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Saturday, 25 February 2012

John 10:22-30 Shepherd to Lost Sheep-Do You Read Me? Over

I want you to think back for a moment to the time when you were preparing for Confirmation, especially all the hard work and studying that were involved. You probably felt like the little girl who was attending a confirmation service with her mother. She was fascinated as each person who was being confirmed came forward, knelt and had hands placed on his or her forehead. The little girl asked her mother what that meant, and was told that it was a ritual to impress upon them that their call to be a believing brother or sister in Christ comes directly from God. The little girl thought for a moment and then said "Oh...I thought the minister was feeling their heads to see if they had any brains left".

Our Gospel reading from John 10:22-30 talks about sheep. Sheep are not the brightest animals in the world. They seek the security of the flock and blindly follow the lead of the shepherd. When several flocks are grazing together in a field, they are still able to distinguish the voice of their own shepherd and follow his movements, clap, voice, etc.. Sheep need a leader not because they are dumb, but because they know they can't go it alone. They need someone to lead and to guide them.

We are the same way. Jesus is our shepherd. We must distinguish his voice from all the other voices we hear in our daily lives and follow Him in faith. He provides the security of an eternal kingdom, but people often look elsewhere for their spiritual and eternal security. No forces other than our own can snatch us out of His good care and keeping. There is no security in the law, only unbelief. Christianity is not about Christians behaving themselves. It is about hope for those who do not have any-including all of us . All we have in ourselves is doubt and fear-and nothing there is certain.

When someone looks at the truth and refuses to believe it, it is the fault of the one who refuses to believe. At some point we simply must cut through all the uncertainty and ambiguity and believe! There is a sense in which we have to move from the theology about Jesus to the faith of and in Jesus.

Christ came to those of us who were lost sheep. He has spoken to us through the power of His words and deeds. His miracles point out His divine nature and display His power. They show that Christ and God are the same. He has opened our eyes and ears just like he opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf. Our status as God's sheep comes from outside ourselves, not from within. It comes from our faith in Christ. Our salvation is secure because Christ has secured our salvation through His death and resurrection. No one can take it away from us. No earthly power is stronger than He is, and He will not allow any such power to prevail against us. His power and His deity do the work that is appropriate to that nature to accomplish salvation for His people.

The true sheep of Israel are those whom God regenerates, giving them ears to hear the teachings of Jesus in faith. They in turn recognize Jesus as the Messiah, they follow Him in obedient faith, and they develop a personal relationship with Him. There is no loneliness when we belong to God. There are dynamic, social relationships. In John 10:30, Jesus talks about the power which provides the true sheep with eternal security-the power of God and Christ, the power of one . He is not saying that He and God are the same person. What He is saying is that He and God are united in one mission. They are united in the same work. If we criticize the work of Jesus, we are also criticizing God's plan for the universe.

The purpose of sacrifice which Jesus emphasized was not to please a deity that was angry with us because of our sinful behaviour, but to have the intimate fellowship of a meal with the deity. It is not the sacrifices in the Temple that absolves from sin; it is the sacrificial act that Jesus makes through the surrender of his life that provides both absolution of sin and entrance into God's community. Because of His sacrifice, people will know that He is the authentic shepherd.

Jesus challenges those who would oppose Him to consider the Word and His works. When He refers to the law, he refers to the Old Testament. He has a high regard for the Scriptures-a regard not shared by the world today. Many people today say that the Scriptures are indestructible as long as they agree with them. Vast numbers of people have heard His words, and taken Him at His word, and have discovered that He was and is the gateway into the heart of God. He was, and is, the door to the finest and truest understanding of God's nature and God's character that the world has ever known.

We must submit to His word on the subject if we are going to call ourselves Christians. The Jews asked Jesus if He was the Messiah because the Messiah they expected was not the same as the Messiah promised by the Old Testament. The Jews were looking for a Messiah who would use military power to free them from Roman rule. Jesus, on the other hand, was the spiritual Messiah or shepherd promised by the Scriptures. His words and deeds were a powerful, consistent witness to Israel. In return, He sincerely and genuinely wanted Israel to submit to His revelation, to respond to His message with obedience in faith. The decision to reject Him was due to their underlying moral nature. They were not His sheep, so they would not follow Him. Their former religions were still in the backs of their minds in spite of what Jesus said and did. He offered something that their former religions did not offer-namely, eternal life.

