Eastertide – Following the Good Shepherd

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Easter 4 2020
Chase Whitmire
Acts 6:1–9, 7:2a, 51–60, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:13–25, John 10:1–10

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you my Lord and King. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

This past February I did something a little different. I leaned into Black History Month in a way I have not done before. Katie was instrumental in helping us as a family do this by  sending daily articles on the history of African Americans in the USA. One of my coworkers around the same time suggested I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred, about an African American who time traveled throughout the book back into the time of slavery and into her own ancestors lives on the plantation. After reading this book I read Solomon Northrup’s 12 years a Slave and then watched the recent movie Harriet, obviously about Harriet Tubman’s life and her heroics of leading so many to freedom.

Now why am I sharing this with you several months later? One of the things that showed up in all of these story lines was the role of the Church or those who called themselves “christians” using scripture to justify oppression and dehumanization and to manipulate their “property” to obey and to honor their master–to further secure their power, wealth and privilege in society.  As I was reading this and hearing the words, thoughts and ideas coming out of the slave owners, I was repulsed and kept  saying out loud things like, God! How can you let this happen! One of the thoughts that came to mind more than once was, “God you must be real. There is no other explanation why these slaves would follow you”. I mean think about it. The slave owners literally beat into them that God ordained for them to be the property of their masters and that they were to obey and absorb the abuse brought on them because that is what God desired…

I tell you all of this to set the stage for where my mind drifted as I read our scriptures for this morning. In I Peter we find some of the words that pastors and church people used out of context to manipulate their “property” to work to the death — “Slaves obey your masters”. Now I realize that there is so much more to this passage, but, this is what took my mind back to all I had been thinking about and processing in February and the mind-blowing realization that a little over a century ago, our world and dare I say many of our church leaders tried to justify human slavery as acceptable, biblical, and even ordained by God.

With this in mind, travel with me out of 1Peter and my thinking of “what the heck” and into our Gospel passage today in John 10. As with most scripture, we need to zoom out a bit to understand the  context of The Good Shepherd and his sheep.

In John 9 we start out with a discussion between Jesus and his disciples on a difficult reality–people born with disabilities. It seems as if the teaching on the matter at the time (and I must add here that there still seems to be some sentiment that would agree today) that disabilities are the result of something someone did or didn’t do–It is some sort of punishment for sins. Let me just read to you the discussion that went on in Jn 9 to give us context:

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.

From there Jesus goes through the awesome process of healing the man which includes making mud pies out of his own spit and covering the man’s eyes and telling him to go wash himself in the place where converts to Judaism were baptised.

Well the first thing that happened is the man was healed miraculously! A man born without sight can now see! Can you imagine what must have been going through his mind. The joy and elation! Seeing himself for the first time. His hands and arms, his feet, people, buildings, trees, the sky and the list goes on and on… As the word spread, his neighbors asked him about it. He told them what happened, and they took him to the religious leaders, and this is where the trouble began and an opportunity was missed.

  • In verse 13 we see the Pharisees first interview with the man where they conclude that the man who healed him is obviously not from God since the healing was done on the Sabbath–therefore breaking the law…
  • In verse 16 they question him again
  • In verse 18 it says they didn’t believe him so they got his parents involved
  • His parents confirmed the fact that he was born blind but didn’t want to say how he was healed because; as Verse 22 says 22 His parents were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue.
  • In Verse 24 they call the man again to testify and try to make him confess that Jesus is a sinner and listen to his response in verse 25
  •  “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”
  • Well this goes on and on and back and forth but ends with this tragic exchange of shame, judgement, condemnation and curses in verse 34 with the pharisees saying this:
  • 34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

Can you imagine what the healed man might have been thinking and feeling? He has just gone from the highest of highs now to the lowest of lows. From just receiving his sight for the first time–a second chance on life, a new beginning on earth to a condemnation to eternal damnation, of shame, judgement–back to isolation.

