Sermon

 

 

The Rector’s sermon for April 22, 2018     


                                                                                                                                           

Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18



 

Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me ....”  What does that mean?  What does it mean to say that Jesus knows us?   And how are we able to know Jesus?

 

Those of us who have had children will always remember when that new baby turned its head instinctively toward the sound of our voice.  And as the child grew we were able to tell by just a look on on that child’s face whether or not the child was feeling well.  And has someone ever said to you, “I can tell by your expression that something’s wrong?”  Body language also tells us a lot about another person.  We know some people on a superficial level—by name, face or reputation.  We know other people like family members and close friends, for example—on a deeper level.  We know their stories and they know ours.  We often grasp the meaning behind each other’s facial expressions.  And there are even times when we can finish each other’s sentences!

 

Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”  Jesus is our “good shepherd.”  Jesus knows us, and we belong to him.

 

We know that in our heads, but have you ever really grasped the awesomeness of that gift?  Do you ever look around at the beauty of God’s creation?  We stand on the shore of the ocean and gaze at water that extends as far as we can see.  We take delight in the brilliant colors splashed across the sky at sunset. We can watch a caterpillar gather nectar from something we’ve planted knowing that it will spin a cocoon and, if we’re lucky, we get to see it become a beautiful butterfly. Our God created all this!  He is the God of the entire universe, and at the same time, this same God is mindful of—knows intimately—each and every one of us!  Is that not amazing!!

 

The book of Psalms contains 150 songs and poems composed by the people of Israel. These songs and poems express the thoughts, fears, beliefs and hopes of a people who lived a very long time ago, in a world very different from ours today. Yet, if we read the psalms, as if we had written them, we can hear our feelings and our experiences in these ancient songs and poems.  One psalmist asked a question that we ourselves might ask.  He sang, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”   God cares deeply for all creation, which includes every living person—you and me!  Not only does God care for each one of us, but God knows us— really knows us.  Joel and I were talking about this very subject just the other day, about what a blessing it is to spend your life with someone who really knows you.  When you are with a person like that, you can be yourself; there is no need to impress or downplay anything.  That’s the way it is with God; he knows who we are, inside and out, and he loves us unconditionally.

 

Another psalmist wrote, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. ... For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  God created us.  God formed us. The creation story in the book of Genesis tells us “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  We can almost visualize the divine hands of God, carefully shaping the human from the dust, bringing his new creation close to himself, and breathing into his creation God’s divine breath, the very soul which lives within each of us…that very place that makes us yearn to grow closer to God.

 

The act of creation was the first step in the story of God’s relationship with his people.  God drew us even closer in relationship by giving us the gift of his Son, Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that God “became flesh and lived among us.”  In effect, God could have said, “The best way I can grow closer to my people is to become one of them.  Then we will have complete commonality.”  God came to us as a human being, Jesus, and experienced life on earth as we do.  When Jesus said, “I know my own,” we can be assured that Jesus really does know us. Jesus knows firsthand what it is like to experience temptation.  He knows what it’s like to lose someone close and feel grief and sorrow.  He knows what it’s like to be rejected, even hated, by other people.  At the same time, Jesus truly understands what it is like to feel joy, happiness and love.

 

In this scripture passage from John’s gospel, we see that the relationship of “knowing” goes a step further.  Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.”  Not only does Jesus, the Son of God, know us—we also know Jesus.  Now, you might ask ‘how’ do I know… that I know Jesus?  How can I really know a man who lived so long ago, a man who is also, at the same time…God?  One way we can know Jesus is through the Scriptures, and it starts in the Old Testament with the prophecies of his coming.  Following his birth, the New Testament contains all the stories of his birth, life, death and resurrection along with Jesus’ three-year ministry of sermons, parables and instructions about being a disciple.  We see in Jesus the example of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and to live a life of faithfulness.  So, we come to know Jesus when we spend time reading and studying the Bible.  We also learn to know Jesus even more when we share conversations with other believers, when we gather to worship with our faith community, when we spend time in prayer and when we live a life of service as He did.

           

Jesus called himself “the Good Shepherd.”  While that might sound distant to us in our day and age, the people in Jesus’ day were well acquainted with the life of a shepherd and the habits of sheep.  Shepherds spent their days out in the fields with their flocks, and in the evenings, if they didn’t remain on the hillside, they often returned to their villages and led their flocks into a common sheep pen for the night.  The flocks intermingled in the pen, and for the most part, sheep look alike, don’t they.  But, in the morning, each shepherd would go to the sheep and call his sheep.  The sheep knew the sound of their shepherd’s voice.  The flocks separated, and each flock followed its own shepherd.  When we come to know Jesus, there is no doubt that we can hear his voice above all the other noise in the world. We listen for His voice and we follow, because that is the only way to eternal life.  

 

Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel to send a Savior.  Yet, God’s plan for salvation included all creation, not just the nation of Israel.  One of the most familiar and best-loved verses in the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  Notice that this is an all-inclusive statement. “God so loved the world” —the whole world.  God “gave his only Son, so that everyone”—all people—“may have eternal life.”

           

In today’s passage, Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus again identified himself as the Good Shepherd when he addressed Peter after the resurrection, saying, “Feed my lambs. ... Tend my sheep.”  We are called to continue the work of feeding Jesus’ lambs, tending Jesus’ sheep and bringing others into the fold.  In other words, we continue the work of helping others come to know Jesus and accept the good news that Jesus knows them.  When we invite a non-believer or someone who claims to be some denomination but doesn’t go to church—when you invite them to worship, you’re offering them the opportunity to know Jesus.  When we offer food, clothing and hospitality in the name of Jesus, we are showing by example who Jesus is.  Those words you hear every Sunday at the end of worship…may you see the face of Jesus in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet, see the face of Jesus in you… those aren’t just words.  If you seek to make those words real, you…know…Jesus!

 

Jesus isn’t like the hired hand, who leaves the sheep when the wolf is coming.  When hardship comes, Jesus promises to remain with us and watch over us.  On Friday Joel told me a story of a man and his wife who had dementia.  At first we laughed at what her husband did, but when I thought about it in relation to this sermon, I realized that her husband was like the “good shepherd” to his wife.  Her husband had to take her with him in the truck to work every day because he couldn’t leave her alone at home.  The one thing that gave her pleasure was watering and fertilizing her flowers.  But she did it so much that he had to replace the flowers almost weekly; she was burning them and drowning them.   Realizing that he couldn’t afford to continue buying flowers every week, but wanting to keep his wife happy, he planted artificial flowers in place of the dead ones.  And every day she waters and fertilizes her flowers with joy.  Her husband might not know it, but his action of love is exactly light the Good Shepherd who is always attentive to those he loves.

 

As followers of Jesus, we know we are not alone.  We know Jesus is always with us through all the hardships and challenges we face.  He is the good shepherd.  He knows us and we know him, and because we know him, we can live with the assurance that Jesus will never leave us.