Sermons That Work

The Fourth Sunday of Easter Is…, Easter 4 (A) – 2008

April 13, 2008

This Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In all three lectionary years – A, B, and C – we read the Good Shepherd monologue from the tenth chapter of John. It is a complicated passage, in that Jesus identifies himself as being the Good Shepherd, the Gatekeeper, and even the Gate to the sheep-fold.

And it would be the assertion of this gospel that Jesus was the logos or “God’s word” made flesh to dwell among us; and so it could be argued, and indeed should be, that Jesus knew as much about being one of the sheep of God’s pasture as anyone among us.

Understanding this passage is made even more difficult by chopping the tenth chapter of John into three pieces, to be read on three different years.

If that is not all confusing enough – Shepherd, Gatekeeper, Gate, Sheep, and being chopped up over three years – try this out for size: one commentator wrote that this passage “is theological, Christological, soteriological, eschatological, ecclesiological and ethical.”

Yikes! Does anyone among us really, truly want to unpack that sentence?

To make matters even more confusing, when the Bible uses the term “shepherd,” it not only refers to spiritual leadership, but it often has political meaning as well. The political leaders of Israel and the rulers of occupying nations, such as Babylon, Greece, and Rome, are often castigated for being wicked and bad shepherds. Or by our Lord’s own words, they are identified as “thieves and bandits.” As much as we might like to pretend our Lord Jesus was meek and mild, lying in a manger all 30 years of his life, he really did have some rather startling political things to say and do in his latter years along the way to the cross, the grave, and the resurrection.

Yet, is it a stretch of anyone’s imagination that some political leaders come only to steal, kill, and destroy?

Finally, as the passage is edited these days, we miss one crucial assertion of Jesus in verse 15: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” The church is always haunted by the notion that perhaps one can be of God and not be of the church. But long before there was a church, Jesus makes it clear that all of God’s children, all of God’s sheep, all of God’s critters, are not all of one flock.

That verse, which was not included in today’s reading, may be the most important one for us to reflect upon, and embody, and make our own: God has other sheep and will and does provide for them as God does and will provide for us. In fact, until we can really embrace that singular notion, it strikes me as impossible for us to claim what is at the heart of this gospel – that Jesus comes so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

Now all of this is not some sort of marketing scheme to suggest that if we pray and pray and pray we will get everything we want. Because it turns out that Jesus, and God, and the Holy Spirit all agree that we should, in fact, learn to live with just what we need. What we want and what we need are two entirely different realms of abundance. Until we get that straight, we will read and re-read our first lesson from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles and be eternally baffled.

In the second chapter of Acts, the early believers devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. We read that they had all things – not some things, not a lot of things, but ALL things – in common. We read that all things would be redistributed to any as had need. They spent much time together and in the Temple. And day by day, God added to their numbers.

Why did people flock to this early church community? Just look at them. They shared everything with one another, including the most valuable commodity of all: time. “They spent much time together.” Isn’t it amazing? We find it nearly impossible to find the time to spend an hour or two once a week with one another, whereas they spent “much time together.”

There are two things to consider in this. First, we tend to say to ourselves, “Things were much simpler back then.” I think not. Consider that if you spent much time with other Christians, the good and civilized people of the Roman Empire would hunt you down, lock you up, and send you to the lions or gladiators to toy with. Also, anyone who has lived with just five or ten people who hold all things in common can tell you that it is no simple matter to sort out people’s needs and share the goods and possessions accordingly.

The second thing we need to think about is that the abundance promised consisted primarily of time shared with others, not an abundance of things. As Jesus asserts time and time again, spending all our time on the acquisition, accumulation, and consumption of things leaves precious little time for fellowship, relationships, and community. The world of acquisition, accumulation, and consumption is a lonely life, an isolated life, where one spends a lot of time building and filling barns – and now self-storage lockers – with more and more stuff. There is no time for fellowship, relationships, and community in such a scheme, let alone time to make room for the Lord to “add to our number” those who are being saved.

God sent Jesus to help us to understand all of this. God sent Jesus to deliver this “news.” God sent Jesus to call into community people who want to live this way. People who want to know God’s love and care for them in this way.

We all want to be those people who “come in and go out.” We all want to experience that kind of freedom. We all want to experience the kind of care and protection described by Jesus and by Luke in the Book of Acts. Jesus is the one who promises this kind of protection to all who desire to be a part of his flock.

It hinges on our stewardship of time, and especially our observance of Sabbath time. We are to become those people who “spend much time with one another in the Temple.” We are to become the kind of people who read the Bible, take communion, and pray together – not alone, not by ourselves, but in community, fellowship, and in relationship with God in Christ and in relationship to one another.

The good news, sisters and brothers, is that our God wants us to experience an abundance of all of that really matters. Our God wants to take care of all of our needs. Our God has supplied us with a particular care for all of our needs by the giving and sharing of our gifts in community. When people see us living in this way, the Lord will indeed add to our number day by day.

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Christopher Sikkema


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