The Holy Gospel according to John.
Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews
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 Jews 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.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
Have any of you heard of the game Marco Polo? Not the app – that is something different. This game can be played in a swimming pool or on land. The person who is “It” is blindfolded and placed in the center of a group of people. They call out, “Marco!” while the others call out, “Polo!” The “It” person tries to reach one of the group members and touch them. When they do, the person touched becomes the person who is “It” and the other rejoins the group.
Now, if you haven’t played Marco Polo, you may have done a trust walk before, which is kind of similar. You are blindfolded and led through an unfamiliar place by a person who can see. You are completely at the mercy of that person. You have to trust them and have faith that they will keep you from falling or getting hurt.
Now, if a random person asked to blindfold you and play Marco Polo or do a trust walk, would you do it? (Probably not, that’s how serial killer documentaries start out.) What about if someone from our faith community asked you? You would probably be more likely to say “yes” to them than to a stranger.
These can be fun games, but it is more about the trust you have in the person or people with whom you are playing than in playing the game itself. It speaks to the relationship between the vulnerable person who cannot see the way ahead and the person who is responding to their call. There is always a call and a response, just like in our relationship with God. Like being a lost lamb in the night, we call out to God. When we hear a voice respond, we call out again, and again the voice responds. We go back and forth like the Marco Polo game so that we draw closer and closer to one another. We trust the voice to lead us through the valley of the shadows and guide us along right pathways. In goodness and mercy, God pursues us, and, in that relationship, we are cared for like the sheep of a shepherd. God draws near to us—but are we drawing near to God?
Today is mother’s day and when we think of it mostly it’s a good thing unless we mourn their death. I have a unique relationship with Mother’s Day. The first 15 years of my life I wasn’t found of Mother’s Day because my biological mother was not a very caring or loving individual. I was born to save a marriage and when that didn’t work I was resented and treated badly often. When I was 15 I met who would eventually become my adopted family, and I learned what a mother’s love really looks like. The unconditional love of a parent, and trust me I challenged that love a lot, finally made sense to me. Relationships changed for me by having that love from my parents, my relationship with them and with God. I give thanks to my mom today for coming into my life and choosing me to be a part of the Stewart family, and a Godly family.
Relationships are important to us all so let’s see what some of our texts that we read says to us.
Tabitha, a disciple of the early church, is resurrected from the dead through the prayers of Peter in this passage that reveals a great deal about Tabitha’s relationships in the community. Apparently an accomplished weaver or seamstress, Tabitha not only created many garments for widows in the community, she also lived or was frequently among them.
We don’t know if Tabitha was a widow herself or if she was a disciple committed to a model of Gospel sharing we see throughout the Book of Acts, that of living with and among the poor and/or traditionally marginalized. We do read that Tabitha was genuinely valued, mourned, and loved. At a Synod training they once told me the value of a church can be vetted by asking the community what would happen if that church was no longer there. The loss of Tabitha directly affected many lives and caused significant grief.
How would GSLC compare? As we began to put together a new Vision for GS, with the help of the Synod, we asked ourselves a really tough question: If GSLC was to cease to exist, to be removed from this material world, what footprint would be left behind?
- Would members mourn?
- Would our neighborhood mourn?
- Would groups of poor, underresourced, or societally marginalized people find themselves significantly affected?
- Would GSLC be missed?
In this time of transition through a global pandemic and the many changes it brought on congregations, we may be having conversations about sustainability or internal resources. This week I ask us all to reflect on our impact on the wider world. Are we building relationships and contributing to ministry to those in need in ways that would call Peter to say “Rise up church, Christ is glorified through you?” I pray that we strive to care for our neighbors in ways that bring about a compelling “Yes!”
“The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.”
As Lutheran Christians we have a strong commitment to grace and a belief that our salvation is a gift of such treasure we could never choose it ourselves.
I am reminded of a simple song from my childhood in the church “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Recalling that refrain called me to ask some challenging questions:
- If I’m not wearing clerics or a cross; if you were not in a brick and mortar building labeled church, how would the people you come into contact with know you are a follower of Jesus?
- When was the last time a non-church colleague or an acquaintance asked you where your peace or compassion or commitment to radical hospitality comes from and you had a chance to spontaneously share the good news?
- In what ways are the works of our hands or our heart inspiring people to curiosity or belief in Jesus as the world’s chance for healing?
