Sermon 4 Easter 2020

Sermon
Fourth Easter • May 3, 2020
Acts 2:42-47 • Psalm 23 • 1 Peter 2:19-25 • John 10:1-10

In the Name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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This day is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because of the Gospel reading. Jesus compares himself to a shepherd whose work is to look after a flock of sheep. The flock is kept secure at night in a sheep pen, but the shepherd leads them out to green pastures and running water during the day.

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But, he says, the sheep will not follow just anyone. They will follow only their particular shepherd, and they will follow because they are familiar with his voice. Thieves and robbers they will not follow because they don’t know their voices.

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The disciples’ response was, “What? What are you talking about?” So Jesus shifted the metaphor. “I’m the gate to the sheepfold. You can get to safe pasture only by going through this gate, through me.”

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So Jesus gives two approaches to accessing the abundant life the Gospel promises. Listening to the “voice” and using Christ as the “gate.” The voice and the gate, two metaphors, two figures of speech, to salvation.

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How then does one learn to listen to the voice of Christ, to distinguish clearly what is Christ’s voice and what is not? I suppose that one learns what his voice is in the same way we learn the voices of family members and associates—by listening to them repeatedly, by familiarity with what they say and how they say it. So, step one would be to read the Gospels, listening for the voice of Christ, distinct from the voice of the writers of the Gospels. For example, the voice of Luke, when he tells about Jesus’ ministry, is different from the voice of Jesus as he speaks his parables and stories.

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Familiarity is the key. I’ve noticed when listening to televangelists and others who speak in God’s name that I can gradually hear the difference between their opinions and the authentic expression of the voice of Christ. I am able to hear the difference only by having become familiar with the voice of Christ in the first place, as Jesus spoke it.

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Jesus says that others come to steal and kill and destroy—in other words, they come for their own self-interest, not for the welfare of the listeners. When listening to speakers who claim to speak for God, what are the results of their speech? Do they produce harmony and love, growth in understanding, or do they produce division and condemnation?

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Jesus came, he says, so that we can have abundant life. Abundant life for everyone who will listen to his words, take them in, examine them, and apply the words to their lives. The Christ is profoundly not concerned with people’s past, with their being good. He loved the disreputable, the outcast. He spoke equally to soldiers and thieves, fraudulent tax-collectors and prostitutes. Their past was of no concern to Christ, only their willingness to repent, to turn around, to do right in the future.

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“I came,” he says, “ that you may have life and have it abundantly.” There is no condemnation here, only acceptance of who they are, only love for the person, only a straight-arrow dedication to the truth, to what’s so. He valued people who looked at their lives and acknowledged their misdeeds. And his standard response was forgiveness.

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In years past, there were edition of the Gospels that printed the words of Jesus in red, with the rest of the text in black type. This had a real value of helping the reader notice the difference between what Jesus said, and what the writers of the Gospels said about Jesus. I invite you to entertain the possibility of reading a short passage from the Gospels every day. In invite you to look for those passages that record what Jesus said.

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The writers of the Gospels had a list of the sayings of Jesus that they fitted into their story of Jesus’ ministry. I invite you to begin to hear clearly what the voice of Christ sound like, so that when others speak you can distinguish between what is the voice of Christ and what is the voice of other-than-Christ. Amen.

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