Fourth Sunday of Easter
Homily for 4.21.13
Today is the fourth Sunday of the church's Easter-Season celebration, and in today's pericope we are invited into the majestic presence of the Great-Good Shepherd, the one who knows his own flock and cares for them to the uttermost. This text calls for us to think-through the character and the work of the Great-Good Shepherd -- who is Jesus, the one who was dead, who now lives forevermore and who holds in his hand the people he loves.
The text reads,
"My sheep hear my voice; I know them..."
which is a coded way for Jesus to let his hearers know that the true and faithful ones of the Hebrew nation will recognize him as the one, true Messiah, and therefore the genuine King of Israel. At once, this must be understood as a political message: Jesus is the Shepherd of Israel, not Herod and not Caesar. But, notice also, underneath, we also find a path to true life, new life, and a new way to live.
That is, Jesus has followers; has those who have offered themselves to him. And how will these true and faithful ones of the nation be recognizable? The text reads:
"they hear his voice,"
"they follow me..."
That is, they follow the Jesus-way.
This thought actually pushes our attention to, among other of the Jesus-teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, where the Teacher confronts the nation with the true reality of his Kingdom and the genuine way Kingdom-life is to practiced.
Notice how the sermon ends with these powerful words:
21 "Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' 23 Then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' 24 "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!" (Mt.7:21-27)
The primary emphasis of this above text is found on doing the will of the Father and on hearing and doing the teachings of Messiah, King Jesus. OK. So, what is it to do the will of the Father? I am arguing here that to do the will of the Father is to hear the words of Jesus and to do them -- to actually practice them -- and that this is what it means when Jesus says,
both in today's text and beyond.
But, what must be quickly added, as many have pointed out before, the Sermon on the Mount was not only Jesus' teaching of true Kingdom-living for those who believed him to be the true Messiah, but it was an actual and accurate description of how Jesus himself lived his life as well!
Turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and loving your enemies
are the most cogent examples from the sermon of how Jesus practiced what he preached!
So, besides offering the Hebrew nation the path to its true Messiah, what this sermon and Jesus' own practice of the sermon also means to show us is the true path to a true humanness, the path on which the Father wanted us to travel all along. But, sadly, this is the path -- this narrow way -- that we continually missed through our own choices, our own selfishness and our own false-self, which we have built up around our own soul's protection.
Therefore, Jesus, the Great-Good Shepherd offers us the way out of the trap that is the self, and as such he is our model of genuine humanness. To truly follow Jesus, therefore, means we become truly human and part of GOD's ultimate reclamation project of his good world now marred, but it is also to discover the purpose and meaning of life that we have always longed to find but failed because we always foolishly searched in the places of addiction and vice and selfishness.
This thought is deeply underscored in how the text presents to us the life-giving work of the Great-Good Shepherd:
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand."
For we who live in the fear of death and scarcity, just how precious, then, is the promise of the Great-Good Shepherd, who offers us the gift of security found in eternal life:
- This gift of eternal life begins in the now and extends beyond that moment when we face the eternal and living King.
- This gift is what no one else can offer to us.
- This is the gift found in the fount of the resurrection of Jesus’ life giving power whom we celebrate today.
The text read and the LORD says
"They shall never perish (!)"
Never perish? Never? Yes, never.
- Never will those who have died in the LORD be separated from his hand.
- Never will those who have left us in death -- if they found faith in Messiah, King Jesus -- truly be separated from us.
- Never can we count our story over and done with because eternal life is the gift -- "I give them eternal life" -- Jesus offers us.
So, think about it in this way: What is the greatest enemy we face?
It is the terror of death that haunts us, of course. But, what Jesus here tells us is that nothing, not even the great enemy death, can snatch us out of his hand! Yes, think of it! Those on the Jesus-way are held in the hand of the LORD, kept in the hands of the Father, secured for that glorious moment of the revealing of the King, who comes to complete and finalize the work of the Father.
When I think in this direction I am always reminded of the death of my own father. He was a man of simple faith. He was delivered from alcohol by the living Christ and that reality was enough for him. As far as I know he never doubted the reality of Christ's power or love. When his health failed him, and when it became clear to him that he would not get better, I think he did what I have seen many others do, he simply dismissed his spirit. That is, his faith was so strong in the life-changing, life-giving power of the LORD that he simply gave his life back to the Almighty, knowing for sure that Jesus waited for him.
There, before me as he died, was such a security, such a serenity and such a peace that I shall never forget what I witnessed, and I have seen many, many deaths. Said differently, I would say that the last lesson my father left me was perhaps an understanding of how many a Christian believer, who is not in pain -- dies: Softly, in serenity, at peace.
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
To which we say, Amen and Amen.
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”