality. We will be applying our faith to our everyday life. We will know the power of the resurrection at work in our lives. We will reach out to others in real and tangible ways. We will be the Church.

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