The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s162g10 Fourth Sunday of Easter 25/4/2010
'The Father and I are one.' John 10.30
There is a conflict going on here, as the religiously orthodox kept continually questioning him about his status. And it is important to see that Jesus turns the question around to show his concern for his sheep others than those who were religious. The gospel of John is different from the other three, Matthew, Mark and Luke, in lots of ways, and I suspect that we can't read John accurately without having first read the others. John has no mention of Jesus' association with the tax-collectors, sinners and prostitutes that clearly upset the religious enough to have him killed. But John is in no doubt that it was Jesus' concern for others that was both the hallmark of his messiah-ship and the reason for the antagonism. We can see this clearly in this conflict today.
Jesus turns the question around to say that people other than the religious were the ones who belong to Jesus' flock, it was people other than the religious who heard Jesus' voice, the ones who Jesus knew and who followed him. It was people other than the religious who were given eternal life, it was these who would never perish. No one, and the implication is particularly the religious, would be able to snatch these others out of the Father's hand, for they are God's!
So the conflict is actually not about who Jesus is, but who are God's and the very startling answer that Jesus gives to the religious is that it was people other than the religious who were God's not them.
It is important to see that this is the Easter message. The Church tells us that the Easter message is not that we personally benefit from Jesus' resurrection, that somehow our eternal salvation is thereby assured but that others benefit, that others' personal salvation is assured that no one will snatch other people out of the Father's hand.
So if our religion is fundamentally about who isn't included in God's kingdom, this tells us that the Easter faith fundamentally subverts this, and it is us who are excluding ourselves. And a lot of what passes for 'christianity' and 'anglicanism' is about who isn't included in God's kingdom, and the Easter message is that this is fundamentally and fatally flawed.
Even if our religion is about who isn't included in God's kingdom and hence we must be evangelistic to convert the nations so that they are included it is still us who are excluding ourselves. Jesus once said (in a passage sadly rarely read in Church): 'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.' (Matthew 23.15) The religious who opposed Jesus were certainly evangelistic!
The most real missionaries I have known come back with a profound appreciation of the spirituality and devotion of those they have gone to evangelize!
It is therefore vitally important to see what the real question was, and not be subverted by the agenda of those who had Jesus killed. Their agenda was to keep Jesus trying to justify who he was in the eyes of God, so that they could charge him with blasphemy, or madness. But the real motivation for their hatred was Jesus' concern for people other than themselves.
If we don't see this message, that others are as much God's as we are, then we fall into the trap set by the religious, trying to make us like themselves trying to make others like ourselves. This is a religious 'garden path' if ever there was one. One gets all concerned about personal sin on the one hand and / or effective evangelism on the other. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! And I find it no wonder that the main preoccupation of the church has become when and with whom people can share their intimate affections. What on earth has this got to do with the Easter message? How are people's lives changed by this? Those outside the church, those who are God's, must be scratching their heads and wondering when we will grow up!
For we should not be surprised that sometimes this message gets lost in the plethora of other things we are called to do. For the temptation is always there to replace the gospel of inclusion with religious activities, of all sorts. St Paul fought against the very same things in the community at Galatia.
And if we have replaced the gospel of inclusion with religious activities, then we should rejoice that our 'evangelism' isn't successful! We should rejoice that we can't snatch people out of God's hands for they are there already! If we are not doing what God wants then we cannot expect God's blessing and indeed if we are doing precisely what the religious were doing when they had Jesus killed, how can we expect God's blessing? Are we included in those words of Jesus: 'Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do?'
It strikes me that Jesus was supremely confident in the outcome of God's mission despite the cruel end to his earthly life. However I don't see an equivalent confidence in the church. I wonder if in fact the church has to die in essence as Jesus did. For we too live not for ourselves in a corporate sense as well as in a personal sense.
I suppose the same question in today's context is posed by those who want to say that the church is something special. In Anglican terms, currently we are engaged in an exercise of trying to determine what is the Anglican identity. Are we, as the Anglican Church, somewhat special in the eyes of God as followers of the crucified one? And Jesus would turn this around, as he did with the question about his own special-ness in relationship with the Father it is who we include that is important otherwise we are falling into the very same trap those who had Jesus killed set for him.
And it really doesn't matter if this question is framed in a personal sense or a corporate sense. Some people rejoice to say how much they are in a personal relationship with God, and these words tell us that it is not our personal relationship with God that is important, but our association with others.
We are told that this conflict occurred during the feast of Dedication. In 165 B.C., after a three-year struggle led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews in Judea defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV. They held festivities in the Temple in Jerusalem, and dedicated it to God. So we 'recognise' that Jesus was somehow replacing the Temple structure. But we fail to see that the parallelism of the holiness of the Temple, the special-ness of orthodoxy and therefore the separateness of the orthodox to the sacredness of our sanctuaries, the special-ness of our orthodoxy and therefore our separateness from the mass of humanity. Jesus cuts through all this by saying that it is with whom we associate that is important.
Again to put this in the context of our present day Anglican Church. I can well imagine those who had Jesus killed entirely agreeing with the sentiments of some conservative Anglicans who want only to associate with those who believe the same things as they do, worship the same way as they do, and live their lives in the same way as they do. They believe that it is all these things that make them special in the eyes of God. And Jesus says that this is not important, it is who else they associate with that is important. And the reaction of the conservatives to such liberal thinking is not dissimilar to those who had Jesus killed.
And it is only after Jesus says to the religiously orthodox that it was people other than the religious who were the ones who belong to Jesus' flock, it was people other than the religious who heard Jesus' voice, the ones who Jesus knew and who followed him that he then claimed that the Father and he were one. It is only after Jesus says to the religiously orthodox that it was people other than the religious who were given eternal life, it was these who would never perish, that no one would be able to snatch others out of the Father's hand, for they are God's that he claimed that the Father and he were one. Again, this shows that it is others who are important. Jesus status is only important in that it guarantees the status of other people.
I have worked amongst people with religious delusions in the setting of a psychiatric hospital. Usually these people on hurt only themselves and a few others close to them, unlike the religiously orthodox who hurt hundreds and thousands and millions of those silly enough to follow them. But the paradigm is that it is all about their status before the Almighty that is important. Again and again Jesus demonstrates quite the opposite concern as he associates with others. This for me is the mark of his true greatness his true humanity and his true divinity.
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