The Fourth Sunday of Easter; Year C (4/21/2013)

Lessons:
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23 (1)
Revelation 7:9-17
St. John 10:22-30

Prayer of the Day:
O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep.  By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

10:22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So 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.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”


St. John 10:22-30 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Sheep and Shepherds

Sheep are among the dumbest of animals. I don’t want to offend anyone who might be a sheep-lover, but it’s true. I suspect this is why the Bible holds so many sayings about sheep. They are among the most trusting, obedient animals alive — not because they’ve rationally decided to be trusting and obedient, but because they aren’t smart enough to be any other. However, although they don’t have much independence or initiative, what they do have is a clear sense of who their master is, and what they should do when their master beckons.

A pastor tells a story about a hike on the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. Along the way he met a shepherd. He began to talk to the shepherd about sheep (probably looking for a sermon illustration). The shepherd told him that the sheep did not all belong to him: some belonged to another farmer. Late that afternoon the other farmer came out to get his sheep. The Pastor wondered how they would tell them apart. It was easy: the shepherd got on top of a stump and started calling the sheep. Those who belonged to him heard his voice, and followed because it was him. Those who did not belong to him heard the voice, considered it just another annoyance, and went back to what they were doing.

That is what Jesus has in mind in today’s Gospel lesson. The church lawyers and the religious scholars who oppose him are challenging him. They ask him some difficult questions — trying to set him up. They are brilliant and shrewd characters. But Jesus is wiser yet, and meets their challenge with some brilliance of his own. They say to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”  He says:

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.

As he often does: he turns the question back towards them. He gives an answer, but not to their question. They ask, “Are you the Christ?” He answers, “You’ve seen my actions. You’ve heard my words. Yet you don’t believe. You may know much, but when it comes to what is most important, these sheep are wiser than you are, because they at least know who is taking care of them, and have the sense to follow him when he calls.”

What matters is that we have heard and come to recognize the Shepherd’s voice. It’s spoken to us through parents and grandparents and others who witness to us; through the words of Scripture in our times of private devotion and corporate worship; through the presence of Christ in the meal that we share. The voice of the Shepherd has spoken to us in many and various ways, and its message for us is the word of God, saying: “You are mine. I love you. I will never let anything snatch you out of my hands.” That, indeed, is good news. May we hear it so well and so often, that when the symphony of voices calls out to us from this world, this voice rises above the chaos, as one that we recognize and trust.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd?
  2. Why is that image an important one for Jesus to share with his listeners?
  3. What other voices do you suspect called out to the people of Jesus’ day?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What voices do I hear calling out to me today?
  2. How much time do I spend listening to those voices, compared to the time I spend listening to God’s voice?
  3. When has God’s voice spoken to me in a way that contradicted other voices I hear, and called me to faithfulness?