By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
April 25, 2010
Read: John 10:22-30
In Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ, Superstar, King Herod sings a mocking song to Jesus – “Who are you, Jesus Christ?” It is a question that people have asked for two thousand years. Who is this Jesus? Is he a great teacher or a fraud? Is he a sage or revolutionary or miracle worker? Is he “just a man,” as the Mary Magdalene figure sings in the musical play or is he something more? Is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior?
We often imagine that had we lived at the time of Jesus, seen him and heard him, it would have been easier to believe in him. It may or may not have been.
In our Gospel text, Jesus is confronted by his fellow Jews. The time was winter, the feast of Dedication, what we know as Hanukkah, and the place was the portico of Solomon at the Temple in Jerusalem. They asked Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense,” literally, “raise or take away our souls,” “Are you the Messiah?” They had heard Jesus’ words and seen Jesus’ works and still did not know whether Jesus was the promised Messiah or just another rabbi. They did not understand who Jesus was.
But Jesus replied:
“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.”
“The works that I do in my father’s name testify to me,” he said. There was plenty of evidence that Jesus was the Messiah:
• He had changed water into wine at a wedding reception.
• He had healed a boy who had been at death’s door.
• He had told a man who could not walk, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” –– and the man did just that.
He had done these things publicly. His enemies had seen them, but they still didn’t believe. Jesus told them, “You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”
Belief is a tricky business. Two people can look at the same thing and draw very different conclusions. When I look at the wonders of the creation, they help me to believe in the creator. Another person might look at the same wonders and see nothing but spots of light in the sky.
A simple analogy about comparing different ways of seeing has to do with the starry universe around us. There is so much of it, and it is so far away, that with our naked eyes, we really can’t see what’s there. We have to use a telescope. But by enabling us to see something of the universe, our telescope also prevents us from seeing everything. A telescope, even the mighty ones used by astronomers, can take in only so much. This describes our human situation. We’re always looking at the truth through some kind of cultural telescope, the one provided us by our parents, teachers and broader society. The good news about this situation is that our telescope enables us to see; the bad news is that it prevents us from seeing everything. So what can we do? Perhaps we can borrow someone else’s telescope and look from our neighbor’s eyes. Even though these new telescopes might seem strange to us and difficult to adjust our eyes to—we can see things that we missed with our own. And the more differently built and angled these telescopes are, the more new things we’re going to be able to see. And the more telescopes we manage to use, the more our vision and understanding of truth will expand. (Paul F. Knitter: Introducing Theologies of Religions)
My friend tells a story about a young man who was having trouble believing in God. I should rephrase that. He wasn’t having trouble believing. He didn’t believe, and was announcing that fact rather defiantly to his friends– it was his truth.
A farmer overheard the conversation. He thought for a moment, and then said: “Today, I saw some sheep feeding in the fields. Nearby, some calves were feeding –– and some pigs –– and some geese.”
Then the farmer continued, “The feed that the sheep ate will turn into wool. Do you believe that?” The young man said that he understood that the feed would turn into wool.
Then the farmer said, “The feed that the calves were eating will turn into hair. Do you believe that?” The young man said that he did.
Then the farmer said, “The feed that the pigs ate will turn into bristles. Do you believe that?” The young man said that he did.
Then the farmer said, “The feed that the geese ate will turn into feathers. Do you believe that?” The young man said that he did.
Then the farmer asked, “Do you understand how that happens?” The young man confessed that he didn’t.
The farmer concluded, “Young man, you will find many things that you will know to be true –– but you won’t understand them. Some things you just have to take on faith.”
“Some things you just have to take on faith.” That’s true, isn’t it! Some people look at the evidence and believe –– take things on faith. Others look at the same evidence and do not believe. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had seen plenty of evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, but they decided not to believe. When they tried to back Jesus into a corner, he said:
“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.”
There is something that brings us all here this morning. We may not all believe in the deepest sense of the word. There is the man in Mark’s gospel who says to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” This is a piece of scripture I know well. But I have faith. I have faith in the mystery that is God. I have faith that I can only see partially through my own telescope and that there is a greater truth. I trust in God’s love for me.
Toward the end of his life, Victor Hugo, the French writer, reflected on the life that he had lived –– and the life that lay before him, yet to be lived. He spoke of life beyond the grave. He said:
“I feel within me that future life. I am like a forest that has been razed;
the new shoots are stronger and brighter.”
Isn’t that lovely imagery! “I am like a forest that has been razed; the new shoots are stronger and brighter.” Most of us have seen a place where a forest has been cut or burned –– or where a field has been burned. Places like that look ugly for awhile, but then new life begins to sprout –– and soon the new life takes over.
Hugo went on to say: “I feel I haven’t given utterance to the thousandth part of what lies within me. When I go to the grave I can say, as others have said,
‘My day’s work is done.’
But I cannot say, ‘My life is done.’
My work will recommence the next morning.
The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight but opens upon the dawn.”
What a good description of eternal life! Jesus put it this way. Keep in mind that he was speaking of us. He said:
“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.”
That’s the promise. That’s the blessing. Amen.
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