Fourth Sunday of Easter

The Holy Gospel according to John, the 10th chapter.

Glory to you, O Lord.

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 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." 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.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon Easter 4

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Judeans, especially the religious leaders, have been demanding answers from Jesus. They want him to prove himself. 

We can sure relate to that. We have questions for Jesus, too, especially lately, with everything that has been going on in the news.

Yes, we have questions -

What can be done to stop the violence, Jesus? 

Why is Cain still killing Abel? 

Why do people want to hurt each other?

Even children in schools, even people praying and worshiping are targets of violence.  Why, Jesus?

Why can’t our politicians and people agree on anything that might help?

And, not just this week but every week, we ask Jesus:

How can we get more people to come to church, especially young people?

What can be done about hunger and homelessness and poverty and disease in our community and the world?

The Judeans wanted answers from Jesus. They wanted him to respond and tell them plainly if he is the Messiah.  Maybe they even wanted their own personal miracle to prove it. He doesn’t give the answer they want. 

We also want answers from Jesus. Why do bad things happen?  Why do people do bad things? We would like clear instructions about how to improve the world we live in.  Jesus doesn’t answer us directly either.

Listen to what Jesus does say, to the Judeans, and to us, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.”  He knows us.  He knows our concerns. He knows what has been happening in the news.  He knows what is keeping us awake at night.  We can share anything at all with Jesus because he already knows.  We don’t have to hold anything back. 

He says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  This is good news indeed.  He doesn’t tell us we have to listen hard or we will miss it.  It isn’t something we have to work to do.  We will always be able to hear him.  

No matter where we wander off, his voice will reach us.  And we will wander off.  We all know that wandering is part of our nature.  We get distracted.  We think the grass will be greener somewhere else.  We follow someone who leads us away from the rest of the flock.  

Sometimes we will wander away from the right pathways into places we should not be.  Sometimes we think we are on the right pathway, but we have made a wrong turn. 

Sometimes, we wander away where we can’t see the shepherd.  We don’t know where the rest of the flock is grazing.  We feel alone and we fear the wolves, both the real ones, and the ones we only imagine are out there.  

Whether we stay on the right pathway, or wander far away, no matter where we go, we can never go beyond the reach of Jesus' voice.  Even when we go through the valley of the shadow of death, he will be with us. His words will comfort us.

When I was a Girl Scout leader and took the troop hiking in the woods, I told each scout to carry a whistle.  Every scout knows that they are supposed to blow the whistle if they get separated from the group.  They don’t just blow it once, though.  They keep blowing the whistle until the others follow the sound and find them.  

Jesus is like that scout who doesn’t just blow the whistle once. Jesus doesn’t just say a few words and stop talking.  Jesus still speaks.  You can’t shut him up.  No one can make him stop.  Not even death could shut him up.

He keeps speaking when other voices try to drown him out.  Other voices and other noises have always tried to drown him out. Sometimes it can be a challenge to sort out which voice is his.

Have you ever told someone they had “selective hearing?”  Have you ever been told you have “selective hearing?”  You know what that means.  It means you think someone just hears what they want to hear.

Sometimes we are like the Judeans.  We ask Jesus questions and he doesn’t tell us what we want to hear, so we develop “selective hearing" and think he has stopped talking.  We want Jesus to say, “yes” to all our requests, but he doesn’t. 

Then the other voices seem louder and louder.  Those voices don't always tell the truth, but they may be telling us what we want to hear. They tell us that we are the ones in control. They tell us we have to protect what we have so that no one will take it away.  They tell us that people who don’t look like us or pray like us or love like us, want to hurt us.  They tell us that people who don’t believe the same things we do about God want to hurt us. 

While the other voices get louder, we hear the noises, too, and noises scare us.  We want to hide when we hear the noises.  We remember that there really are wolves out there. We are afraid to go out and do what we need to do. We tell each other to “shelter in place.” 

Then, we worry that there won’t be enough for everyone, so we don’t share.  We get distracted with our worries and we forget all about listening for the voice of the shepherd.  

Jesus never promised that the world we live in would be safe.  It certainly wasn’t safe for him. There are wolves out there. The other voices and the noises will always be out there trying to drown out his voice.  

But Jesus continues to speak.  His voice is reassuring.  He reminds us we can always hear him and we will always know him.  We can tune our “selective hearing” to the channel his voice is on. We will always get good reception when we do that. 

Jesus speaks to us today.  He says words like these:  

“I forgive you. I forgive those who have hurt you.”

“I love you always.”

“I give you eternal life.”

“No one can snatch you out of my hand.”

“This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed for you.”

“My peace I leave with you.”

Today, let us live together in Christ’s peace, trusting that his words are true.  The victory is already won. There will be a great multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne....for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd.  

It’s a beautiful vision.  You can just imagine the multitudes, people from every tribe and nation, too many to count.  They are all robed in white, waving palm branches.  The angels surround the throne of God, leading the great choir of people in singing praise. 

They are singing the same songs that we sing.  “Blessing and honor, and glory and might, be to our God forever and ever.”  So when we get there, and join them in the choir, we will already know the words. 

God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!