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)