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
Jesus also says in this passage that his sheep know his voice. This would have resonated in a historical context because it is quite literal.
Sheep do learn the sound of their shepherd’s voice and can distinguish between calls and commands from their caretaker and an unknown person issuing the same call. Jesus does not only emphasize that his sheep know him, but also that he knows his sheep. The emphasis is not on control, but on relationship. In the same way we are not called to be distanced saviors or distributors of our resources, but siblings and caring companions to those in need.
If ours is loving relationship, we are indeed called to feed the hungry, care for the poor AND to dwell in God’s expansive grace with acts of kindness. How can we shift our service models to include practical support partnered with learning, accompanying, and truly knowing each other?
Christianity, in many respects, has become known as a set of beliefs that one holds in order to claim belonging. If you have the right beliefs, you are part of the community. If you do not hold those beliefs, then you aren’t a “real Christian.” Yet, the reality of the Christian faith is that we hold a vast array of beliefs.
- How many denominations have emerged from doctrinal divisions?
- How many congregations have split due to differences in beliefs?
- How many attempts have been made to craft a simple and unified credal statement that all of Christianity could embrace?
In the gospel reading, Jesus has an interaction with a group from the religious community. They confront him on his walk with a demand that he reveal himself to them fully. Jesus responds by saying that he has but they do not believe. It’s a curious encounter because Jesus did not, by any of the gospel accounts, go around proclaiming himself to be the Messiah. In fact, the only instance we see of that in John’s depiction of Jesus occurs through the extensive dialogue that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
She indicates her belief in the coming Messiah and Jesus reveals himself as the one who has now come. Other than that, even with his closest disciples, Jesus might allude to himself in mysterious terms. More often, he reveals himself through demonstration.
The incarnation of Jesus is a demonstration. The word is made flesh. God shows us rather than tells us. Jesus continues that through the miracles he performs, the signs that he uncovers, and the encounters that he has with people in the places that they live, worship, work, and travel. His teachings are important and the gospel records their significance, but they are continually proven by his life.
Jesus’s teachings also often arise out of questions he received rather than as a desire to constantly use words to express what Jesus would rather demonstrate.
Sheep aren’t concerned with doctrinal debates or creedal commitments. They struggle because their nature does not want to be confined. Even though the shepherd’s primary motivation is protection, the sheep fights against their own benefit. They wander off in different directions. They require work, attention, energy, and patience. The shepherd, however, never forgets the role they have undertaken. The shepherd employs strategies to ensure that the sheep respond to their invitation and commands. Sometimes, the shepherd has to provide a demonstration. Continually, the shepherd communicates with the sheep so that the sheep becomes familiar with the voice of the shepherd and accustomed to following that direction.
The sheep demonstrate their trust in the shepherd not through agreeing with truths about the shepherd. The sheep show belief in the shepherd by trusting the direction of the shepherd and by walking with the freedom of the boundaries established by the shepherd.
- Jesus was questioned by people who were frustrated by him, but he was followed by people who were fascinated by him.
- Jesus was rejected by those who felt threatened by him and embraced by those who found hope in him.
- Jesus was confronted by those who challenged his authority but was approached by those drawn to his unique power.
Followers of Jesus, then and now, don’t always know what to think about Jesus but have been convinced to some extent Jesus offers a way toward a future with hope and life abundantly.
Human beings want to see signs—something measurable—but John’s Gospel tells us that even the signs that Jesus does aren’t enough. Eventually, we need to act as though believing is a choice—it is a free will action, rather than the goal of an argument. The time comes when evaluating the evidence must end. There is the immeasurable act of faith that must happen. Scholar Thomas Keating writes, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from [God]. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced.”
This is how we are called to continue God’s work in the world: One small step in the darkness toward the voice—a soft shuffle in the right direction that brings us closer. As we respond to God’s voice, others who are also lost hear us and are able to call out to God themselves. The things we do when we follow Jesus in our daily lives matter, and the ripple effects are clear.
Jesus is clear and Peter’s example is clear: everything must always point to God. Jesus’ signs, Peter’s healing, the neighbor we help, the communities to which we contribute, and the lives across the world that we touch in this digital age—all tell of the glory of God, so that people may come to know and believe. This is the Good News. This is practicing resurrection daily!.