“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
Maya Angelou

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The Lessons:

Acts (9:36-43)

Psalm 23

Revelation (7:9-17)

The Gospel:

John (10:22-30)

Sermon

Easter 4, Year C

 

Grant that when we hear the one who calls us each by name, we will listen and follow.

 

            In the wake of the events that happened in Boston this week, this Sunday, occasionally referred to as “Good Shepherd” Sunday, is very appropriate.  When really bad things happen, it is even more important that we listen for the voice of Jesus, our shepherd.  While it would be easy to jump to conclusions and blame “those” people, terrorists … Muslims … foreigners …we as followers of Christ must be open to the truth and not make assumptions.  On Friday morning, I head someone say, “That’s why we shouldn’t let ‘those’ people into our country”, and my heart ached.  Why sound so fanatical?  I know that’s not what Jesus would have said, nor is it what Jesus would call us to believe.  And yet, it happens to nice, logical people, Christian people.

          Those who know me, know that I was raised on baseball and specifically the SF Giants.  We raised our daughters to love baseball.  And I can witness this same type of fanaticism in them.  One daughter dislikes the Yankees and Dodgers so much, that if at the end of the season, the Giants needed the Dodgers or Yankees to win a game so that the Giants could make post season play – she could not bring herself to root for either of those teams.  She would rather have the Giants “lose” than to root for the Yankees or the Dodgers.  Why not?  I don’t understand; it’s just not logical to me.

          It is emotional.  With the events in Boston, or even back on Sept. 11, 2001, emotions are running high because of fear, sadness, confusion, the randomness of the acts – it could happen here.  At these times we want control of what happens; we want the familiar.   And what we say and do may not make sense – like that person in the office.  Our lessons this morning contain the message that we need in times of fear and loss of control.

The reading from Revelation and the Psalm are ones commonly read at a funeral or a memorial service.  They bring comfort to those who are grieving because they assure us that those we love are being well cared for by the Lord.  We trust that what we have been told is true, the Lord will lead them to a better place – “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more, for the Lamb will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  And when our time comes, the Lord will do the same for each of us.

The Gospel lesson is more of a challenge.  Jesus is talking with some Jews and tells them “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”  Ouch.  Is Jesus really condemning all those who do not believe in him?

John’s gospel is different from the synoptic gospels.  It is suggested, that “a group of like-minded Christians began within Judaism but was expelled from the synagogue and exposed to the wider world.  Within that wider world the early Christians whose experiences produced this gospel had to come to a clear understanding of who Jesus Christ was, what he meant for them, and how they should live their lives in response to the challenge of Jesus.  It is widely accepted that this particular story of Jesus, and the language used to tell it, belong to the end of the first century.”  (Sacra Pagina, John)  The Christian experience of “John” is one of the church dealing with their separation from Judaism and their survival among a myriad of religions and religious practices.

John’s gospel records the Jesus-story of a community in transition.  No longer able to live their new faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God within the world in which Christianity came to birth, the Johannine Christians took their story of Jesus into a new world.  They are surrounded by many different religions as well as many competing Christian sects. Of course they will hold on to their story.  They will need to hear that Jesus makes a distinction between those who are his flock and those who are not.  My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.  It has to be concrete.  You are in or you are out.  They believe that they are right and all those others are wrong.  I realize that we have to use this lens for filtering some of what we read in John’s gospel.

So like the fanatical baseball fan who bleeds their team colors and would never dream of rooting for the ‘dreaded rival’, the John gospel is about Jesus being the shepherd, the way, the truth.  For Christians this is true.  But there are others in relationship with God who are not Christian.  They are also loved as children of God.  Today, when Jesus says “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep”, it’s not an issue of Christian versus Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.  We need to look at our own hearts.  Have we forgotten Christ in our thoughts or our words or our deeds?  Not literally that we don’t believe in Christ, but that we have not lived our lives as those who profess to be Christ followers.  Have we succumbed to an earthly fear over which we have no control?

The gospel of John taken in the framework of a fanatic for Jesus gives us a new way to read it.  We should also be fanatics for Jesus – after all we have chosen to follow Christ.  But we also have the responsibility to live in harmony with others.  Revelation stated that “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  All tribes, peoples and languages…   AMEN.

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“The good life, as I conceive it, is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy; I mean that if you are happy you will be good.”
Bertrand Russell

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