Second Reading: Revelation 7:9-17 9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages… 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Gospel: John 10:22-30 22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So 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.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Some weeks ago, somebody showed up at church asking for help, wanting to get back home and having no resources to get there. We don’t do much of that directly, as we contribute to a fund that is centrally managed to reduce the opportunity for fraud. I was able to offer some help, but other circumstances interfered and the person ended up staying with an acquaintance just across the river.
Yesterday we found out that didn’t work so well either, and that the person had moved back into the bad situation that inspired the first visit, so yesterday I was asked if we could still provide what I had offered the first time. We did, but we still don’t know whether what we have done is the best that could have been done.
Why? Because we know that people lie. They tell us what they believe we want to hear, or what they figure will best result in them receiving what they want, or maybe even what they want us to believe about them, whether or not it’s true.
In today’s reading, those called “The Jews” by the writer of the Gospel say to Jesus, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus claimed he had told them, but that they didn’t believe, because they were not part of the sheep…
How does one know what to believe? The phone rings, and a recorded voice says that she is Lisa, and that there is nothing wrong with my credit card accounts. The next time it might be someone claiming to be Microsoft, telling me there is something wrong with my computer. The next time I don’t know what it being said, but it all seems to be Chinese or another Asian language I can in no way decipher. Then someone claiming to be from the IRS says the police are on their way to put me in jail if I do not wire money to them immediately. Then it’s a fundraising call where little if any of the money goes where they tell me it is to go.
When I was in college looking for a part-time job, I went in for an interview with a vacuum cleaner company who had people going through the phone book and calling everyone to say their name had been drawn from a bin at the local mall, and that they’d won free carpet cleaning. That, too, was a lie, and I couldn’t take that job, because I could imagine how awful it would be to make myself lie to people to earn a few dollars
People lie, sometimes because it’s the only job they can get to try to earn a living. Some lies promise unbelievable riches, others threaten jail time or wage garnishment to try to trick us into falling victim to their schemes. And that’s beyond the somewhat legitimate advertising that actually leads astray. Being in the business of encouraging righteous living might make me a bit sensitive to all the ways things can go wrong, but I nearly exploded when a commercial for a jewelry store came on television the other day encouraging people to get engaged, offering that as the perfect gift for their mothers on Mother’s Day. No. If you’d like to me to flesh my objection to that out a bit more, come see me sometime!
Jesus, if you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.
Why don’t some people understand? Maybe it’s because they expected the Messiah to come like a knight in shining armor, obliterating the evil all around…
But it doesn’t work that way. And we can be grateful that it doesn’t, because the evil all around is not limited to the people we define as “those people.” If God were to obliterate all evil, no human would survive.
The Messiah is not here to obliterate us and the evil we practice. The Messiah is more about changing us, so that we are less about evil: less about the monetary millions, less about the fancy fads, less about the boastful brag; and more about good: more about Christ-like care, more about God’s generosity, and more about the riches of creation.
Why? Why would God’s Messiah care about changing us rather than merely wiping us out from creation?
Today’s reading is from the 10th chapter of John. The reason God’s Messiah would rather change us than wipe us out is clear from chapter one, with the light coming into the world and the word becoming flesh, but if that’s not enough, there’s the conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, who comes under cover of darkness to explore the hope he sees in Jesus. There Jesus tells him, “God so loved the world.”
We beg, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
And the answer is, “God loves the world.”
Tell us plainly, so we can be part of your victory.
God loves the world, not just you and your kind, not just me and my kind, not just them and their kind. God loves the world.
When Jesus said that those particular Jews were not part of his sheep, it’s not because they weren’t among the chosen twelve, or because they weren’t following him around the countryside. I believe it’s because they wanted salvation to be exclusive, only for the chosen tribes of Israel, maybe only for those who most strictly obeyed the commandments as they had interpreted them. But God so loved the world. God so loves the world, so we can’t hoard salvation among ourselves. We need to share God’s love not only with those who are gathered within this tiny little fold housed in this extravagantly large building. We need to share God’s love with the world, with people who are different.
That’s what it is to belong to Jesus’ sheep.
That’s what it is to follow the shepherd.
That’s what it is when said plainly.
I hope we can hear it. I hope everyone can hear it. The part of John’s vision read in the first reading this morning shows people of every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages within the multitude of the saved. God loves them and us.
God is our shepherd, in Jesus’ name. Amen