The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r162.htm
s162g04 Lockleys 4th Sunday of Easter 2/5/04
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” John 10.24
It must have been a trifle frustrating for those who questioned Jesus, and sometimes God and Jesus can still be a touch frustrating for us. We can assume that for Jesus an acknowledgement of his divine status is less important than some other things.
Jesus turns the conversation to the works that he does in the name of the Father, their unbelief in those works and therefore those who do not believe do not belong to his flock. He makes the statement that no one will take away any of his flock, and that the promise is of eternal life, and the oneness of he and the Father. It is a very convoluted argument, which I for one find difficult to follow.
So let us start from the beginning. The works that Jesus does in the Father’s name that arouse unbelief in some are not primarily the miracles, the healings or the raising from the dead that Jesus did. Such unbelief might be based on scepticism and the opposite of scepticism, gullibility, is not especially good or virtuous. I have no doubt that people who cannot believe because they are naturally sceptical are not excluded and they do not necessarily exclude themselves. They have yet to see, and the God I worship is patient.
The works that Jesus does in the Father’s name that did arouse unbelief in some are primarily the association Jesus maintained with people other than themselves. Such unbelief is culpable and destructive, because people exclude themselves because of the others in the company God keeps.
Culpable unbelief is the belief that another person is beyond the blessing of God.
So God’s flock is all people who rejoice to be included and those who are not of God’s flock are those who would weep and gnash their teeth if they happened to find themselves there amongst these others. I recall my first training Rector saying that the greatest miracle was that the poor had good news preached to them.
Hence the importance of the statement that no one will snatch any of the flock out of the Father’s hand. Our rejoicing to be included is backed up by God’s solid determination that such rejoicing is rewarded. While it is simply our choice to be included, that choice is inviolable.
It is eternal life which we are given, we will never perish. It is no wonder that such a gift so freely given to others is bemoaned by those who think that it has to be earned.
The statement by Jesus: “I and the Father are one” reinforces that this is not some new idea dreamt up by Jesus, but this was and is the eternal will of God.
Christ is risen, so this eternal purpose of God was not thwarted on the Cross. We cannot hold the risen Jesus to ourselves, for it was precisely those who wished Jesus’ exclusive attention that had him killed.
One of the phrases in the Nicene Creed that we say each week is “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. And we understand the Church being “one” - even when it isn’t. We understand that the Church is somehow special, it is “holy” - even though not many of us aspire to be holy ourselves. We understand that the church is sent out - it is “apostolic” - or it is meant to be. But for all we are sure of being “one”, “holy” and “apostolic” - we have widely differing views of what we are sent out to do.
For one, the primary task of the church is to be a good influence in society, to stop people doing wrong and encouraging them to do the right thing - and this is a noble aim. For many the church is supposed to uphold the sanctity of marriage - and again this is a noble aim. Others focus on ethical issues like IVF and human cloning. Others are content to get bums on pews. Others focus on the acceptance of a literal interpretation of the Bible. The mission statement of the Schools Ministry Group begins “to challenge young people ...” I wonder what happened to loving others?
Sadly we have neglected the fourth of the words describing the Church and made the word “catholic” an adjective describing the end point of our sending out - we are meant to be universal. This can actually become a rod to beat ourselves, if we do not make our society Christian, then we are not working hard enough.
For me, “Catholic” actually is a verb - it means “embracing all”. It is what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to embrace others, not necessarily physically, but embrace the good in others.
So we are one and special and sent out - to embrace others. When we cease to embrace others, we are not one, we are not particularly special, and we might as well not go.
I was reflecting recently, when I was asked to deliver an Easter homily at the Taize service recently, how those who knew and loved Jesus the most, did not recognise the risen Jesus. Peter fishing in the boat had to be told by others that it was Jesus. Mary weeping outside the tomb, did not recognise the very person for whom she was weeping. It is quite odd that those who were really closest to Jesus personally, did not recognise him. And I thought of those other words of St John, which are never used in this context: “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” John 1.9. In the case of Peter, sometimes perhaps the Church needs to be shown that it is indeed the risen Jesus - just over there. In the case of Mary Magdalene, her perhaps it was in her very devotion to Jesus blinded her to the reality of the risen Jesus right in front of her. In her grief, her aloneness and despair, she failed to perceive God in the person right next to her. Perhaps their very familiarity with who Jesus was, blinded them to what Jesus had become. So too, perhaps the Church, in her insistence in the primacy of the gospel accounts, are blind to the presence of the risen Jesus anywhere else.
So too our healing may well come, not by weeping and praying to God, but in trusting the person God has put next to us, the person with whom we have been talking to for some time, unaware that there is Jesus.
The words of Jesus to Thomas which are so familiar to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” may also point us to the grace we can experience from the person God has put next to us, without having to worry the Lord about our troubles.
And so perhaps this is why Jesus was so reluctant to claim divine status or to get people to follow him. Jesus had no need of followers, it is us who have need, one for another.
The world which did not recognise it’s saviour is not just those who had Jesus crucified, but also anyone who sees Jesus as “our own” rather than someone else’s. The Church is those who see the risen Jesus in others besides themselves, and it is wonderful to be a part of that Church.
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