Saturday, April 20, 2013

C, Easter 4 – John 27-28 “Hear Know Follow”

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My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28 ESV)
To hear, to know, to follow! These three little verbs sum up God's interaction with each of us in one succinct little statement. If we ask ourselves, "What is my purpose in this life? Why did God put me here in this body, in this place?" The answer simply comes back, "hear and follow"!
However, humanity has gone and become confused in the chaos of this world. No longer is the simple call to hear, suffice. We have immersed ourselves in the complexities of ourselves and what's seen around us. And in all the questions and searching we lose ourselves.
So what is the purpose of living? With all the science and technology, with all the advances in medicine and health, with the ever increasing knowledge of humanity's social interaction and the plight of peoples around the world, why is it that we are further from a satisfactory answer than ever before? Why is our society more depressed and hopeless knowing the very things that are meant to get us into the secrets of our social fabric; the meaning of life?
Last week's Gospel reading recounts Peter's reinstatement where Jesus asks him three times if he loves him to, "Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep." And here the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world, takes away the sins of Peter, and now raised to life as the glorified Shepherd in victory over sin death and the devil appoints Peter as the first under-shepherd, the first pastor, to feed his lambs.
Now lambs are helpless little creatures. They sit at the bottom of a merciless food chain, potential victims of foxes, eagles, crows, and other carnivorous characters. They're also victims of themselves it seems. My grandfather often use to say after seeing a sheep flop down and sulk to death, "they die for practise"! And anyone who's ever tried to yard weaner lambs will see just how frustrating it must be for God who seeks to keep us safe in his fold.
Yet the secret of our salvation is really no secret at all. It just we're so much like a sullen sulking sheep most of the time, we don't realise the Shepherd of our souls seeks us. But listening to our own hearts, we take flight from the safety of God and his salvation and run further into trouble. Surely it is me who's the greatest hindrance to my Heavenly Father! Humanity certainly is helpless!
And so we are! Lambs and sheep that run amuck! We run away, running from the arms of safety into the sins of self. But our helplessness, your hopeless hunt for meaning in your life, that leaves you battered and bruised, unable to think straight anymore makes you …blessedly …helpless! But how can that be?
Today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday! Jesus is that Shepherd! He has endured Good Friday to be our Good Shepherd. Jesus became the broken man on the cross, blessedly helpless, and now he is our help! The Blessedly Helpless Lamb of God is now the Good Shepherd tending us his blessedly helpless lambs.
You see this man, who proclaimed to be the Son of God, who is the Son of God – One with the Father from eternity, bore the eternity of death and now leads us and carries us through the valley of the shadow of death into the eternity of life forevermore. He lifts you out of the helplessness of yourself, your questions, your doubts, your tribulations and troubles in this life. How? The Good Shepherd washes you in his Good Friday blood so you stand in robes of white before the Father in the eternal house of the Lord.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3–11 ESV)
And so we return to the text for today and the three verbs, "to hear, to know, to follow". Our purpose, having been made his children, his lambs, is to follow him. We were created to glorify God, to worship him, to look to him and trust him. Heartache comes in every person's life, both Christian and not, when we turn from this reality. So how do we follow the Good Shepherd when we in our very nature constantly return to our silly sheepish ways?
To follow him requires knowing! But it's here there's a subtle surprise in the text. We wrongly assume that it is us who need to know God by our own strength. But being blessedly helpless we know that's just not possible. Rather it is not us who knows God but Jesus says, "I know them!" He knows you, his sheep!
"Knowing" is nothing short of being faithful, so Jesus is faithful to you. The Good Shepherd constantly leaves the ninety-nine to look for you, the blessedly helpless, lost one! You are his little lamb, he is the Good Friday Good Shepherd. You can trust the Lamb of God who was faithful even unto death, and now continues in faithfulness sending the Holy Spirit into your heart, willing you to believe he who believes in you.
So Jesus knows you and you're now free to follow him. He sends the Holy Spirit to grow faith within, faith that hold fast to Jesus' faithfulness towards you, demonstrated on the cross. As faithful sheep of the Faithful Shepherd, the Holy Spirit does in us who know we are blessedly helpless lambs that which we are called to do, namely, to glorify God. And that is listening to him; hearing his voice.
You hear the Shepherd's voice when you hear the Word of God, the law and the gospel. This is God's rod and staff. God's Word is our comfort as we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. It teaches us about ourselves and it guides us. It protects us from the self, and from the old evil foe. And it returns us to the loving embrace of Jesus coming down from the cross in victory over your sin and my sin too.
…the Lamb in the midst of the throne is our Shepherd, and he guides us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
Jesus says to you, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27–28 ESV)
"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." (Revelation 7:12 ESV)

Friday, April 12, 2013

C, Easter 3 – Revelation 5:11-14 “Worthy of What?”

