22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,
23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah,[a] tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.[b] 30 The Father and I are one.”
If you are like me, you want to figure things out. Sometimes I get impatient with myself when I can’t do that! I want to know what’s going on, then get into the flow and make things work.
I want certainty. And, as we’ve said before, this thing called faith doesn’t promise certainty. But, we are called to live into relational fidelity as our friend, Walter Brueggemann often reminds us.
I recently read in the book, The Great Cloud of Unknowing, we cannot know God, but we can experience God.
The folks following Jesus in our Gospel lesson are looking for certainty, they want to know, is Jesus the Messiah, or the Anointed One, the Christ? This has huge implications. Christ is not Jesus’s surname, Christ carries with it promise, presence, and meaning that was understood before Jesus and became manifested in the historical Jesus after his resurrections.
And Jesus gives them a pretty direct answer by not saying, yes, but pointing to his actions, and putting it back on them and their unbelief. That his works testify that he is doing the Father’s work.
Faith is something that we all have, but oftentimes we drown it out. We don’t slow down, we don’t listen. We don’t believe that we are all “Image Bearers of God”, made in God’s image. We live life, go from one thing to the next. Yet, we long to belong, or to know and to be known. Which gives witness to the divine call, the divine flow, that moves in and around us.
Jesus gives this answer about sheep knowing his voice. This is an agrarian society, they understand sheep. They also know that sheep trust their shepherd.
A few years ago, friends Steve Chalke, Andy Sexton, and Andy Matheson had invited us over to London to check out first hand their community hubs and school academies. I have been on a quest to see what folks are doing to be a part of the “new church” or the recalibrated church. I want the church to have a better story emerge and to adapt and re- function even as we honor our past and work to be present with one another. I’m curious with our conversation partners over they years, locally and globally, as well as collaborating with other on practical projects or experiments. I believe that groups like Oasis, the Parish Collective, our denomination, and others help the church be the community based blessing that we are called to be.
So we took them up on it.
On one leg of the journey, we were supposed to stay at our friend Andy Matheson’s house. He sent us a message a couple of days before we were to arrive to say that his daughter’s family decided to come in and that he was going to have us stay at a friends’ house who were on vacation in Greece. At first I was disappointed as I was looking forward to being with Andy. But, of course, I said “no worries” and took it in stride. When Andy picked us up at the train station to take us to our lodgings, he told us that he had failed to mention that the house we were staying was an English Manor house on the estate of the Earl of Essex, Penshurst. So, for the next 4 days we stayed in a 7 bedroom, 5 bath house on a hill overlooking Penshurst. It was fantastic!
On several of the fields we were overlooking, there were hundreds of sheep in various fields at different times during the day.
One afternoon, friends of ours from Tonbridge, the Kenny’s, were visiting with us. Our kids are of similar ages, so they all went out into the fields to try and catch sheep, try as they might, they couldn’t catch them…however, they did step in quite a bit of other very messy and smelly things…yet, fun was had by all, even if a few sheep may have been a bit rattled.
I tell you this because our passages this morning are about sheeps and shepherds. I read once that you cannot very easily approach sheep…they are sheepish if you will. They aren’t easy to heard either, unless you are their shepherd. Shepherds, especially in Jesus’ time, spent a lot of time with sheep. Shepherds had a way of gathering sheep, by simply calling them out. Sheep will follow the shepherd because they recognize the shepherd’s voice. They trust that voice.
In this passage, we are sheep, you and I together. It’s obviously a metaphor, but much like the beauty of the landscape at Penshurst, we are live together in a beautiful world. We also produce a lot of smelly and messiness. Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times, we don’t always follow or lead each other well. There are dangers around us, and sometimes there are other forces out there, thieves such as depression, loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves or others that come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live.
Yet, Jesus tells us that he has come to give us life. When we slow down, or get caught up in recognition of good things around us and the origin of that goodness, we can recognize the voice of the true shepherd, the voice of Jesus who has entered in the fields of our lives, who walks with us and towards us…walking through the messiness to call us towards new fields, new adventures.
We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others. Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher. Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear. Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors. Or, maybe it’s seeing someone else practice charity through actions or giving themselves away.
We know it when we see it and hear it though, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd.
Friends, we have said it before, we are living in a new place with church. The old forms simply don’t work anymore. The world is crying out for us, the church, to be an example of goodness, of the good shepherd, to be reflections of Jesus’ actions and to reflect and amplify the voice of the Shepherd who is calling us towards him, towards abundant life, towards being one flock. This shepherd has laid down his life for us, yet in doing so, has overcome all of the messiness in our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with beauty and relationship.
This passage talks about eternal life. The listeners would have understood that this carries a meaning about the quality of life, more than the quantity of time. Life with Jesus, trusting in Jesus and the work of the Christ that transcends time, space, history, is something that we can live into daily.
And, Jesus goes on to make the statement that the Father and he are one…that there isn’t division between the divine and humanity. All of our stuff is being used to make something good.
So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of Cincinnati and the world and be the diverse, yet unified flock God’s marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world in the process.