Fr Mike's Message - 4/30/23
The Gospel: John 10:1-10
Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, you will all remember that last week I ended my sermon by asking the question what does the phrase: "My heart was strangely warmed" mean for you?
The article I referred to, by The Rev. Richard Teal suggested what happened to John Wesley on May 24th, 1738 could be interpreted in a variety of ways:
"as his conversion,
as an experience of assurance of faith,
as the fullness of the Spirit;
as the completion of something which began in earlier years."
I imagine that if we went around the Sanctuary this morning and had you answer the question what does that phrase mean to you we would have a wide variety of responses. I also would not be surprised if some people would not be sure how to answer the question.
We are all traveling along the roadway of faith at varying speeds and depths of understanding. That is the great thing about being a part of a community.
So, when we come to a Gospel reading like the one we have this morning I would think that we would have a wide range of understanding of these verses as well.
If I was to encapsulate the thoughts of the Gospel this morning I would perhaps say something like this: Jesus is the gate to the sheep and the sheep know his voice and follow him, Jesus the way that the sheep are saved.
Now I haven't spent a lot of time with sheep, but most of what I have read or heard indicates that they are not very bright, they constantly need to be guided and guarded and will on occasion put themselves in grave danger.
I am not always sure that I appreciate the references to me as a sheep and Jesus and as my shepherd. Then, I have to admit I struggle when it comes to the idea of Jesus being a gate or that he is the shepherd whose voice I recognize and that I will willingly follow him where he leads.
So, I have to admit that I was glad that I had the opportunity to listen to the Working Preacher podcast this week. You have heard me reference this podcast before. It is produced by Luther Seminary and provided by the Diocese as a resource for Preachers.
This week I was grateful for the insights of one of the contributors to the podcast Karoline Lewis. Karoline is the Marbury Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, St Paul, Minnesota. She along with her fellow contributors Matt Skinner who is the Professor of New Testament and Joy J. Moore who is the Professor of Biblical Preaching share their thoughts on the scriptures for each week.
Karoline offered an interesting perspective this week which I hope I can condense and present to you in a helpful and edifying way.
I have to admit that one of the reasons I appreciated Karoline's thoughts was because she referenced something I have talked about before. If we are going to understand particular scriptures in our lectionary readings we must remember to seek out the context. You have probably heard me say before that in real estate it is all about location, location, location. While, when we are preaching it is all about context, context context.
Karoline encouraged us to consider the fact that we gain much more from his reading from John if we read before it and after it. In fact, she said that unless we go all the way back to the beginning of Chapter 9 and start there we will miss a great deal of the context of this reading. Then she encouraged reading all the way through verse 11 and on to verse 21 of chapter 10.
I am not going to do that this morning but I am going to encourage you to do that sometime this week.
Let me summarise what happens in chapter 9. You will perhaps remember it from when we read it recently. This is the story of the blind man that Jesus saw, and who he healed. Jesus covered his eyes with mud and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. This causes a furor among the Pharisees and their followers. The whole chapter is about them trying to refute the man's claims and finally casting him out. They demanded to know who healed the man, but he doesn't know because he was blind when it happened. Jesus finds the man and talks to him. The man hears Jesus' voice and proclaims that he believes, and worships him.
If we skip to chapter 10, verses 11 to 21, Jesus expands on the evidence of who he is as the "good shepherd." Verse 21 ends with these words: "Can a demon open the eyes of the blind."
Karoline suggests that we need to read all the way from John chapter 9: 1 and on until John chapter 10: 21 to grasp the full meaning of our passage for this morning from John chapter 10: 1-10.
Because central to 10: 1-10 is the concept that Jesus shares that his sheep will know his voice and they will follow him. Karoline says that what stops this from being a nice metaphor or an ancient rural analogy, which is familiar and somehow vaguely reassuring is the story about the blind man.
In that story, we see the reality of Jesus as the one who cares for our blindness and will intercede on our behalf. We need to remember that the blind man never actually sees Jesus, Jesus meets him blind, smears mud on his eyes, and tells him to go wash, then he walks away. The blind man doesn't know who Jesus is, which is part of his difficulty with the Pharisees. He can't tell them who healed him.
It is only when he has been cast out of the religious society he should belong to, by the very people who are supposed to provide him with care and support that Jesus finds him again. It is only when he hears Jesus' voice that he recognizes Jesus as his healer and as his savior.
The religious guides, are blind to the man's needs and also to who Jesus is. They are concerned about their own interests and not the things that interest God.
Then ultimately, if we read on through all that Jesus says in Chapter 10, until we get to the end of Verse 21 we find the connecting link to the blind man and evidence of who Jesus truly is presented again. "Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"
Karoline says that when we accept that the blind man in Chapter 9 is the key to understanding Chapter 10: 1-10 we will gain new insight for ourselves. This is no longer a quaint story about shepherds and sheep, gates and sheepfolds, it is a life-giving insight into who Jesus can be for us.
In our times of blindness, what more could we ask for than a shepherd whose voice we recognize? The question is are we listening for the voice of the good shepherd who is calling to us to follow him?
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Bishops & Father Mike