Grace and peace to you from God our Father from our risen lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
When I was a kid, my mom said I had a very common childhood disease called selective hearing. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. My husband thinks that I still have it, but I don’t think I should listen to him about that.
The Jewish leaders who interrogated Jesus suffered from an especially bad case of selective hearing. In fact, they had it so bad we should probably say they suffered from selective seeing as well. On this fourth Sunday in Easter we find ourselves in the middle of the Gospel of John, in the middle of a longer conversation Jesus was having about being the Good Shepherd. This particular part of the conversation happened during the festival the Dedication, more commonly known as Hanukkah.
“Stop stringing us along, Jesus,” they demanded. “Tell us once and for all if you are the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for!”
This makes me want to ask them, “Where were you during the first half of the Gospel of John? Taking a nap?” By the time this conversation happened, Jesus had already turned water into wine, healed a young boy, a blind man, and a paralyzed man, walked on water AND feed five thousand people. Get with the program, people. But two thousand years’ worth of hindsight has given us a pretty comfortable view from which to judge the ridiculousness of their question. To us, now, they seem dense at best and impossibly stubborn at worst. Had WE witnessed what they had seen, surely WE would have become believers by now.
But really, is seeing believing?
Jesus said this to those who could not or would not see what he was up to, “my sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”
I think that sometimes sheep get a bad reputation for blindly following their leader, like lemmings ready to jump off a cliff to their deaths. Really, I think sheep just have very clear priorities. They want to be fed, and THEY KNOW who is going to feed them. They want to be kept safe, and THEY KNOW who is going to protect them. When they hear their shepherd’s voice, they get up and follow as fast as their little sheep feet can take them, because they KNOW they are going to be cared for.
But sheep don’t have the modern world to contend with. They don’t have a constant barrage of advertisements telling them the next hot thing they should buy in order to be happy/loved/or cool. They don’t have to listen to the same songs on the radio over and over again telling us that life is just about having fun and going to parties. They don’t see the pictures in the magazines telling men to be more manly and women to be more sexy. They don’t hear the constant messages of reality TV and the evening news about the randomness and craziness of this rat race called life.
It’s been a rough week OUT THERE in the world, hasn’t it? Just this week: kids in Trenton were playing in a park when a gunfight broke out nearby. Just this week: the explosions at Boston Marathon. And was just MONDAY. Just this week there was a tragic explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Just this week two young boys were found living in a five by ten storage unit in Ewing. Just this week, an earthquake hit central China, killing thousands. And those were just a few of the headlines that made the news, only the smallest tip of a very big iceberg of pain and suffering in the world.
If seeing REALLY IS believing, then we are in a whole lotta trouble here, folks. If we just look at this week alone, we could easily come to the conclusion that the world is full of nothing but suffering and senseless violence rules the day. We would throw in the towel and conclude the world is a scary place, so what could some teacher from two thousand year ago talking about sheep have anything to do with me, here, now?
This matters because this man knew the heart and mind of God. Because this man healed people when they were broken and feed people when they were hungry. Because this man stood up to the powers of this world and beyond and said “No more.” Because this man stared death and the grave square in the face and didn’t blink, and we are four weeks into celebrating his rising from the dead. We belong to his flock, and we no longer have to be afraid.
During Jesus’ life, his flock consisted of twelve grizzled working men who had as much finesse as a hammer. They were selfish, quarrelsome, and often clueless when it came to what Jesus was trying to say to them. And since then, the flock of Jesus has come to include all who are in need of God’s grace – the poor and the oppressed, the addicted and the fearful, the broken and the exhausted, you and me.This is why the Jewish leaders refused to see – they could not abide the thought that flock of God including the likes of these.
Jesus didn’t say, “The sheep who have it all together, who always do the right thing at the right time, the perfect, unblemished sheep - THEY are the ones that hear my voice and follow me.” Jesus didn’t say that, because that kind of sheep would have no need of the gift of eternal life that Jesus has to offer. Jesus didn’t say that, because that kind of sheep simply does not exist. Instead, Jesus has claimed you in all your flawed glory as his own, a sheep of his own flock, a sinner of his own redeeming.
There is nothing that would cause our Good Shepherd to leave our side, nothing that would keep us from his care. Not our over-booked schedules, our exhaustion, our past mistakes, our suffering or even death can steal us out of the hand of Jesus. And when we find our final rest in him, there will be no more suffering, no more pain. No more hunger or thirst or war or torture or bombs or guns. There will be no more tears, because there will be nothing left to make us cry.
I recently attended the funeral of a friend’s mother who had died very suddenly. She was clearly a Tabitha for her church. During her memorial service, I was struck by these words in a hymn I had never heard before: “Nobody told me that the road would be easy. But I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.”
Friends, it’s time to turn on our selective hearing. When the world says that it’s too scary out there or that you aren’t strong enough to do anything about it anyway, Jesus says, “Follow me. You aren’t doing this alone. I’ll be here with you every step of the way.” And then just sit back and watch the amazing things that Jesus will do with your life.
For us who belong to this flock, seeing isn’t believing. For us, believing is receiving.
From Christ our Shepherd, we receive love and acceptance. We receive comfort in the face of loss. We receive peace in the midst of fear and violence. We receive assurance of hope, that we are cared for, that God’s got our back.
The road that we travel together isn’t always easy, but God didn’t bring us this far only to leave us now. AMEN.
Something that I didn't do in my sermon, but can do here, is link the song that I'm talking about: