Rev. Katy Bedford
April 30, 2023
When I went to visit PTS for the first time, I experienced many unknowns. I had never lived outside of Texas at this point and things in New Jersey are different… I took a train from the hotel to the school. That was a foreign concept for me. I was there for a prospective student weekend, when I arrived at the school, I remember being surprised at how beautiful everything was. I thought maybe New Jersey is the “garden state” for a reason. I participated in the programs planned for that night (I was not impressed with the cafeteria but found out about Wawa). And I got a migraine. I was miserable. This was before I had medication for them and when they came, I was down for the count. I remember trying to create as much darkness as possible in this little room they have for prospective students to stay in. I remember calling my mom and telling her I hated it here and wanted to go home. Her response was, see how you feel in the morning. I was sure that I was going to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary anyway so I didn’t really need to stay. Right?
The next morning I woke up and was feeling much better. I decided to stay for breakfast since it is my favorite and they had quite the spread. We attended a lecture of some sort and then went to chapel. At PTS they have chapel every day of the week.
I sat in those pews and I cannot describe the feeling I was infused with in that space. I do not remember who was preaching. I do not remember what the sermon or message was about. All I remember is feeling like I was home. Home in a sacred way. Home in a way that I knew this was where I needed to be. Home in a way I knew this place would not only provide for my educational needs but for my spiritual needs as well. I did not realize then how important it would be for me to be in a place that I felt safe. I could not have imagined what kind of home I had found.
In our verses, Jesus has not quite arrived at the verse that he calls himself the “good shepherd” that happens in verse 11 but in our passage he is the gate. He uses a parable about sheep in their sheepfold and a shepherd who comes to bring them out. Jesus shares that the shepherd will enter in by the gate and will be let in by the gatekeeper because he will be known. The shepherd is recognized by his voice and by calling the sheep by name. The sheep follow the shepherd because he is a familiar voice, they know him. This is contrasted with the response the sheep would have to a stranger. The sheep would run away and not follow the stranger whose voice they do not know. Jesus then realizes they are not getting it and speaks more clearly.
He does this by explicitly saying, “I am the gate.” When Jesus says he is the gate this is just one of a beautiful list of self revelatory statements that occur in John. These statements are well known: “I am the bread of life” (6:35); “I am the light of the world” (8:12, 9:5); “I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7, 9); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25-26); “I am the way the truth and the life” (14:6); “I am the true vine” (15:1). Jesus says he is many things in order to get the disciples and Jewish leaders to understand who he is. As for us, in this passage, we are sheep.
Have you ever tried to Google shepherding or sheep tending? The majority of the results that come up have to do with the Bible, sheep tending in the Bible, and what the job of a shepherd was in Biblical times. Maybe Google just knows me, knows that I am religious and is skewing the results…which is disturbing. There have to be people in the world that still raise sheep today but it is a niche that my Google did not know how to find. I learned something though. It is a common job for youth, whether they be the youngest sibling who will not inherit the land or a neighbor’s son/daughter that needs to make some money, but they are often young. This job, in the Bible, is one that we see the youngest of families taking on; David and Joseph are two that come to mind.
We read several places in the Bible that “God is our shepherd” (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34:12) and “Jesus is our shepherd” (John 10:11). What big shoes to fill for young shepherds! But if I have learned anything about young people, it is that they give the important things their all. We recently did a service project where we worked a rest stop for the Red Poppy Ride. We served drinks, sandwiches, snacks, filled water bottles and encouraged the riders. Before any riders came, the youth were sitting in the chairs that were not for them and were passing the time by singing karaoke. But as soon as the exhausted riders came, they bounced into action. They made beautiful signs, and shouted words of encouragement. They made conversation with the riders and helped them feel good about the rest of their ride. This was a glimpse of how young people show strength and leadership; like a shepherd. They thrived in serving and felt comfortable enough to let their gifts shine. This is what happens when you are loved and cared for; when you are “home.” It is my sincerest hope that when youth come to church events, they feel “home.”
In our safe spaces, our homes, Jesus is the gate. Jesus preaches, “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Find pasture…What does it mean to “find pasture?”
At PTS, my pasture was found. I missed the comfort of my home and my family, but I found a surrogate family. I found mentors and new people that truly cared for me.
When I struggled with depression, I relied on my peers, my professors to build me up and keep me going. In many ways, we were each other’s pasture. It would not have been possible for me to find home so far away without my fellow classmates.
It is significant for Christian ministry to use the term “pastor” for ordained ministers. Ministers serve as shepherds, obedient to God. They are not self-appointed nor are they engaged primarily by the flock (New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary-John by Gail R. O’Day, p. 671-672) . They are called by God. However, one of the most important jobs a minister has is pastoral care. We are God’s stewards; protecting and providing for those who are entrusted to our care. Pastoral care, like a pasture, is the place where care and safety occurs; pastoral care is the heart where ministry seeks and heals.
So, what can we do to share the gifts provided by the good shepherd with others? We can look to the Acts passage (Acts 2:41-47). “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). They “sold their possessions” and gave “to all as any had need” (Acts 2:45). What a beautiful image of the first Christian community. They invited each other over to their homes, praised God, and had goodwill.
It was all about community. That is where it happened. They found pasture among one another. They opened the gate that led them to pasture, to food, water, safety, care for the sick and vulnerable, and life. Jesus came that they (the sheep) may have life and have it abundantly.
Thinking of pastures sometimes makes me think of a lonely shepherd in the field with his sheep. Or being alone in a peaceful place, like Mo Ranch or Colorado. But this is not what it looks like for the sheep in the Bible. They are always together, always being watched over, always going astray and being found.
One of my favorite memories of working in community was with the youth group that I lead at Central Presbyterian Church in Austin. Our church was a venue for the South by Southwest Music Festival and in order to fundraise we sold concessions while people were waiting in line. I didn’t have any experience in working at big festivals but I became used to it. I remember several experiences during the festival that we would be standing outside at the front door listening to people wait to get in. There was a large diversity of concert-goers and artists and I remember many of the concert goers saying, “I never thought I’d step foot in a church again.” I also remember a lot of the artists doing their regular performances and one of them would say a curse word or take the Lord’s name in vain and they would stop suddenly and look around as if they were going to get in trouble. “Can we say that stuff here?” They were never shamed for these moments or given a hard time. And they continued to come back year after year. People were repeat visitors and stepped foot in a church more than they ever thought they would.
Our fellowship with one another is guided by our example that we have in Jesus: the gate & the shepherd. Jesus knows us by name and encourages us to be in community. You never know when you just might make someone feel like they are home and help them find pasture.