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Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:11–14 ESV)
God has very interesting ways of dealing with us in the everyday ebbs and flows of our lives. Pondering, "What it is to be worthy?" for the purpose of writing this sermon has led me on a remarkable path this week.
After having a low day on Wednesday where I forcefully compelled myself to looking at my worth, I rose to go walking as I usually do each day, on Thursday morning. I am eagerly expected outside the back door by two Foxy Jack Russel cross Terriers. It takes a bit to stop them from yapping with excitement as I release them from our sterile backyard of six foot high Colourbond fences into a world of sights and smells set to tantalise and temp the senses of these two dogs. It's as if they are saying with their excitement, "Worthy is he who opens the gate and releases us hounds!"
Now when I walk my dogs I let them run around the place off the lead. I shouldn't, but I do. I figure they are so confined in that back yard they need to be free. But without the lead I still have control over them with commands and whistles so they don't run out in front of cars and get skittled.
Well that was until Thursday morning. Occasionally they decide their sniffing around is more important than listening to my calls which earns them time on the lead so I might retrain the animal to respond to my request.
One of my dogs, Susie, usually walks on my heel, yet she has the habit of walking on the side of me closest to the middle of the road. I would prefer her to walk on the other side, the side closest to the gutter. So when a car comes she can easily jump up onto the grass at my command.
However, being the type of dog that she is, when a car comes and I call her to "come off the road", she thinks I am rousing at her and she starts to slink away from me further out into the middle of the road, as if she is not worthy of me and I am going to treat her harshly. She is a funny dog like this! She does the same when I feed her and Rufee each night, as I try to call each dog to its own dish so there is not argument over dinner Susie slinks along cowering and peeing herself as if she's in trouble. I don't know why she does it! It's just the way she's always been since I adopted her from mum after she died.
On Thursday she grovelled across the road into the path of an oncoming car. The driver saw here and slowed until Susie was off the road. I called her to come back to me but there was no way she was coming back, she was terrified and shaking, expecting me to harm her. I walked across the road and bent down and put the lead on her and told her she was a silly dog.
Susie hesitantly followed me back across the road where I continued my walk with her between me and the gutter. As I walked along I called her, "off the road" and led her to jump the kerb. I did this a couple of time to reteach her what to do when a car comes along. Then in a quiet street I let her off the lead and continued walking.
She had quite successfully done as I commanded when on the lead, but now off I called her off the road. But no! She cowered, wouldn't walk on the gutter side of me, and started back to the middle of the road. I quickly walked to her other side to block her path and will her to the edge of the road. Susie suspected I was going to be aggressive towards her. Rather, I placed my foot under her tail and encouraged her to go to the grass with a sweeping motion of my foot and leg. She yelped as if I was kicking the living daylights out of her. Once off the road frustrated I put her back on the lead and continued walking.
I went through the process all over again and then wrongfully expecting she was starting to get what I was trying to teach. I leant down and started to undo her lead once again. I said to her, "You know Susie I don't want you to get cleaned up by a car you silly puppy!" But once off the lead her response was to bolt off around the corner and out of sight.
Well, then I was mad. I felt like giving her a good smack for not listening. I thought to myself, "Right you can stay at home tomorrow morning! Better still you can stay on the lead in the back yard too! That'll fix you!" I had time calm down as I walked home.
I hoped she had gone home ahead of me, but I wasn't quite sure having already wrongly assumed dog logic two times over. You can imagine my wildest thoughts of her being run over, or taken by some drive-by Jack Russel stealing stooge! But phew! She wasn't missing just sitting at the gate as I walked around the corner. As I let her in my discipline amounted to saying in agreement with myself, "Susie you are a stupid dog aren't you!"
How often do we act the same before our Lord and Saviour? Cowering over what we think God is going to do to us. Just like my dog Susie, believing we are not worthy enough to be led or fed, preferring to run from he who loves us and wishes the eternal best for us.
We do well to think about Peter's reaction at Jesus' command to fish from the right side of the boat and to feed the sheep. It's a far cry from Peter's reaction the first time Jesus calls him let down his net where "he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'" (Luke 5:8 ESV) However in John 21, after Jesus' death and resurrection, this time Peter launches out into the water to get to Jesus, leaving the others to drag in the haul of fish.
How worthy was Peter to have done what he had done? After all he had denied Jesus three times leaving him to be falsely accused and crucified alone on the cross! Worthy of what was Peter after sinning at such a crucial time as when the Son of God was being condemned to death? Worthy of what was Peter having received Jesus' words of peace, having received the Holy Spirit and the ability to believe?
Worthy of what are the lambs of God? Worthy of what are you Jesus' little lamb?
You know I still lead and feed Susie, she is my dog. How much more worthy are we to be fed and led by he who was slain, who became the scapegoat for our sin. How I deal with Susie is one thing but how God deals with us is such that we are receiving the benefits of Jesus' eternal power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.
Just as Christ was led to the cross for our benefit, and despite God having continually to teach us to turn back to him through the crosses we must endure in this life, we need not cower because he needs to lead and feed us.
Rather we can join in the hymn of all creation; with the angels, the archangels and the whole company of heaven, because you and I have been made worthy, having been forgiven so we can feast in this victory of this Lamb's power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour and blessing forever, Amen.