Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 8, 2022

YEAR C 2022 easter 4

Easter 4, 2022
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, today is what we call “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  The fourth Sunday of Easter is always called Good Shepherd Sunday, using one of the readings from John’s gospel, where Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.  And, in January, when we celebrate St. Timothy Sunday here at St. Timothy’s, we will also have one of these readings with Jesus telling the disciples that he is the Good Shepherd.  So, twice a year, every year, there’s an opportunity for me to talk about the Good Shepherd. 

Now, three years ago, I used that justification for talking instead about our lovely Dorcas window, and the Dielhenn family’s petticoat business.  But, if I’m honest, I also sort of did that to avoid grappling with this particular gospel text we have today, which we’ll have again three years from now.  Because this reading suggests some uncomfortable and difficult issues and . . . well, who likes uncomfortable and difficult issues?  But, since I’ve already played my Dorcas card, and my Psalm 23 card in years past, there’s nothing left to do but jump right in here.

As I have told you before, John’s gospel is often accused of being antisemitic.  In John, the ones depicted as being opposed to Jesus are usually just called “the Jews.”  We can try to massage this by saying “the Jewish leaders,” or some preachers like to change the word to “the Judeans,” but that’s not what the text says.  Over and over in John, the challengers of Jesus are simply referred to as “the Jews.”  No way around it.

And that particular phrasing John uses has been the justification for horrific antisemitism for centuries.  John’s writing might not be anti-Semitic, but people definitely use John’s writing to justify their own antisemitism.  And the quickest way to short circuit such thinking is to remind ourselves that Jesus was a Jew; all his disciples were Jews.  And they were faithful Jews, not some radical sect or offshoot.  So any time John refers to “the Jews,” you have to take it with a grain of salt—or maybe a tablespoon—and make the correction in your mind.  Because all the Jews cannot be opposed to Jesus, if Jesus and his disciples are also Jews.

Okay.  So that said, here’s the really disturbing part of this passage.  As we heard, “The Jews” gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 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.”  You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.

John is not helping us here.  Because the suggestion is that it is “the Jews”—all the Jews—do not belong to Jesus’ sheep.  But, as we already saw, the disciples and Jesus are also Jews, so that cannot be what Jesus means.  He is talking to a specific group of people standing in front of him, not the Jews of every time and place.  Like I said, John is not helping us here.

And that’s just the first problem with this reading.  The next challenge is the idea that some people are destined to be among the sheep of Jesus, and some people are not.  The theological term for this is “predestination.”  Or, at its Calvinist worst, double predestination—where some people are chosen for hell before they are born.

For Jesus to say, “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep,” is . . . well . . . disconcerting, to say the least.  What does it even mean?  That some people are destined to be Jesus’ sheep?  That some people are not destined to be in this fold?  Does it mean that some people choose to follow Jesus and some choose not to?  That is very dangerous territory, leaving the choice up to us.  And even more dangerous is to maintain that some are chosen and some are not.  And on top of all of that, the implication is that some people are in, and some people are not.  You see why I talked about the Dorcas window last time?

It’s not a very satisfying answer, but I think this is the only place we can land with all this.  

We don’t know what it means when Jesus says, “You do not belong to my sheep.”  But we do know what it means to belong to his sheep.  We don’t know about those who do not belong to his sheep, but we do know what Jesus means when he says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”  I mean, that’s why we’re here today: because we hear his voice.

Those who are not Jesus’ sheep—whoever that may be—that is not us.  It’s possible—and I would maintain it’s true—that there are no people who are not Jesus’ sheep.  I would argue that all people are beloved children of God, because if that’s not true . . . well then I need to find another job.

As I’ve said, there are a lot of problems with this reading from John’s gospel, and it raises a lot of questions that are uncomfortable for us.  But here is what I love about this passage . . .

Jesus says, “No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  No one and no thing can ever separate us from the love of Jesus.  No matter what happens in our lives.  No matter the disappointments, and the tragedies, and the grief and loss and hard times, no one will snatch us out of the hand of Jesus.  We are sheep in God’s fold—loved and redeemed and cherished.  And no one will snatch us out of the hand of Jesus.

As we heard from the Revelation to St. John:  the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Wipe away every tear from our eyes.  Honestly?  That’s the only thing I could ever hope for.  That is the sign that we are loved beyond measure.  That God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and call us by name.

No one will snatch us out of Jesus’ hand.  Ever.  We are the beloved lambs of Jesus.  We know his voice and we follow him.  And no one will ever take that away, no matter what.  We are lambs who belong to The Lamb.  Let us go and tell the others.  No one will snatch us out of the hand of the Good Shepherd.


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