Not In It Alone - Sermon on John 10:22-30

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On our own we are lost and bewildered and can wander off track far too easily. Is it not great that we have this wonderful good shepherd to guide us along the way? 

lease listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

April 17, 2016 - Fourth Sunday in Easter

"Not In It Alone".  Text is from John 10:22-30

Click here for sermon audio





Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Jesus is speaking to Judeans who have preconceived notions of what the Messiah is supposed to be, what they've heard about Jesus what their own interpretation is of the promises that Jesus is to fulfill. We can empathize with them at least for a little bit because indeed, they've been waiting for a Messiah and they've heard some good things about this Jesus of Nazareth but he is not exactly acting and speaking what their version of the Messiah is like. And so they're impatient and they want to call him out, to "speak plainly" and tell them whether he is or not this Messiah, this Christ that they are ready for. 

And Jesus answers plainly. They just have to hear what he's been telling people all over the place, that the information is already there.  That they would already know if they just believe. That if they were members of his flock, they would already believe, and then this question should not be coming up at all. And we find some variation on this next line, that the sheep know his voice, and they follow him automatically, with no questions asked. 

So in some ways this can a difficult passage. Because is this, in fact one of those moments where Jesus is telling us, salvation is not for everyone, and these poor Judeans who didn't get the memo or the message have not in fact been offered a place in the flock of sheep that Jesus is providing. Is that at all fair that they did not ever believe, they did not hear his voice and they do not follow? 

But when you put this text in light of later verses, chapters, that Jesus came so that people could come to believe, and in believing in him have life... when we look at it that way, Jesus may be said to be letting them know, these Judeans that all they have to do is listen for his voice to call them. That the gift of his grace is an opportunity for them to come to believe and that the sound his voice can in fact be heard by all of God's beloved children, his people. 

The message that John is giving us is not a condemnation of the unfortunate disbeliever but a proclamation of hope and glory for those that have believed. It is not sad but joyful, that Jesus is here for us, that Jesus as the good shepherd will take each and every one of his sheep into the fold, not missing some or others, and lead them by the still waters, the narrow pathways and he will protect them from the evil that there is out in the world. 

The Good Shepherd does not look to a part of the flock, and ignore the rest. He calls all of his sheep to him and leads them together down the path to glory.  Each of us, on our baptism are named members of the flock of Jesus, and for each of us the voice of Jesus calls us to comfort and rest.  

In his words to the Judeans, Jesus is making it rather clear that he has rescued the beloved flock from the bondage of death, and we cannot by our own power do anything to change that. Jesus has full control over our lives and our salvation, and it is a wondrous gift already imparted on us. We can live out that gift in our duties to others. 

The Sheep Hear My Voice (CalExpo).JPG

Jesus says "my sheep hear my voice." He says, "I know them" He does not actually say in John, "they know me" but "I know them, and they follow me."  His sheep follow him out of death, into new life. There is no opt out, no advice, no recommendation, but out of death and into new life, we follow the shepherd into the great life ahead. It is no wonder why the ancients were fascinated so much with the pastoral images. How beautiful the idea that this good shepherd protects us and carries us and brings us into the new beyond.  How thrilling it is that we can find the comfort that he brings us in those visuals. 

It can be so hard for people to give up control over such a valuable thing as salvation. We think we have it all figured out, just do the right things at the right times and we're in. What is hard to imagine that this salvation is ours by virtue of our belief in him. That even asking for forgiveness is more than we need to do, because Christ has already carried the weight of our sins for us on the cross.  And we get left with this conundrum that plagues theologians for centuries. How many of you have heard of Dietrich Boenhoffer, the famous Lutheran theologian who was executed by the Hitler regime in 1945 at the very end of World War II.  Bonhoeffer condemned what he referred to as Cheap Grace, the idea that we are free to partake in any sort of sin because God's grace extends to us no matter what we do.  But where do we draw the line between Cheap Grace and freely given Salvation? 

But imagine that this wondrous act of love that Jesus has given us, at the cross and defeat of death, created this freedom that we have. That the garments of our sins, washed white in his blood (to take a line from Revelation), allows us the comfort to live in the moment, that we should be able to do good because it is not only the right thing to do but it is what we are meant to be doing. That we are free to make mistakes and recover from them, that we are free to make bad decisions that impact people down the line and that God forgives us. That we don't have to stubbornly paint ourselves into a corner because we have said and done things that we feel we cannot take back, because humankind is worthy of forgiveness and we are free to be righteous in his mercy.  That our version of the world around us is colored by our own egotistical natures, that even though we are the center of our little worlds, and that sometimes we just can't see beyond our own little wants and desires, that we are free to accept his care and mercy and stop hurting those around us, we are forgiven no matter what! 

We don't have to carry the weight of the worlds on our shoulder, Jesus has shoulders wide enough for all of us! 

I don't know about you, but when I see something that strikes me as unjust, I feel compelled to be the one to single things out and to correct everyone when they are wrong. It is a wonderful thing having a sense of social justice and to be concerned about the underserved and the underprivileged, but it is a hard thing to try to carry the world's weight. Because when I take the responsibility for the world's salvation on myself, when I allow my ego to encompass something so big, such a huge responsibility--I will always fail. I will always wind up being bitter and resentful and angry that everyone does not see things the way I do. And not only have I failed at saving the world but I have, on my own, left to my own devices, and in allowing a place for resentment and anger to take hold, left to my own will, I give darkness and evil an opportunity to put me under its sway. 

It is our own egos that put us to tasks such as these. It is our own egoes that determine that we know what is best for everyone else, without even asking, without even consulting because we are certain that we can fix everything.  The unrestrained ego in someone stuck in their own head that makes them believe that their way is the only way, that they alone know what is best for the people they believe they are looking out for. 

At its very worst, these thought processes are the kind of beliefs that have caused empires to eat nations and civil war to tear apart peoples. It divides families and communities and makes whole villages disappear, people exiled from their homes into apartheid homelands or refugee camps. It's why indigenous children are torn away from their parents and sent into schools to be taught the best way of how to act in white society.  

It's the thought process, leads individuals to make bombs to commit atrocities against ordinary bystanders in crowds at public events. Because the ego of thinking that we are by ourselves, that it is up to us, on our very own, with no help to make the difference for other people, that we can make decisions for the good of others, often...usually people we don't even know, and on our own we are condemned to the power of the grave. 

But the good news, my sisters and brothers is that we are not on our own. We are not living isolated in the world, in our own little minds, but we have an advocate in the good shepherd who keeps and protects us from the world outside. The pressure is off. We need not worry about how many good deeds we have to do to find ways and means to be saved because that future has already been promised to us, by our faith, because Christ is our shepherd and we are his flock. He knows us by our names and he speaks our names. We follow the commandments to love God and love one another not because we are looking for ways to receive his grace but because we already have it. Our good deeds are what we do because of our faith in him and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

When we are lifted up at our baptism, our community recognizes Christ bringing us into his fold, and delivering his promise to look after us, promise to teach us what that means for us and raising us into the flock under the protection of the good Shepherd. The world moves forward and changes, but there is still darkness that goes on in it. We have no idea what the future holds, but being under the shepherding care of Jesus means that each and every one of us has the same promise, that Jesus will not permit us to be snatched from his hand.  And it is indeed good news that we who are his flock are delivered into the new life, to the eternal life, glorying his name, surrounding the Lamb on his throne, the Lamb at the center of the throne... the Lamb who is our shepherd, who guides us and wipes away every tear from our eyes.

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on April 17, 2016 2:47 PM.

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