A sermon for Easter 4
Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18
Its shepherd Sunday, so of course we read from John chapter 10, and the 23rd Psalm. To hear Jesus proclaim he is the good shepherd, to know that as we traverse the valley of death God’s rod and staff comforts us, well ~ it just makes us feel good. After weeks of hearing about the disciples’ doubt and fear, I’m kind if wondering how they are feeling. Except, ~ they aren’t here.
This morning we go back in time, before Golgotha, before Pilates headquarters, before Caiaphas before the garden, all the way back to Jesus’ encounter with the man blind from birth. When we last heard that story, it ended with Jesus telling the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9:41 NRSV)
Only that’s not the end of the discussion. Jesus continues with this whole sheep thing, entering by the gate, the sheep know his voice, and this morning’s “I am the good shepherd.” All this is important, because what follows makes it very clear the Pharisees don’t hear Jesus the same way you and I hear Jesus. The Pharisees are far more likely to hear the echo of Ezekiel 34 in Jesus words. For your information this is a time when Ezekiel is depicting Israel’s Kings and ruling elite, political, religious and economic, as bad shepherds, using the sheep for their unjust gains. As expected the sheep, the people of Israel, have been subject to all sorts of hardships, foreign invasions, even exile and captivity. Ezekiel does not paint a pretty picture. (Petersen & Gavenat, 2010) In this context, I’d like us to explore the little-considered verse:
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also … (John 10:16 NRSV)
Commentators generally fall into two trains of thought about ‘other sheep.’ Some think Jesus is speaking about Gentiles, who are certainly other in a Jewish context. Some think Jesus is speaking about Jews who don’t yet believe, but will. A third group contend Jesus is taking a poke at the Pharisees, including amongst other sheep all those they exclude from Jewish community, like the man born blind. I rather think it’s all three, that Jesus shepherds any and all of God’s people, even those who don’t yet believe.
However, the word that caught my attention is ‘fold,’ so I looked it up. A sheep fold is an open-air walled off area, typically next to a house, where sheep were kept during the night. Then I got thinking about other such structures were God’s people would gather. The first that comes to mind is Jerusalem itself, which is a walled city. Any person, not expelled from the community, lepers for example, Jew or non-Jew could enter. The second is the outer courtyard of the Temple where any Jew could go. The last vision was the many mansions, many rooms in God’s house. (John 14:1ff NSRV) This journey from the outside in, gives us a picture of ever more exclusive entrance rights. Almost anybody can enter Jerusalem, any Jew can enter the Temple courtyard, any male of age can enter the Temple proper, only the priest can function around the altar, and only the High Priest can enter the Holy of Holies, where the Ark, God’s presence on earth, resides. But then we get to God’s home and to our surprise discover a home of many homes, for all who believe Jesus and God abide in each other, and that through Jesus we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us. It’s surprisingly expansive inclusive image.
All this comes to bear in post-resurrection times, within the second half of the verse:
… and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16 NRSV)
Two quick points: first Jesus will bring all God’s people into one flock, and he will be the one shepherd, second, it is Jesus’ voice they will hear and listen to. Its clear Jesus’ goal is for all humanity to live in divine harmony. That doesn’t mean there will not be differences. In fact I think Jesus and God celebrate our differences. However, those difference will no longer divide us, rather through them we will be present to God in some mystic harmonic shalom. It’s also clear that it is Jesus’ voice that draws all God’s people together, not our voice. This does not mean we are off the hook, no ~ scripture is clear, it is our calling to share our experience of the risen Christ. But that’s it. Ours is not to judge. Ours is not to exclude. This entire post-resurrection continues. (Lose, 2015)
God, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, still journeys with us, through whatever valley we find ourselves in. At times, we will walk with another, through their valley. In that journey we may be called to point out an incongruity, to provide an inkling of an answer, to ask a question, but always with the knowledge that it is never our voice that leads them into the one fold, that voice always has been, and always will be ~ Jesus’.
Perhaps the biggest challenge we face, in our post-resurrection days, are those times we hear another pass judgement or exclude another, for any reason, from God’s eternal grace and love. It’s a risk to name that infraction, for they are in fact trying to be like God. It’s equally risky to reach out to the other, whose manner may well be offending, and walk with them through their shadowed valley.
My prayer for all of us comes from Mission St. Clare Morning Prayer which ends:
God be with you till we meet again
By his counsels guide, uphold you
with his sheep securely fold you …
God be with you till we meet again”
May it guide us through those who seek to divide us for their particular political, religious, social or economic gain. May it guide us keep us forever tuned to voice of The Shepherd.
Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.
Lose, D. (2015, 4 19). Easter 3 B: Resurrection Doubts. Retrieved from David Lose: http://www.davidlose.net
Petersen, D. L., & Gavenat, B. R. (2010). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press.