Sermon for St Mark’s, Easter 4
God’s Great Love Story
It may be that, next to his death and resurrection, what people most remember about Jesus is his parables. He was a wisdom teacher, a sage, a consummate teacher. His parables were constructed from the stuff of daily life but revealed a kernel of truth about the kingdom of God. Note, parables are not about the kingdom of God we inherit when we die, but the kingdom already present. Parables call for a particular way of living now, today, here.
You remember famous parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, or the Parable of the Mustard Seed. You may have been bothered by the Parable of the Unjust Steward. What about the one where a landowner employed people to work, and then at the end of the day paid a full day’s wage to those who had worked two hours as well as those who had worked twelve? Parables – Jesus’ favorite and provocative way of teaching. And there are more than thirty of them.
Interesting, then, that there are only two parables in the Gospel of John. John is writing later than Mark, Luke and Matthew, and the world had changed. There was more violent persecution of the followers of Jesus in John’s time, more real threats of extinction. So John includes two parables he must have felt were very important – the Parable of the Vine and the Branches, and the Parable of the Good Shepherd. Good Shepherd is about remembering who loves us, and Vine and Branches is about staying connected to Jesus as we practice what we have learned of love.
Vine and branches is an easy metaphor for our day, but “shepherd” takes some thinking. To Jesus’ hearers a shepherd with flock was familiar, a staple of the local economy. Shepherds were strong people who worked in the remote hill country. They bore heavy responsibility for the flock under their care. They took the sheep to pasture, guided them to green pastures and beside still waters. They defended them from predators with four legs and with two. It is said that in Palestine today, sheep recognize the voice of their own shepherd, just as Jesus said this morning, and will not follow another, even if flocks get mixed together as they pass through a town. But many of us have never met a shepherd, so what might be our metaphor for remembering Jesus who loves us? Does Jesus as mentor work? Jesus as wise elder? Jesus as teacher, or hero, or beloved elder brother? Son of God?
Whatever our image – shepherd, mentor, companion on the way - the message is that it is Jesus who is the source for us. It is Jesus who is the basis of Christianity. You may think that obvious, but stay with me. It is faith in Jesus, not faith in the Church. It is faith in Jesus, not faith in our priest or bishop. It is faith in Jesus, not dedication to our social agenda. It is faith in Jesus, not our correct understanding of the Bible, nor our best idea about God, nor in following the rules and having correct theology. We can hear the words, “I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Vine and the you are the branches”, but the essential message is “I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Vine.” Jesus is the heart, the best we’ll find. Jesus is soul of us all.
At the close of the reading today, Jesus said, “‘I am come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10,10). Drawing from the Gospel of John, I offer a few truths which make life truly abundant, abundance which cannot be taken away from us:
Remember that in Christ we are family, and families require care and nurture, patience and respect. And remember, he said he has sheep not of this fold, and he will bring them also, so expect and welcome holy strangers to the family. There will be one flock, and one shepherd, but not one fold;
Remember that all of us are gifted, but no one has all the gifts, so we need each other;
Let us never forget that, beloved as we are, we still sin and fall short of the glory of God, so let us each see to our own recovery program;
Remember that in this life, none of us comes through clean. We all are wounded, and by grace we can become wounded healers;
Remember it is not our job to bring in the kingdom of God. Jesus said the kingdom is already here, so let us be good and faithful stewards of this present kingdom;
Finally, let us remember and hold fast that our lives are part of God’s great love story.
Jesus said, “I know my own sheep, and my sheep know me”. He laid down his life for us, and now lives released to bless the whole world, no exceptions. Let us set our hearts on Jesus above all things; let us even presume to become like Jesus just a little each day. And we will move ahead together – no forced marches, no one left behind, and always in the company of the Spirit. It may be slow, this journey in God’s kingdom, but we are not alone. The Good Shepherd delights in the presence of your company. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.