30th April 2023 10.30am – Fourth Sunday of Easter Eucharist

The Readings

Acts 2.42-end

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

John 10.1-10

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Joe P, a Reader at St. Mary's


I stockpile stuff I find online to read when I have time. Then I have a bit of a reading session and try to catch up. Unfortunately for me, I find much more of interest than I ever get the time to digest – my list gets longer….and longer…..
This week I came across an item about the rise in interest in what’s called Modern or New Gnosticism amongst spiritual seekers. Whilst we might regard Gnosticism as a historical heresy, it’s still relevant to us today.
To see how, we need to go back to sheep farming culture in 1st Century Palestine.
The events in today’s Gospel reading probably take place around Hannukah – December time - one of the major Jewish festivals – there’s a reference to this a little after today’s reading. Jesus is probably talking to a mixed audience of passers-by, religious leaders – who by this point are his regular sparring partners – and his disciples, who he often teaches with the aid of parables.
Jesus uses something that would be common to his audience in the two parables he teaches. The role of the shepherd and the fold in keeping the sheep safe. This would be a relevant and understood starting point for the listeners, which Jesus then elaborates on.
We have this idea of a shepherd as someone on their own, wandering the hills with a dog and some sheep. He’ll have a fold – a stone walled area that acts as a compound for the sheep to be in at night so that they’re all together and under the protection of the sheep from wandering off or predators – or thieves. There might have been a gate on the fold – a simple wooden barrier. Alternatively, the shepherd himself might act as the gate, sleeping across the opening, effectively blocking it with his body.
Jesus points out that there is but one legitimate way in and out – through that gate. Anyone climbing the wall to get in is up to no good.
So far so good – then we come to Verse 3:
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
Who is the gatekeeper? Well, many flocks of sheep were small – perhaps only a half dozen animals – and so it would be uneconomic for every shepherd to have his own fold. Instead, communal sheepfolds were built, which could be large enough to house dozens or even hundreds of sheep in safety. And these had a permanent guard and a proper secure gate. The gatekeeper was someone paid to look after the fold. When the shepherd wanted to take his sheep to the hills for grazing, he’d go to the gatekeeper, the gatekeeper would open the gate, and the shepherd would call his sheep out. He’d have a specific call to which his sheep would respond – they would recognise his voice, and what he called, and follow him out from the fold. And these sheep were not just for meat – they would provide wool, season after season, so a shepherd would develop a close – almost parental – relationship with his flock.
Jesus then expands on this;
“Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.”
The people are the sheep; we’re not talking about the modern, derogatory, use of the word here. The sheep to which Jesus refers are the people in the communal fold, who did not listen to the ‘thieves and bandits’ who came before him. When Jesus talks about those thieves, he’s not talking about the prophets of old, like Moses and Isaiah. He’s most likely talking about his contemporaries - the religious authorities of His own day who’ve taken the teachings away from God to benefit themselves. He will also know that his audience will understand this, as there are a number of references in the Old Testament where God stops the religious teachers of older times from exploiting the people and took the people under His wing – like a shepherd. This analogy is common in the Old Testament – particularly in the Psalms.
To get in to the fold, the people must come past the gatekeeper – Jesus is here taking this role. And in the fold, His followers and people who love God will know the voice of Jesus as their shepherd, who will lead them out to feed. The food available in the fold would be hay, probably a few days old, not exactly good. When He leads his sheep to pasture, the shepherd is taking the sheep to fresh grass and water – the ‘green pastures’ of the 23rd Psalm.
As Christians, Jesus as shepherd leads us to the green pastures of the Kingdom, and doesn’t leave us to feed on the dry and spiritually unfulfilling food in the fold of modern society.
So – back to Nick Cave and the New Gnostics.
• Jesus tells us He is the gate through which sheep enter the His fold.
• Jesus tells us he is our shepherd, and that we should recognise His voice if we wish to be led to the green pastures of the Kingdom.
• Jesus warns us that there are thieves and brigands who may get in to the fold – but not through the gate. And that those thieves mean the flock no good.
The New Gnostics are an increasingly powerful influence amongst people seeking spiritual certainties because they claim to know all the answers, but through the means of ‘secret’ knowledge, known only to the adepts or those in the know. For Christians, the way to the Kingdom is clearly and openly laid out for us in the Gospels and the teachings of Christ – no secrets there.
Many modern spiritual leaders – who sometimes identify as Christians - offer ladders over the wall of the fold, or they pull a few stones from the wall to by-pass Jesus as the gate.
Jesus’s role as THE gate – or, as He says in John 14:6:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me”
Is central to our belief – we help bring people to God by proclaiming this central fact about our faith. The path to the Kingdom of Heaven and nearness to God is through THE gate offered by Jesus Christ.
In an uncertain world, it’s no surprise that the message of the New Gnostics is appealing. Especially when some of it can sound very much like Christian teachings.
• What can we – the Christian sheep in the fold of modern society – do to ensure that we listen for, hear, and respond to the voice of our true shepherd with so many competing voices?
• We need to listen; does a tempting voice reflect the teachings of Christ as given in the Gospels and other scripture?
• Does the voice remind us that we are to love God and love one another – as is written in John 13:34 – “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
• Does the voice offer the way to true abundance - not material wealth but the abundant wealth of the Kingdom of God? And is it available to us all – not just to a few ‘further up the tree of knowledge’?
• Asking yourself ‘Can I imagine Jesus, as I know Him through the Gospels, saying or doing this?’ is a good way forward.
It’s our job as followers of Christ to bring the open and true knowledge of the Gospels and the central message – the following Jesus is the ONLY way to God’s Kingdom.

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica


Lord our God, we continue to give you thanks for the resurrection of your Son, and our hope of forgiveness and salvation. We pray for the Church worldwide, that all Christians may grow closer in sharing the bread and wine which Christ told us to do in remembrance of Him. We pray for our bishops, Pete and Sophie, and that all Christians will work together to bring about a peaceful and cooperative world,
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.


We pray for the world, for all in responsible positions of government, at national and local level. We pray that our local election next week will produce new councillors who will genuinely work for the good of all. We pray also for King Charles on the occasion of his coronation next Saturday. Guide all who are called to positions where they can make a real difference to the quality of life, particularly of the poor and sick, for whom Jesus showed special care.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.


We pray for the well-being of our City, and also for our local community of Walkley. We give you thanks for all those who contribute to the quality of our local area: Walkley Forum, Zest, the library, churches, those who look after our local green spaces, the many Art, Music and Writing groups, and all involved in organising Walkley Festival.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.


We pray for all who are ill or unwell at this time. We pray also for all who work in our Health and Care Services, supporting those who are ill and also their family members. Give them the strength to continue in their chosen professions, despite the severe strains they are under at this time. In a moment of quiet we pray for those known to us in need of our prayers……….
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.


We remember before you all those who have died recently, and particularly those we have known well. We hold all who have been dear to us in our hearts…………… According to your promise grant us with them a share in your eternal kingdom.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.


Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, Mark and John and all your saints, we commend ourselves and all your people to your unfailing love.

Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour,
Jesus Christ.



Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000