His desire for His followers to submit to Him and respond to His message in faith is still strong today. When the Gospel comes to us, it is our responsibility to respond to it in faith. If we are one of Christ's sheep given to Him by the Father, we hear His voice just like a sheep hears the shepherd's voice. He in turn knows each and every one of us as individuals. He has a personal relationship with each and every one of us and will give us eternal life-a life that no one can take away from us. If we believe in faith, we have no one to thank but Jesus himself.

His death and resurrection have the power to hold and protect his sheep so that nothing can take them away-not even death. Faith is a special gift from God. It is the experience of those who have met Jesus and follow Him. Those with this experience never perish nor have any doubts, but cling on their experience in a manner that nothing can separate them from God's love.

The trust we have in faith in the Good Shepherd carries us through our times of fear just like a shepherd protects his flock in times of trouble. This trust allows us to believe that our life has meaning, even when life's circumstances tell us otherwise. God does not promise us a life of happiness in a world where nature and human cruelty take its toll. One only has to look at the recent tragic shootings at Virginia Tech to see the truth of that statement. In fact, He often uses life's events to give us an occasional tap on the shoulder to remind us the He is "the boss" and that He is in control. What He does promise is that we will never be alone, and that we will never be deprived. He gives us the Spirit that helps us grow closer to God and changes our focus from our own selves to the confidence of a closer faith in Him. The challenge we face when we face life's challenges is not to explain or justify them, but to survive them and remember that God is always with us.

We hear these promises and claims, and we can either believe them and embrace them OR do what we ought to do when we can't believe them and embrace them-namely, call Jesus a liar or a fake, and walk away. Jesus wants us to hear His word and understand who He is for our lives. He wants us to know and believe that He is our shepherd and we are His sheep. He wants us to know His voice and follow it like sheep follow the voice of their shepherd. He wants us to hear His words of peace and comfort in our lives, but sometimes it is hard to hear them over the other noises that we hear in our lives.

Part of the problem is that we often hear what we want to hear. In other words, we have a case of "selective hearing". Far too much of our own listening is centered on the world and not on Jesus. Far too often we tune out His voice. We have heard through the years about His words and deeds, but we still have a hard time centering our attention on the Good Shepherd. The Bible is not a logical, systematic work of theology. It is a collection of God's love songs and our responses-and even our failure to respond. We don't always hear or understand the meaning of these love songs because we do not focus on His voice. We must filter out the background noise like the modern hearing aids that filter out or reduce background noise.

The trouble for many is that they have abandoned the church, or at least relegated it to a minor role in their lives; it is a convenience at best. Thus the power of forgiveness, the gifts of grace, the warmth of fellowship are absent. When people no longer worship they lose sight of the beacons which warn us of the life-shattering rocks, they often forfeit the Word of God which lights the path. They find themselves in need of a shepherd but they don't know where to look.

We can't hear His voice unless we are one of His sheep. Have you heard his voice? It makes all the difference in the world if we hear the Good Shepherd's voice. It has eternal consequences. Eternal life begins not at the time of death, but at the time when we become one of His sheep-that is, when God regenerates our hearts and turns us into followers of Jesus.

When we can't hear His voice because of the noise in our modern world, we must listen for His word. Be still. Quiet our lives. Make time. Close our eyes, be with God and be quiet. Then, when we have finished listening, we must sing praises to His name. We must be apart from the world and not be assimilated by it.

The 23rd Psalm is often read at funerals, but it is not for the dead. It is for the living. It provides God's comfort, strength and assurance that the living will survive life's challenges. The Good Shepherd has to lead the sheep through the valley of the shadow of death to greener pastures. He has to lead us through life's challenges so that we may enjoy life's blessings. He leads us all of the time, but especially when we face life's trials. I know, because I'm speaking from experience-both my own and that of my family.

Believing something and knowing what we believe are two entirely different things. We can only determine what someone believes by looking at what they do, not what they say. Actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Here in Nova Scotia there is a a singer/songwriter by the name of Terry Kelly. A few years ago, he wrote and recorded a song called "In My Father's House". I was reminded of the words of the first verse while I was doing the research for this homily, and since they are somewhat appropriate, I would like to share them with you:

In my father's house

There was sanctuary

When it would rain in the world

Love would keep us dry

When it rained it poured

Love was our umbrella

In my father's house


When we are with God, He provides the sanctuary and protection we need to survive life's storms. All we have to do is come inside in faith.


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