4 Easter – May 8, 2022
Jesus’ identity is in question in our gospel passage for this morning. This is the only time in John’s gospel that Jesus is asked directly whether he is the Messiah. “Tell us plainly”. And Jesus’ answer is less than clear. Instead of saying, “I have told you that I am the Messiah,” he responds, “I have told you.” What, Jesus? What have you told us? But then, Jesus goes on and connects his identity back to his sheep. He never calls himself the good shepherd in this passage. Instead, he points to his relationship with the sheep. Perhaps that is the focus of the passage for today. Jesus’ relationship with his sheep, Jesus’ relationship with us, with you and me.
I think the question asked of Jesus strikes a chord in most of us. With all that’s been going on in our world, in our lives, don’t we at least wonder about the question – where are you, Jesus? Are you really the Messiah? I’m supposed to know your voice, but so often I don’t.
At first glance, Jesus’ response, “but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep” might seem to indicate that we don’t belong to Jesus because we don’t believe. But that’s not what he is saying here. He’s saying that if we belong, we will believe. In other words, belonging comes first, not believing. Belonging comes before believing.
And that gives us hope and consolation. If we belong to Jesus, we are held by him and no one will snatch us out of God’s hands.
Sheep know their shepherd because they are his; they walk, graze, feed and sleep in his shadow, beneath his rod and staff, within constant earshot of his voice. They believe because they have surrendered to his care, his authority, his leadership, and his guidance. There is no belonging from the outside; this is not a spectator sport. Belong, Jesus says. Consent to belong. Belief will follow.
Chelsey Harmon talks about a wood print she picked up years ago at an art show made by Scott Erikson. It picks up on the metaphor Jesus uses to describe his sheep: in God’s hands. Hands in the shape of a heart hold a rowboat in wavy water. She bought the print because it captures for her the security of being in God’s hands and that nothing is able to snatch her away from there. But the two other parts of the print also image what Jesus describes in our passage today. First, there is still trouble and challenge in our lives, and there always will be…..so belief and listening do not always come easy: the boat is in the midst of somewhat troubled waters. Second, the rowboat has oars or paddles: so in God’s hands is still an active belonging (for example, there are some things for me to do).
The image of the rowboat with paddles in rough water, reminds me of Nadia Bolz-Weber who is a Lutheran pastor and writer, known for her tattoos, her cursing and most importantly for truth telling and authenticity. She uses the image of a rowboat for the importance of community and being in relationship with others and with God. She speaks of authentic community as a rowboat full of idiots doing the best we can. I simply love that – a rowboat full of idiots doing the best we can. When everyone rows the boat moves along easier. When one of us jumps ship, the rest of us have to row harder. It’s a team sport.
Another way to look at this is the biblical story of the man who needed healing being lowered through the roof to reach Jesus. Sometimes we are the ones doing the lowering and sometimes we are the ones that need lowered. We need each other. When I am having trouble believing, my teammates in the boat believe on my behalf. The important part here is belonging. We are in the boat with the other rowers. We are part of and belong to the sheep fold.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus does not just know about you. He knows you, and He has known you since before the creation of the world. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows you way better than any mere earthly shepherd knows his sheep. He died on the cross for love. Love for you and me.
I realize how much I listen to so many other voices, voices from outside and even from within, telling me, well, you know what they say—you know those voices—and yet the good shepherd, interrupts the chatter by calling my name, saying “I know you, Sherry, and you know me. Trust me.” The good shepherd reminds me, “No one and no thing will snatch you away from me.”
And if we all listen closely, we will hear the promise from our good shepherd that we need to hear this week: “I came that you may have life, (insert your name) and have it abundantly.”
“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….Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” Amen.