Grace Episcopal Church
The Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
Acts. 2.42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2.19-25 John 10.1-10
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Hearing or reading the Bible and doing what Scripture calls me to do are two different things. What the Bible says to me is what I do about it. What the Word means is what the Word does. Jesus gives us a strong reminder of this in today’s Gospel, when He tells us that the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name” and that “the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” And so I ask: “When I read the Bible, do I hear my name being called? Do I recognize the voice which calls my name? When I hear my name called, how do I respond? Do I follow the shepherd?”
Recognizing God’s call is personal, but one thing that is always required is that we listen. In the case of Scripture this also means that we need to engage the content of the Bible. It’s not enough to know about the Bible–to know a list of the books of the Bible, for example–if we don’t know what God is saying in the Bible, and discerning God’s voice is something that we do together, just as the early Church is described in today’s lesson from Acts as gathering in the apostles’ teaching, and just as Jesus addresses Himself to us as a flock.
Today our gospel lesson ends at verse 10, which certainly has a great message, that Jesus has come that we might have abundant life. But ending at verse 10 means that today we don’t hear verse 11 in which Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd ... [who] lays down his life for the sheep.” In the lesson Jesus says, “I am the gate,” and at verse 11 He says “I am the good shepherd”. In each case He’s doing three things. First, He is saying who He is. He’s using the proper Name for God, I AM; the Name revealed to Moses at Exodus 3.14. Secondly, He is saying what He is: the one who searches for us, calls for us each by name, and who is Himself the way by which we enter into salvation. And finally, Jesus is reminding us that it is God’s nature to reach out to us and to care for us.
He is reminding us, because God is consistent. Way back in the thirty-fourth chapter of Ezekiel, written about six hundred years before Jesus addresses the crowd in John, God speaks by His prophet and says:
For thus says the Lord I AM: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. ... I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep ... I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will stengthen the weak ... (34.11-16) ... You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord I AM (34.31).
In Ezekiel God addresses Himself to the people of Israel; in John to all of us, but the message is the same: God is with us. God calls to us. He knows us by name and calls to us by name. When we have strayed from Him He is looking for us and calling to us, that He can bind up our injuries and make us whole again in His kingdom.
Which brings us back to the question of how we recognize the voice of God calling. Again, the first thing we have to focus on is listening. If you are like me you have not experienced any vision in which God has spoken to you directly. A voice has not said something like, “Karl, here is what I want you to do.” But if you are like me you have received guidance in life from all the people around you, and you have found that sometimes the people around you have wisdom to offer, wisdom which may exceed their own human insight. If you are like me you have experienced that quiet presence–call it conscience–which convicts you of wrong and which tells you not to do something that you shouldn’t do. If you are like me there have been times when you have sat in church bearing a problem or an issue on your conscience or on your mind, only to find that some passage of Scripture read that day, or some prayer, speaks directly to you and to your problem. And if you are like me you have sometime picked up the Bible and found that what you have read has given you very clear guidance on an issue; that God has spoken to you through Scripture. Finally, if you are like me you have found that if you have studied the Bible, that despite the twists and turns of individual stories the overall message is consistent, and that God does provide guidance through His word.
But only when the Word is lived. You see, one of the problems we have to deal with in listening for God’s voice is to make sure that we are hearing His voice, and not our own. My voice will tend to tell me that what I want to do is OK. My voice will come up with a rationale for thought and conduct which is self-centered. God will not necessarily say to me that I can’t do something–after all, in the Gospel today Jesus does not speak of do’s and don’ts, but that He has come to give us abundant life–but God will tell me that my focus is not to be on myself. My focus is to be on God first, on others second, and on myself last. In other words, God’s voice is very countercultural. The culture–the world–tells me that I need to focus on myself, on my self-fulfillment. It tells me that this is a good thing, and that self-fulfillment is all about growth and actualization. Against this chorus from the world, and behind my own voice telling me that I am, after all, somehow “special” (and so need to focus on myself), God’s voice tells me that I am special, but special in His way, not the world’s.
I am “special” to God. More exactly, I am precious to God, dear to Him. I am precious enough to Him that He gave His Son for me; that He poured out Himself to cover my sin with His blood. I am precious enough to God that he has revealed Himself to me. The great I AM, the Lord GOD almighty, has shown Himself to me. He has shown Himself to me in His Son who hangs on the cross, pierced and bloody, exhausted, dehydrated, suffocated. He has shown Himself to me, and in the glory of the cross has shouted loudly that the great I AM is the shepherd who gave His life for the sheep; for me.
The shepherd gave His life for me, but He gave for me as one of His flock. The world tells me that life is about me, but God tells me that I may have abundant life together with all His sheep; that life lived for others and with others in the worship of God is abundant life. That’s what our lesson from Acts reminds us of; that the believer’s gathered in God’s Name “... devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. ... [Holding] all things in common.” We are reminded that abundant life is life lived in the sharing of God’s love; that Jesus did not teach us to pray “My Father, who art in heaven,” but “Our Father, who art in heaven ...” Scripture reminds us–God reminds us through Scripture–that His Name, I AM, is hallowed in heaven, and that it is to be hallowed on earth; that we pray that His kingdom may come on earth, His kingdom of self-giving, of love, of fellowship, of worship.
What the Bible says to me is what I do about it. We can hear and recognize the shepherd’s voice and follow Him when the abundant life which our Lord gives is life that is shared. And then, guess what? When we seek to share God’s love–when we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers–each one of our voices and lives pass on God’s call. In following God each one of us can lead others to walk through the gate, to find the gate which is the one Way, the one Truth, and the one Life: the great I AM.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.