Sermon, May 7, 2017

Sermon.05.07.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-25; John 10.1-10

 

I have an idea! Let’s study a hymn with three verses – we will study one verse each year for three years on the fourth Sunday of Easter! What do you think? If you were honest, I suspect I would hear responses of the following kind: “Is he out of his mind?” “What about the continuity?” “There is no way we will ever remember from one year to the next!” “This is crazy!”

And yet, this is the approach the lectionary takes toward John 10.  In Year A, John 10.1-10, Jesus is the sheep-gate; in Year B, John 10.11-21, Jesus is the Good Shepherd; and, in Year C, John 10.22-40, Jesus is rejected by those outside the flock. Furthermore, John 10 is a continuation of the story set forth in John 9 – Jesus’ Sabbath healing of a man born blind. When Jesus encountered the blind man, the disciples asked, “’Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’” (John 9.2-5; NRSV). Jesus then spit on the ground, made mud, spread it on the blind man’s eyes and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. When he did so, he could see. Notice this “I am” statement of Jesus, “I am the light of the world.” “I am” statements are characteristic of the gospel of John.

The blind man’s neighbors were rather perplexed, so they took him to the Pharisees who proceeded to question him. Some argued that Jesus could not be from God, for he did not observe the Sabbath; others asked how a sinner could do such things. In the controversy, they called his parents to verify he had been blind from birth. Yes, he was born blind, but the parents did not know how he had been given his sight, and said, “Ask him, he is of age” (John 9.21; NRSV). Again, the Pharisees called him for questioning, and told him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He replied, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see . . . if this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9.25,33: NRSV). The Pharisees did not like that answer, so they drove him out. Let’s pick up the story here:

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9.35-41; NRSV).

Then Jesus continued with the narrative of John 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” (Vs. 1; NRSV).

The communal sheepfold was much like the depiction on the front of today’s bulletin. Once the flocks entered for the night, the shepherds would either stand or sleep in the gate to prevent the sheep from wandering off. In some instances, they must have had an actual gate which the gatekeeper would open, for Jesus said, “The gatekeeper opens the gate for the shepherd, 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” (John 10.3-5; NRSV).

The Pharisees did not understand what Jesus was saying, so Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you” (that is, “Let me spell this out more clearly”), “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10.7; NRSV). Here we have another of the great “I am” statements from the gospel of John – “I am the light of the world;” “I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus then said, “All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them . . . The thief comes only to kill and destroy.” In contrast, Jesus said, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture . . . I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.7-10; NRSV).

So ends the reading. But the story does not end here, for Jesus continues, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10.11; NRSV). Unlike the hired hand who runs away when he sees the wolf coming, the good shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep. Although we do not know for certain, scholars believe Jesus’ references to thieves, bandits, and hired hands apply to the religious leaders of the day. John tells us the Jews were divided – some believed Jesus was out of his mind and demon possessed while others asked if a demon could open the eyes of the blind. Again, note the reference to the healing of the man who was born blind – the precipitating event for the Good Shepherd passage.

John tells us that Jesus was later walking in the temple when a some Jews gathered around him and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10.24; NRSV). Jesus answered,

“I have told you, and you do not believe. 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.  My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.  What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one (John 10.25-30; NRSV).

 

The people considered Jesus’ claim of oneness with the Father to be blasphemous. Remember the Shema – “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” How could Jesus claim to be one with the Father? John tells us “The Jews took up stones again to stone him” (John 10.31; NRSV). The dialogue continues; they attempt to arrest Jesus, but he escapes from their hands.

There, you have the greater context, and the full thrust John 10. Mark your calendars, and you can skip Easter 4 in years B and C!

What does this mean for us Christians? How does this relate to we Episcopalians? The other assigned readings convey some insights. The reading from Acts tells us how the flock multiplied dramatically following the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost – the newly baptized “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2.42; NRSV). The many signs and wonders done by the apostles filled them with wonder. The expression of God’s love was so intense that people sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to those who were in need. For a brief time, God’s kingdom was powerfully manifest!

In 1 Peter, we are encouraged to respond to abuse, to pain and suffering, as Jesus did: “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Peter 2.23; NRSV).  Peter reminds us that we have been healed by the wounds Jesus suffered, that although we were going astray like sheep, we have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of our souls (Vss. 24-25).

In Psalm 23, we acknowledge the Lord as our shepherd. We praise the goodness of the shepherd – the green pastures, still waters, restoration of soul, absence of fear even in the face of death, God’s bounteous table among those who trouble us, and the way God’s goodness and mercy pursue us throughout our life.

As we prayed in the Collect: “Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.”

The Book of Common Prayer captures the significance of our life with the Good Shepherd in the commendatory prayer: “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.” I would be most happy if those were the last words heard before my departure from this mortal realm.

Amen

 

 

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