Sermons That Work

As Is Often the Case…, Easter 4 (B) – 2009

May 03, 2009

As is often the case, what is not included in our lessons may be of utmost importance in our hearing what is going on in these lessons.

For instance, in Acts, a lame man has been healed, and Peter and John have been hauled before some sort of ecclesiastical court to explain why the lame man is not still lame. And our gospel narrative begins way back in Chapter 8 where Jesus is accused of being possessed by a demon, then in Chapter 9 he heals the blind man by the Pool of Siloam.

Then comes one of the great “I AM” passages, “I am the good shepherd,” which we have a portion of this morning, and which ends:

“There was again a great division among them because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He has a demon and is mad; why listen to him?’ Others said, ‘These are not the saying of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’”

Which perhaps asks the central question, “Why listen to him?” Why listen to Jesus? Why do we listen to Jesus at all?

After all, there are so many others competing for our attention. There is, of course, the president and all his official and unofficial spokespersons now issuing almost daily speeches and announcements to direct our attention away from the country’s problems and instead focus on their agenda. Then there are mayors and governors all demanding we listen to them. There are corporate interests trying to convince us to use more and more of their products. There are commercial interests on TV, in the paper, on the radio, and calling us at home every day trying to market and sell more things, more services, and put us deeper into debt. There are family members unhappy with the family, there are neighbors unhappy with the neighborhood, there are immigrants looking for some shred of dignity, there are talk show hosts who know it all, and of course every lay person, deacon, priest, and bishop trying to convince us that they know what is best for the church.

Like those at the end of the story and those in the Acts of the Apostles who are offended by what Jesus says and does, there are all these competing interests and voices trying to get us to turn away from Jesus and turn our lives over to them instead.

Lord, you have spread a table before us in the presence of those who trouble us. Lord, we know that you want us to listen to you. Lord, if you are listening for just one minute, just for one second of one minute, can you please shut out all the competing voices, interests, merchants, politicians and commentators for just a few minutes of silence? Lord, can you please still the waters, can you please make us lie down in green pastures, can your rod and your staff please, Lord, comfort us, touch us, protect us and heal us? Lord, please give us the time, the place, and the space to listen to you!

When we look and listen to the shrill voices that surround us on all sides every day, we begin to know the plight of the one who gave us the Twenty-Third Psalm. And if we are paying attention at all, we will stop and listen for the Good Shepherd – the Beautiful One. We will stop and listen for Jesus. And what we will hear if we are listening closely is just two words: “I am.”

For people of faith, for people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, those are the only two words we need to hear: “I am.”

Jesus says, “I am.” The people of God have heard these words before. Standing barefoot, in front of a bush that burns and is not consumed, we hear a voice and we ask, like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, “Who are you?”

The answer comes back, “I am who I am. … I am what I will be. … just tell them I AM sent you.”

The one who says “I am,” also says, “I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for my sheep.”

Let’s pause for just a moment and understand what is being said here. We are known. We all want nothing more than to be known. We spend a lifetime looking for relationships, reflecting on experiences, searching for someone who knows us, or even more fundamentally, we search to know ourselves. There is no doubt about it, the most fundamental human condition is a desire to be known.

All these other voices competing for our attention do not really want to know us. They can’t possibly know us. But there is one who does. The one who says, “I am,” wants to know us. In fact the one who says, “I am,” already knows us just as the Father knows him.

God knows us. And in that knowledge, we know God. If we really let ourselves hear what Jesus is saying, we can come to know God. Not a lot of propositions about God, not things about God, but we can experience the reality that is God.

This naturally frightens us. But such fear is not mere sentiment, but rather manifests itself in a way of life, as the First Letter of John speaks about it – a way of life that shows we respect the majesty and power of the God who says, “I am.” A life that ought to lay down its life for another.

As verse 16 says: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuse help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

For those who listen to Jesus, the shepherd becomes the Paschal lamb slain on the feast of the Passover to save us from our sins, and we are the sheep of his pasture. We are poor sheep like those he tends and leads beside still waters. We become his people, his body and blood for the world.

There are many competing voices. But only one voice calls us each by name. Only one voice knows us by name. Only one voice speaks the great, “I am.” That voice is Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.

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Christopher Sikkema


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