Well folks, the story does not end here, listen to what happens next.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he loaded his shotgun, went straight to the synagogue, kicked down the door where those pharisees were sitting and unloaded on them….

Ok, that is what I might have done… Listen to what actually happened:

35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man…

I so appreciate what Jesus did here. When he heard the man had been abused by the “Shepherds” of the day instead of doing what I suggested, he goes first to care for the person who needed the attention the most. The one who had been shamed and cursed. The Good Shepherd, leaving the 99 went after the lost sheep. I would have loved to have been there to see how Jesus cared for the man. In the brief recorded part of the conversation Jesus confirms and reveals to the man that he is the Messiah and the man in return worships Jesus.

I am both convicted and inspired by the way Jesus moves towards the individual who is the object of the condemnation first. My hope is that St. Brendan’s will be known as a church who puts Jesus first and moves towards those who are hurting and in need of a personal and intentional encounter with Him.

Next, Jesus turns his attention to the ones who were supposed to be looking for the Messiah and caring for the outcast and starts speaking to the blind man but at the Pharisees who are still hanging around eavesdropping on the conversation:

 “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see[e] that THEY are blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”

41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.

And NOW we get to our Gospel reading for today…

There is so much that can be said and broken down in the first section of John 10 which we read this morning, but I want to focus on just a few main thoughts.

The first is Jesus’ rebuke of the religious leaders of his day. Now before I pile on the pharisees here,

I can’t help but think of situations when I have been on the judgement side of things, especially when certain ideas seemingly conflict with my beliefs and thoughts about what scripture says about certain issues for example. I, too, can be quick to condemn, to make a stance while disregarding the actual people who are standing in front of me with their own stories, their hurts, guilt, pain and shame.

Jesus speaks directly to me and to the pharisees implying that they are thieves and robbers because they are sneaking into the sheepfold by climbing over the wall instead of coming through the gate. Dale Bruner, one of my former seminary professors in his commentary on the Gospel of John, calls these people the “otherwayers”. I so appreciate Bruner’s description of the religious leaders saying: “Yes the leaders were biblical, but they were so biblical that they failed to be open to a mesianic sign par excellence and so missed the Gate entirely and came into  this sheepfold “another way”. They missed their own biblical messiah who is both the point of and the gate to the whole Bible right there before them in the clear and compelling witness of his healed representative.” The healed blind man in chapter 9 led them to the Gate, but they would have nothing of it. Bruner goes on to further define the Otherwayers as preachers, teachers and leaders in the church who have enthusiasms and causes other or more important than the person of Jesus Christ Himself. (Bruner 607-608)

Where am I putting my enthusiasms and causes ahead of Jesus? 

As I wrap up,  I want to reflect on John 10: 9-10 and pull a couple of encouragements for us who have entered through The Gate and the promises Jesus gives us as a result.

John 10: 9 reads,

 9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] Or will find safety. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

First, When you enter through the Gate–through Jesus– you will be kept completely safe. This idea of being saved or finding safety in short is relating to the vertical relationship with God– complete salvation, full reconciliation with God and His protection over us.

Second, when Jesus talks about us coming and going freely, he is referring to the horizontal way of relating to others in the life of Christian Freedom. And finally, the idea “life to the full” encompasses both the vertical and horizontal aspects of safety and coming and going into a “full life”. How many times has Christianity been avoided by people for fear of missing the “good life” of missing out on what they perceive as the best that life has to offer. Jesus–the one who created us and who knows what we truly desire– calls his sheep into a promise of full and abundant life. What is vying for my attention this morning?

 Jesus is inviting us this morning into a life of peace with God, of freedom, and of meaning with others. (Bruner 614)

My prayer is that God’s Spirit would give us discernment to hear his voice–the familiar voice of our Good Shepherd–as we navigate our culture, our specific environments and relationships and that we would respond to his call to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and that we would love our neighbors not only as we love ourselves, but as Jesus did and still does today.

Amen. 

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