The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fourth Sunday after Easter
You’d think the Temple Hospitality Committee would roll out the red carpet for Jesus. He arrives for the Festival of Dedication, to be met at the door by an interrogation committee asking him pointed, hostile questions, not giving him a welcome. A joyous, thankful festival turns into an inquisition. Sometimes even God’s chosen act suspicious and mean-spirited. Does that surprise us?
“Don’t keep us guessing, Jesus. Are you Messiah or not? Your silence is really starting to annoy us.” We can’t fault these Jews for wanting to know. Wouldn’t we all love some authoritative word, or an inner revelation we could share in common and could trust? Then we’d know for sure and maybe follow more closely – right?
Like these Jews, at some point, though, each of us has to make a personal leap of faith to decide who Jesus is for us. For 2000 years the church has struggled to define Jesus. Evidence will always be inconclusive. Even people who saw Jesus teach and heal held opposite opinions. Faith can be messy, steeped in mystery and hunches – frustrating. “So Jesus, are you Messiah or not?”
Some of these Jews are curious – leaning for Jesus. Others oppose Jesus, thinking he claims more than a human should. He frustrates both sides. He’s not going to show his birth certificate. “I have already told you. You don’t believe.” Those whose minds are made up and shut tightly aren’t going to change regardless of what Jesus says. “Look at works I do in my Father’s name (there he goes again, claiming, if not to be God, then a direct descendent, unlike them). My works testify who I am. You don’t believe because you’re not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” That’s it then – if you’re not for him, you’ve got a hearing problem. After all sheep will follow the shepherd they’ve learned to trust and who goes with them.
All it takes to be part of Jesus is to listen for and recognize, then follow him. You’re one of his sheep. He leads us – to his Father and ours. They are one. Jesus’ purpose is God’s. His voice breathes Easter’s new creation into our hearts to bring us alive in a different way. So how do you know you are his – he is raised up in us? We hear his voice. We enter relationship with him. We’re in his flock.
Believing is hard work. Ask these Jews. How do we know what we are to believe? What if it goes against what we’ve learned to believe? How will know when we have enough belief? Do we understand enough to really know what we believe? Even his disciples, for quite awhile, weren’t sure what to believe. Yet they hear his voice. They keep following, even if they can’t always understand.
You are here today. That’s a good sign. At some earlier point in time, we’ve heard his voice. He’s enfolded us as flock members. Don’t spread this around, but being a flock member trumps being a church member. People join churches sometimes, but are yet to hear his voice – and be convinced enough to follow him. We’re in, not because we have correct beliefs. We’re here not because we’ve earned enough point, or we’re so good and righteous. The only thing we hold in common – voice recognition, opened ears, and changed hearts. We love and follow Jesus. That’s all it takes. Sadly, churches will kick people out, but not Jesus. Nobody gets tossed out of his flock. He looks back and sees us as his, and his Father’s beloved and nudges us on.
We hear he forgives sins. That’s good, if we believe we need forgiveness. We hear Jesus say God loves us all, that no one is outside the Father’s love, care and mercy. So we trust that voice, don’t we – enough to love ourselves and each other as he does. Many days other voices drown his out. That’s why we need to tune in to our shepherd’s voice constantly. We hear his voice, we’ll feel secure, so secure and loved we’ll change direction to follow him. We hear his voice, and that’s all he asks. He doesn’t quiz us on scripture, if we believe the Creeds word for word, if we know the right atonement theory, what we think of his mama, or if we can find our way through the Prayer Book. You can have doubts, questions, and hesitations – and still be in his flock. Only closed minds, hardened hearts, and stopped up ears cause setbacks. And eventually, since he has already found and forgiven all of us, even those we don’t like, he’ll know how to enfold us together. That’s what matters.
Belonging to Jesus depends on what he says, not on what we believe. Jesus makes us his sheep; we don’t make him our shepherd. God’s come seeking us long before we long for God. We are his flock not because we look alike, agree on everything, and think alike – might even be a goat or two among us. What we hold in common – he loves us all equally, and forgives us. So those we don’t like may have something to teach us – about ourselves. We are all here, in his flock, by God’s decision, by grace.
Listen. We can hear his voice. One day, we’ll hear and follow him beyond the safety of our pews – and out into a messy, tough world. Jesus still has sheep that need to hear his voice, know his love, and forgiveness. They may hear his voice in ours, and be drawn into his love, and come with us as his flock. Awesome assignment we’re given, isn’t it? It’s Easter again. Jesus says we’re sheep. Our assignment? To feed and to lead his other sheep home.