Baptism Into the Fold

The Good Shepherd  --  Julien Dupre, Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, CA

[RCL] Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

In her retirement, some years ago, a woman lived in the English countryside of Bath. And from her living-room window, she could see a large hill, at the top of which was the ancient parish church. One of the bellringers who helped summon people to worship was a shepherd. In lambing season, his flashlight could be seen at all times of the night, seeking out newborn lambs, making sure they were safely delivered and that the mothers were safe and fine. The young lambs were suitable prey for the foxes that lived in the surrounding woods.

The shepherd’s job was to feed, guard and care for all the sheep who lived within the enclosure of the field. In the gospel today we see a similar imagery. The Jewish shepherd brought his lambs into an enclosure, surrounded by a wall of stones, into which there was a single entrance. Because the flock constituted the wealth of the owner, his available property, the job of the shepherd was to guard the flock, if necessary, with his life.

Jesus takes this familiar imagery and applies it to teach about his relationship with His church. This section of John’s gospel is chosen during the Easter season because it points to the Easter themes. In the early church, converts were brought to baptism on Easter eve. 

Eastertide was, for them, a time when they began to enjoy a new life, a new identity and a new purpose. The new converts had spent up to three years leaning about the Faith. During that period, they were not permitted to join the Christian community around the altar. They couldn’t receive communion. They were at the gate to the fold, but not yet inside it.

One may imagine their thrill and joy once they were brought through the gate, as they were baptized into and through Jesus and assumed the name “Christian.” or “the Saviour’s People.” Of course, the step they had taken involved danger. Many lost the support of family and friends, lost their jobs, and in times of persecution, faced danger and death.

It’s important for us to grasp the fact that these new Christians had been led by the Risen Lord into a fellowship.  Today we have become used to what might be termed “personal religion”: “Jesus saved me,” and “I’m going to go to Heaven when I die.”  At first glance, that is what Jesus seems to be saying: “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

The people who first heard John’s gospel would have heard something quite different. They did not come from our culture of individualism. We need to listen with their ears. The words “enters by me” meant to the first Christians – and should mean to us – baptism. We don’t baptize ourselves. We are baptized in church, on a Sunday, surrounded by Christians. From that moment on, we have pasture, we may be fed at the Lord’s Table, by the Lord’s bounty. We become part of those who have been “enclosed” in the communion of the church.

To the first Christians, “coming in and going out” happened in the context of the church’s growth and the church’s danger. The people doing the growing were those who had been “saved,” rescued, taken out of a hostile world. As they shared their new faith and brought others to the door to the fold, the church grew by leaps and bounds. Someone said of them, “See these are they who turn the world upside down.”  Because of their success, they threatened the power of the Roman Empire, whose “thieves” sought to invade and destroy the fold, the church.

Yes, this new community, the church looked forward eagerly to the final result of salvation, when God would rescue the world, the universe he made and loves and restores his people to the Garden from which they were expelled in the Genesis story. Do note that when we talk about the Genesis story, we aren’t talking about history, but we are talking about truth. When we seek to envision the New Heaven and Earth, we struggle for adequate words, as did the John who wrote the last mysterious book in the Bible, Revelation. Yet what is expressed is the truth-in-hope the Christians of St. John’s time had embraced.

We, too, have entered into the fold through our baptism. We share a common essential identity as Christians. We gather in the fold of the local church to have fellowship, to be taught, to be fed. We go out to make disciples, to work for the Kingdom, to love justice and mercy, to care for the poor and the outcast.

On ANZAC day afternoon, we went to Pacific Fair cinemas and watched a film called Jesus Revolution. The movie is based on a true story about a young hippie named ‘Lonnie Frisbee’ who goes on a spiritual journey, eventually finding Jesus Christ, and igniting a spiritual revolution by baptizing people in a river called "Pirates Cove." 

This hippie' radical message and unique approach to baptism drew the attention of Calvary Church in America, and his movement quickly spread throughout the country. Through the film, we were able to witness the power of faith, and the impact that one person's devotion can have on the world. Overall, it was a thought-provoking and inspiring movie that left a lasting impression on both of us.

Our Lord offers us “abundant life” now and we members of this ministry, members of this LGBT+ affirming ministry, are called to build Christ’s church and embraced this calling baptism. Invite your friends, your loved ones, as the question have you been baptised? If not come down to the river by HOTA and get baptised at the chapel.

This morning, as we gather around the Table to be “strengthened for service,” we commit ourselves afresh to living out our faith, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “not only with our lips, but in our lives by giving ourselves in Your service.” Thanks be to God.

Baptism Into the Fold Baptism Into the Fold Reviewed by Shane St Reynolds on April 29, 2023 Rating: 5

No comments: