Sermon Easter 4C 2019                         The Rev. John M. Atkins

From the Gospel of John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jewish religious authorities gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “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. 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. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

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O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Before I begin my sermon this morning, I want to acknowledge Kendrick Castillo, the brave young man who died trying to stop one of the gunmen in the Stem School in Colorado last Wednesday.  There were other innocent victims harmed as well as hearts of families and community broken.  I think of the Mothers of all school shooting victims and those whose children died from other senseless acts of violence. 

The first recorded school shooting in the U.S. took place in 1840.  Since that time, there have been 409 school related shootings.  I pray for the day when our country refrain from complacency, come together and successfully resolve this complex crisis with wisdom, openness and unselfishness.

Would you please join me in a moment of silence for all those whose lives have been stolen or altered by acts of violence.     

Thank you.    

Today, you may recall a treasured memory of your Mother.  And then again, maybe you don’t.  Or maybe this day reminds you of your Mother’s passing or something else painful.

We’re not all the same.  We possess assorted memories.  That’s the way life is.  And, everyone’s feelings related to their memories need to be valued.   

On this Mother’s Day, I’m reminded that many in the Church throughout the centuries have perceived Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as their Mother – just as the youngest disciple claimed Mary as his Mother at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

The role of Mother can be a painful one.  To our Mothers, I acknowledge that I am sharing nothing new to you.  I’m referring not only to the birth process, but the natural way kids hurt their parents as they become more strong-willed and independent, they grow up and move away.  And, some, like Mary, have to face the death of their child.

I’m very blessed to still have my Mom, though we live miles apart.

Among the treasured memories tucked away of my childhood is the distinct voice of my Mom calling out for me to come into the house.  Since we lived on a farm, she had to call out piercingly – something that was difficult for my Momma to do.  But somehow, she summoned up the voice to be heard.

Voices of our parents, Grandparents, Godparents and other guardians are extremely important. Their voices are intended to lay the foundation of right and wrong and self-worth.  If our early caregivers are followers of Jesus, their voices help lay the foundation of an awareness of God’s never-ending love for us and the world Jesus gave himself to save.

Our reading from John’s Gospel gives us the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd’s voice is crucial for his sheep.

During the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah as it is known today, Jesus was walking in Jerusalem’s Temple, specifically, in the portico of Solomon.  Jesus addressed the Jewish religious authorities attempting to entrap him.  He spoke, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.”

Like my Momma, Jesus has a distinct voice that his sheep, his followers, can identify.

I find it interesting that Julian of Norwich, along with other medieval theologians, referred to Jesus as our Mother.

Jesus’ voice is often a soft, gentle, encouraging voice; a voice welcoming, healing, forgiving, guiding and loving.  Jesus cares for the sick, comforts those who mourn, and feeds the hungry with good things.  Yet, when Jesus needs to be firm – he is firm.  Most usually, according to the Gospel accounts, Jesus and his voice is unmistakably stern when confronting the abuse of power.  Jesus protects his sheep.  Jesus condemns any person, group or authority imposing hardship upon people, especially the most vulnerable.   

In our Gospel reading, Jesus makes a shocking statement.  His voice was unwavering.  “The Father and I are one.”  This statement infuriated those religious men.  They heard blasphemy, plain and simple.  Those religious leaders would hear no more.  Jesus must go.

As I said before, this conversation took place in the portico of Solomon.  Remember your Bible history?  Solomon was the 10th Son of King David and the second son of Bathsheba.  He was regarded as one of the greatest kings of Israel.  Solomon was known for his wisdom, prolific writings and building achievements.  Yet, Solomon wasn’t always the best representative of God, nor was he always a good human being.  There were times when he treated his subjects as slaves, particularly when building Jerusalem’s first Temple.  Also, he sold weapons to Israel’s enemies.  By doing so, Solomon gathered incredible wealth for his own enjoyment and for lining his own royal pockets.

When Jesus made the scandalous claim that God the Father and Jesus are one, he was saying: ‘If you want to know God, look at how I behave and how I care for my sheep.  I have compassion for them, I heal them, I feed them, I forgive and encourage them.  I listen to them and they listen to my voice.  I love my sheep – just as God loves his people – in blatant contrast to King Solomon using and abusing his sheep.’

There are many ‘authorities’ competing for us to listen to their voices.  Some ‘authorities’ use and abuse their followers.

Some ‘authorities’ are imposed upon us, but not all.  Some of the abusive authorities we choose.  Anything to which we yield to the power of their healthy or unhealthy influence becomes an authority for our life.  Our authorities may include parents, teachers, a group of peers, sports, hobbies, an interest group, an addiction, a special relationship, material possessions, music, or a combination of things.

While we can have several authorities in our life, only one will dominate as ‘the authority’ and influence the way we choose to live and respond to others.

I recall hearing the commanding voices of my parents when I was a youth misbehaving.  I could recognize, not only by my guilt, but by their intonation, that my behavior was viewed as troubling, unhealthy and obviously unacceptable.

As I got older, the sensitivity to my parent’s guiding voices and my own developing healthy inner-dialogue became somewhat muffled by the world and all the distracting voices vying for my attention, especially after I moved away from the farm.

It does us well to continually develop keen sensitivity toward hearing the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  Jesus truly cares for us.  He gave his life for us.  And, Jesus calls out to us.

Like an emotionally and spiritually healthy parent, Jesus desires to love and protect us from toxic and abusive powers craving our response and devotion.         

As you and I celebrate Mother’s Day in our own way, may we take into consideration the imagery of Jesus, not only as the Good Shepherd, but also, Jesus as our gracious Mother. 

I invite you to join me in striving to be increasingly more attentive in listening to Jesus’ compassionate, encouraging, healing, forgiving voice – the voice of the one revealing God’s nature as self-giving love.