Fourth Sunday of Easter
21 April 2013
Word of Light Fellowship
Let us pray…O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen
Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters in Christ.
The text I want to focus on this morning comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, versus 22 to 30.
This text is rich with curiosity. Who are you? Are you the Messiah? How long will you keep us in suspense? Despite all of the miracles he has performed, all of the lives he has transformed, all of the many times he has told them plainly, they are still questioning Jesus’ identity. Questioning whether or not his power verifiably comes from God. They want to believe…but they really want to be sure before they take that leap.
This past week has been filled with events that might make us question as well. How can two men create such terror? And why? Why did God let it happen? Or why did God not prevent it from happening? There are moments in our lives when we can’t help but ask such questions. Kids getting bullied, people going hungry, broken relationships, loved ones dying too soon, disasters destroying communities. We want to believe and we do believe, but still, in the back of our minds, we sometimes question what it’s all about. I believe that doubt is a constant companion to faith. It doesn’t take away our faith by any means, but rather gives us new perspectives and encourages us to renew and reclaim the faith that we do have.
There are two main topics I want to draw on from the text this morning. One of them is the notion of searching, specifically as it relates to Jesus and his sheep, who is searching for whom? The second is the concept of belonging. What does it mean to belong to Jesus’ flock, to be people of God?
Who searches for whom? When we read in the Bible about the Shepherd and his sheep, it is usually in the context of the Shepherd searching for the lost sheep and bringing him or her back to the safety of the flock. “I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind but now I see.” Indeed this is true. God is on the lookout for those who get lost, who go astray, who lose their way. God knows who we are. And God calls out to us, “Child of Mine, you are getting really far away. Come this way to return to me.” “Yoo Hoo, this way!” Yes, God searches for all of us and calls out to all of us. In this, we have no choice. It’s one of the ways that God works in our lives. We might be quick to point out that the Jews in the text had it easy. Jesus was a man among them. They could see him and hear him right there in the flesh. For us it isn’t so tangible, but we are spoken to nonetheless. It might be that gut feeling you get when you’re about to make a questionable choice. It might be a friend giving you a gentle, or not so gentle, reminder of what is right and what is wrong. Or maybe it was that last time you were grounded, or had a time out, and you sat quietly by yourself and were reminded that the world is bigger than you and although you are loved and important it doesn’t give you the right to disrespect others. God searches for us constantly and never gives up. Even when we are here in church, and we believe, and we worship, and we call on God, God still keeps an eye on us in case we go astray.
This text from the Gospel of John, however, describes the searching a bit differently. It encourages us to search for God. The Jews sought out Jesus in order to question him. They were looking for him and they called out to him and they approached him. Jesus also puts the ball in our court. He tells the Jews that they do not believe because they have not heard His voice. Do we hear God’s voice? Are we searching for it? Certainly, when we make the choice to come to church we are choosing to hear the Word of God, to hear God’s voice. We are opening ourselves to the transformative power of God’s grace. And certainly when we pray, we are seeking God and calling upon God and desiring a response from God. But do we pay attention when we are not here or when we are not actively engaged in prayer? Do we search for God in our everyday lives? When we put our children to sleep at night, do we openly entrust them to God’s care? “Remember, dearest one, that you are a child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever. Good night. I love you.” When we witness random acts of kindness, do we acknowledge God’s love in the world? When we see people in our midst who are different than we are, can we acknowledge that they, too, are part of God’s good creation? When we see horrible acts of violence or cruelty in our world, are we still able to search for God, even if it involves questioning and doubt? Evil is a very powerful force, but it can never overcome God. Evil wants us to fear, because when we fear we tend to turn inward. We worry less about our neighbor or our world and we worry more about ourselves. Fear tends to instill more selfishness in us. Evil loves fear. When we see evil or experience evil and pain in this world, our searching for God is knowing that we have already been saved. God has already rescued us from evil through Christ. Our searching leads us back to the cross in times of despair. We are safe in Christ.
So, how do we know that we belong to Jesus’ flock, that we are God’s people? I’m going to suggest that there are two perspectives here. What God wants and what we are capable of. Belonging is sometimes a difficult concept because it implies that there are those who do not belong. And the hard reality is, that’s true. In creation, however, God chose all of us, each and every one, even those who inflict harm. God calls out to all of us and wants all of us to hear God’s voice. When people go astray and inflict harm, God weeps because God wanted them to turn back and join the flock. We can also think of belonging in the sense of being known. God knows us whether we like it or not. It’s a scary thought isn’t it? God knows all of my judgmental thoughts, all of the times I turn away from those in need, all of the times spiteful words slip off my tongue. I might be able to hide them from you by not talking about them or by making excuses around them, but I cannot hide my heart from God. God knows us deeply and God still wants us in the flock.
The other perspective of belonging is what we, as humans, are capable of. The hard reality is that not everyone acknowledges God. Not everyone wants God to be a part of their life. Not everyone listens for God’s voice, or they hear it and ignore it. As much as God wants everyone to be in the flock, we are a stubborn people! So, how do we know that we belong? In our text, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me.” This is always a difficult place for me as a Lutheran. We tend to be really big on what God has done for us…and not so big on what we do to earn it. God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, and eternal life have not been earned, they were purchased for us through Christ dying on the cross. We cannot pay for what has already been purchased. But Jesus clearly states in this text that there are those in the flock and there are those who are not in the flock. Are we in the flock or are we not? It is my hope when people are aware of what God has done for them through Christ, they will seek out their place in the flock. When they realize the depth of love and the sacrifice that were given so that they can be set free from fear and death, they cannot help but be moved towards the flock. That is my hope.
People have written books about what identifies a Christian, or what are the marks of a Christian. Those things that help distinguish the flock from the rest of the world. The list can get quite long, and the longer it gets the more certain I am that I am not in the flock because I’m not that perfect no matter how much I try. I’m sure we can all come up with conditions that make sense to us for who is a Christian and who is not. Some we might agree on and some we might not. However, I prefer Jesus’ description. Do you hear God’s voice and do you follow? What does that mean to you? In your life, what does it mean to hear God’s voice? In those moments when you hear it, how do you know that you will follow? In my life, I have come to realize, that focusing on one word helps me out a great deal with hearing God’s voice and following. That word is reconciliation. Reconciliation doesn’t imply that I have to be perfect, which I’m not capable of, or that I have to be passive and soft. No, it’s actually a very active word. Reconciliation means that when I get angry or do harm, I take a deep breath, acknowledge my wrongdoing and apologize. When I need to instill some justice in the world, because we do have time outs in our house, reconciliation means that when the time out is over I bend down to look my son in the eye and I tell him why he needed a time out but that I still love him and I always will. Reconciliation compels me to think before I act, to make things right the best I can when I have done wrong, and to make sure that others know that their wrongdoings do not make them less lovable. Reconciliation is what the cross was all about. Jesus reconciled us to God once and for all, for all of eternity, even though we may not deserve it.
Are you searching? Do you hear God’s voice? How will you follow?