The Flock and the Door

If you went to church today, how did you enter into the church?  I don’t mean in the spiritual sense, like “through Baptism,” but how did you actually enter into the building?  Did you tunnel in through the roof?  Did you crawl through a vent?  Did you cut through the stone and drywall?  No, you entered in through the door, because the door is how you would expect to enter into the building; it’s the entry point that has been determined for coming in.

Likewise, Jesus compared himself to the door of a sheepfold or pen.  In the area of Palestine, shepherds in Jesus’ day, and still today, would herd their sheep into natural pens formed by the rocks on the hills and then the shepherds would sleep at the door of the pen.  So, if a sheep or someone wanted to enter into the fold of sheep, he would go through the door that was guarded by the shepherd, while thieves, robbers, and predators would go in another way.

Jesus compares himself to this door (John 10:1-10).  He is the good shepherd who is the very door by which sheep enter into the fold.  All who enter into the fold through him “will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”  The true sheep know the voice of the good shepherd and enter in by him.  The wolves in sheep’s clothing and thieves and robbers try to enter into the fold through other means.

So, the sheepfold is the Church who has been brought to pasture with the Lord; you are Christ’s sheep.  Jesus Christ is the door through whom we enter into this sheepfold, for it is only through him that we can come to the Father, for without his righteousness that he won for us on the cross and empty tomb, we are still naked in our sins and we therefore cannot stand before the holy Lord.  But, since Christ covers our sins with his righteousness he shepherds us into the fold of sheep and brings us before the Lord.  Jesus himself said in John 14: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Christ is the door by which we enter into the presence of God, and that’s what it means to be the Church: we have communion with God and each other through Christ.  We are Christ’s flock.

Yet, there are people who try to enter in through other means than the door.  That means there are people trying to come in through the vents or the stone and drywall.  That is, there are people who try to approach God in ways apart from Jesus Christ.  Some people believe that spirituality is the way to approach God.  Others believe that it is good works, obedience, submission, or something else residing in themselves.  There are many people who try to enter into the sheepfold in ways other than through the appointed door of Jesus Christ.

In addition, there are false shepherds who try to lure the sheep away, stealing them from the Lord.  There’s an old Looney Toons cartoon with a sheepdog and a wolf.  The wolf is constantly trying to steal sheep from the flock, and trying various methods to do so, including dressing up like a sheep.  He wants to devour the sheep.  Likewise, there are false shepherds, like thieves and robbers, who try to snatch Christ’s sheep from him to devour them.  They may even paint themselves in godly attire and use the right sounding pious words while leading people astray.

But, the sheep know who their Good Shepherd is and hear his voice and follow him.  You are the sheep who have entered into the sheepfold through Jesus Christ.  He is the Good Shepherd who has brought you into the fold, and he is the one who cares for you and guides you.  And as his flock, we are called to listen to his voice and ignore those thieves and robbers who try to lure us away from him.  We are also called to urge those who try to enter into the sheepfold through other means – such as through the roof, the vents, or the wall – to enter in instead through the entry point that has been determined by God Himself, the door of Christ.

And how are we as the Church to remain secure in Christ and be faithful witnesses to him?  How are we to continually listen to his voice?  The answer is provided by the disciples of the early Church.  After the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit began to expand the number of the Church through Baptism, the Church began to live out its new life together with God Himself, who was dwelling among them in Word and Sacrament.  Acts 2:42 describes the life of the Church.  The disciples in the early Church “… devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.  So, they didn’t seek out new teachings or try to find inner spiritual enlightenment.   Instead, they focussed on the external truth revealed by Christ through the apostles.  They learned about God from the teachings of the apostles, because their teaching was that which was handed down to them by Christ himself.  So, the Father sent the Son and then the Son sent the apostles, and then these apostles went out into the world to found congregations.  And these congregations then devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles, teachings that were given by God through Christ, and not inventions of any man.  And so we, like the early disciples, are called to devote ourselves to the teachings found in the Scriptures, for these teachings are the Truth given by God Himself.  And all the Scriptures testify to Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, the door of the sheepfold, so that we may have life in his name.

The disciples also devoted themselves to “fellowship.”  This Greek word translated “fellowship” is koinonia, meaning to have a share in a common thing or to co-participate in something.  So, the disciples were not just individuals communing with God through Christ; they were a community co-participating in the apostles’ teaching and the Sacraments.  They were the Church.  Faith is not a matter of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; faith is a co-participation in Christ with the others of his flock.

So, as a community united around the apostles’ teaching, devoted to it even, the disciples were able to co-participate in the breaking of bread.  Their koinonia or “co-participation” in the Lord’s Supper was a reflection of that koinonia or “co-participation” in the apostles’ teaching.  Since they were united in the teaching, they could come together in the breaking of bread as one body, the body of Christ, partaking of his very body.

The disciples in the early Church also devoted themselves to the prayers.  Christ had given them the apostles’ teaching and called them into fellowship with him and with each other around the altar of his body and blood.  Now, in response, the disciples respond to the Lord in prayer.  This is the pattern of the Church – God gives to us out of His pure grace and mercy, and we respond.  And the Lord has called us to respond to Him in prayer and has promised to hear our prayers.

So, all these things that the disciples did in the early Church, the Church is called to continue doing today, living the Christian life of Acts 2:42, devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  This is how the koinonia of the Church is lived out.  It keeps us bound to each other as fellow sheep in the flock of our Good Shepherd.

And our Good Shepherd is loving and gracious.  Jesus spoke of us when he told his disciples, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  The abundant life is not as those false shepherds say, a life consisting of the accumulation of things or “spirituality.”  No, the abundant life is given to us by the Good Shepherd, a life here on earth lived out in communion with him and with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as we bring the light of Christ to a fallen world, and a life eternal lived out in the presence of the Lord and the Church forever.

This is a life freed from captivity to sin, death, and the devil, because Christ has defeated these enemies of ours and freed us from their hold.  This is a life freed from worrying about making ourselves right with God, because Christ has made us right through his death and resurrection.  This is a life where we are now free to live out our vocations in this world without worry, bringing the first fruits of the restoration that Christ has in store for all creation.  As we carry out our vocations as mothers, fathers, children, students, teachers, workers, managers, farmers, builders, technicians, plumbers, electricians, artists, musicians, and all other God-pleasing vocations we do so as Christ’s people who bring to our vocations our God-given talents and an understanding that the work we do, we do ultimately for God to help tend and care for His creation.

This is an abundant life that is never depleted and never ends.

This abundant life is what we hear about in Psalm 23 where the Lord leads us to green pastures and still waters, comforting us through the valley of the shadow of death.  And even in the presence of our enemies, in the midst of a world still plagued by sin and death, the Lord prepares a table for us, anoints us and fills our cups to overflowing.  And His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and then we shall all dwell together in the house of the LORD forever.

And so we can remain steadfast in this life, knowing that we are in the sheepfold, being cared for by the Good Shepherd who is tending us and watching over us.  And on that Last Day, when Christ returns for us to lead us out into the eternal pasture to dwell with Him forever, all these present trials will be over, we will be in the true, perfect communion with him and with each other, and we will drink freely from the river of life and eat from the fruit of the tree of life.  So, as we go through this life bearing witness to the apostles’ teaching, we can do so with this ultimate end in mind.  For, the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want.  Amen.

 

(Image: Good Shepherd by Bernhard Plockhorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bernhard_Plockhorst_-_Good_Shephard.jpg ).