By The Rev. Sherry Deets
4 Easter – April 21, 2013
In John’s gospel for today, it was winter; the festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem. We know this as Hanukah today; the festival of lights, which commemorates the rededication of the temple in 164 BC after its destruction. So, we watch as a lone figure approaches and walks in the temple. Jesus is walking in the portico of Solomon, not out in the open; perhaps sheltered from the cold. And we hear the words again, “it was winter” and wonder if it doesn’t also describe the bleakness, the spiritual chill of the time and place.
The Jews surround Jesus, encircle Him and begin to attack Him with their questions. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Another translation reads “How long do you intend to annoy us?” They are not truly seeking; they do not ask so that they can believe. Jesus responds by pointing to His works “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” He points to His words, reminding them, “I have told you and you do not believe.” But it is not what they want to hear or know. Their purpose is to trap Him…to back Jesus into a corner, to gather evidence to use against Him, to eventually rid themselves of this so called “king”, this Good Shepherd. They do not recognize Him for who He is. They are not His sheep. But His sheep do know Him. They hear His voice and follow Him, see Him for who He is!
When I was in college one of my favorite subjects was psychology. Then, as now, I was fascinated by why we behave as we do. What makes us tick. One of the most interesting things learned in psychology class was that while I tended to think that belief shapes behavior – that is, our actions follow our convictions – the truth turned out to be the exact opposite: more often than not, our behavior shapes our beliefs. Ask people to put a small political sign in their yard and their support for that candidate rises dramatically. Get folks to start recycling for a month and their commitment to the environment goes well beyond what it was before they began recycling. In short, we tend to justify our actions by shaping our convictions and even identity – often unconsciously – to explain and support those actions. Which means that our popular exclamation – I’ll believe it when I see it – should probably be modified slightly but significantly: I’ll believe it when I do it.
All of this helps me make sense of what Jesus is saying. Yes, those who believe in him are part of his flock and follow him. And, at the same time, those who are following him are more likely to believe in him and identify as part of his flock. We tend to separate out “believing” and “following,” but according both to Jesus and modern psychologists the two actually go together.
Or, to put it another way, it’s really, really hard to be an armchair Christian. Only by getting out of our chairs – or, as the case may be, pews – and actually living the Christian life do we come to deeper faith and commitment.
Against the backdrop of the temple, they gaze upon Jesus…and what they see is the true temple…the living, breathing temple, the dwelling place of God.
During the festival of Dedication, the festival of lights, they look up and see Jesus …and what they see is the light of the world.
They know their Shepherd.
But where is He in our world? And how do we find Him?
We all need to find God, to discover His Presence in our lives. John’s gospel talks about that relationship today. Listen to the words again. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” “I know them.” Not “they know me and follow me” but “I know them”. Our Savior knows us. Inside and out. With all our quirks, all our imperfections, Our Savior loves us, comes for us. As human beings, we crave this intimacy; we so desperately want to be connected, to be accepted, to be included, to be known and loved for who we are. Jesus does this and then He promises that no one will snatch us away.
And His love runs deeper, because even when we’ve stopped, even when we’ve given up looking and searching, Our Lord does not. He knows us, He looks for us, He comes for us, He dies for us. While we may forget that we are His sheep, Jesus never forgets He is our Shepherd.
“It was winter.” I have felt the chill in the air over the past week as we heard and watched the Boston Marathon tragedy. I think most all of us have seen the pain, the heartache, the tragedy caused when someone is so dis-connected, so alienated, so alone. As Christians we are called to bear one another’s pain and this tragedy calls us to stop in our tracks and assess where we are and who we are. To look at the society in which we live, to call us to action, to be accountable to one another and to God for how we live our own lives.
So many were and are affected by the events of this past week, and our world became a little darker, a little colder, shattered by the scope and magnitude of anger and hurt and loneliness of two brothers. It was winter.
And as the event unfolded and was played out in the media, we found ourselves on our knees, crying out and praying. And I hope we recognized the Truth that stood before us…that in our own searching and looking for an answer, we found a Good Shepherd searching and looking for us. (Justine Guernsey)
I found comfort knowing He was there. Knowing that when I couldn’t find Him, He found me. And as my Shepherd bent down to pick me up, I heard Him say,
“I know them and they will 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, no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.”
We are His sheep. Remember, never to fear the power of evil more than your trust in the power and love of God. We are His sheep. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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