Sermon: John 10.1-10 – Sunday May 3rd, 2020
“Jesus & the grocery store arrows…”
Dear friends in Christ, as the weeks and months of this pandemic progress, we are beginning to see the very real emotional, mental, spiritual, and even in terms of our waistlines, the physical tolls that the effects of social isolating and the new rules governing human relations are having upon us.
Last week, I was in the grocery store on Sunday (yes, I know, pardon a sin confessed) and I was in one of the aisles looking for rice and I couldn’t find any because I don’t know, for some strange reason, even rice now was one of those items that everyone magically all of the sudden have become hungry for, and I was just about to continue on my way, when about 15 feet ahead of me were a couple moving up the aisle. Normally, nothing new right?
But of course, they were going the wrong way that the arrow on the floor was directing them to go, and sure enough, this couple encountered a big burly fella done up no doubt, in his Sunday best Duck Dynasty inspired camoflage from head to toe who promptly informed them they were going the wrong way, and they best turn around.
But the other man being no slouch either; who kinda looked like a biker in his jeans and dark beat up leather jacket, without skipping a beat, he roared out: “No way,” and something else which due to the sanctity of this pulpit I won’t repeat. He then went on to say as if they were a bunch of school yard boys: “you wanna go? Huh tough guy, you wanna do something about it, c’mon let’s go…”
And so there I was, in the middle of Foodland on a Sunday afternoon, in the middle of an aisle with about half a dozen other spectators passively watching this bizarre, unexpected showdown, unfold. But then a moment later, I did something, which I’m sure plenty of experts would say what I did was foolhardy if not dangerous but then I mustered up all my intellectually robust and sophisticated episcopal authority by exclaiming, rather loudly: “hey!”
And for a moment, the two big guys stopped glaring menacingly at each other and then they turned angrily towards me, and for a split second, I was wondering if maybe this was not such a good idea… and that maybe now was the time if indeed, the Lord is my good shepherd like we heard from Psalm 23, that I could sure use his staff and his rod for some comfort cause now I really had their attention, but then in the next moment these words, just came out of my mouth: “gentlemen, gentlemen, please, do not allow violence to rule this day. We’re better than this!”
Now I wasn’t trying to sound like the Buddha or come off as poetic and I’m not sure if my words even registered with either of them, but there was this little pause…and in that moment the woman who was with the one man, ever so gently placed her arm on the man’s arm she was with and they turned around and they came my way, and the guy she was with started barking at me, but then he didn’t say: hey, why don’t you mind your own business, or something like that, but then he said to me: hey that guy disrespected me. And all I could do was just slowly nod my head and give him a knowing glance communicating silently, that yes I believe you and then that was it, the couple left the aisle and for the moment, I pray, crisis was avoided.
Now I tell you this story, because I think it’s useful for helping us to understand the context of our gospel for today when Jesus is describing himself at times like a shepherd and at other times like a gate, and that anyone who tries to get into the sheepfold through any way other than through the gate is compared to either a thief or a bandit or even just a few verses later a murderer, and that the sheep won’t listen to their voice but will only listen to the voice of the true shepherd whom they recognize because the shepherd calls them by their true name.
It’s useful for us because if we back up just a bit in John’s gospel, Jesus is having it out with some of his old rule/law-abiding-to-the-max buddies, the pharisees who in their latest freak-out, are losing their minds over Jesus healing a blind man on the sabbath, which any of them could tell you instantly disqualified you from being the Lord’s messiah.
Because it’s in this encounter with the pharisees, who were obsessed remember with following the levitical purity laws of Moses feverishly, because they believed this was the best way to be in relation to God, Jesus says unequivocally to the one whom he had just healed in front of the pharisees, that indeed, he is the Son of Man, that he is the Messiah; and when the pharisees can’t seem to grasp what Jesus is talking about, Jesus launches into his good shepherd imagery and goes on to say that he is also the gate and that: “whoever enters by me will be saved….[for] I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10.9-10)
Now these are what in theology and church doctrine, are huge, and I’m going to get fancy here, “christological and soteriological” claims about both the identity of whom Jesus is as the good shepherd as well as the Son of Man and the salvation that as the gate he offers to us his sheep who hearken to his voice. Both images of the shepherd and the gate that leads to the green pastures are connected and this connection is important for us are important because in this passage, part of what John wants to make clear to us is that besides the voice of Jesus, there are other voices belonging to other persons in this passage who have an interest in getting into that sheepfold and competing for our attention, and for our allegiance, and to go follow those voices whom Jesus says quite clearly are only interested in stealing or destroying: [For] the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. [whereas] I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10) The question that John was making painfully and very realistically aware to his audience was: whose voice are we going to pay attention to.
In Jesus’ day there were other competing groups of jews such as the pharisees and the Sadducees for instance, who had different visions of how best to follow God; whose visions as in the case of the Sadducees was focused on the temple in Jerusalem and with the safe-guarding and maintenance of what that temple system had degenerated into in Jesus’ day, or in the case of the pharisees strict adherence to the torah as well as their own torah-inspired rules and laws…
It kinda reminds me how today during this pandemic, there are lots of metaphors floating around about what this situation means for all of us: whether we’re in the same boat, or merely caught up in the same storm, and/ or maybe we’re all ships cast out at sea during this storm?
Well if that is the case that we are like ships out in the middle of a storm, to borrow an image from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, than we all better know how to get along to ensure that we don’t start crashing into each other. (C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity, 58) The problem however, as Lewis sees it is, and I quote:
What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions
if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all?
What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we
know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are
going to prevent us from keeping them?….What I do mean is that all that
thinking will be moonshine unless we realize that nothing but the courage
and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work
properly….You cannot make men good by law…” (60)
Now for all the good that those arrows on the ground in our grocery stores do in terms of keeping a sense of order and attempting to help keep us safe, and yes I do believe it’s a good idea to follow them, still they do not empower us to become any more moral or compassionate with each other, or for the matter when we come into conflict with each other, to help us resolve our differences peacefully as I experienced.
But from my experiences with those two men, there was a voice that they listened to, and please believe me, it wasn’t the all intimidating voice coming out of my 158 lb. body that reminded them that violence wasn’t the way. That in fact, it was the way that Jesus had described and lived perfectly in our gospel that allowed him to say to everyone that indeed he is the shepherd and the gate; the shepherd that God said he would give to his people in scripture and the shepherd who leads us to the gate and the sheepfold where we will find pasture, where we will find salvation and true relationship with God and with each other in what Jesus describes to us as a kind of life and living which is abundant because it partakes of the generosity and peacefulness with God and with the new humanity with each other which was made possible through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and his resurrection to new life through God.
Because the voice of Jesus was and remains to this day, the voice that spoke out against the world of violence – a world saturated by what Daniel L. Migliore describes in what is revealed to us in both hidden and overt savagery; where the poor are exploited, where women are beaten and raped, where the innocent are slaughtered, and the earth plundered, and its prophets murdered.
And yet in contrast to this world, Jesus announces through his voice God’s forgiveness of sinners, and promises the future to the poor, and the outcasts to all who with hearty repentance turn towards the new way of life characterized by love of God and others. A love, which had no choice but to collide with a world where the desire to dominate incites the desire to retaliate and where the use of violence is met by acts of counter-violence.
But in God raising Jesus from the dead, God was making Jesus the chief-cornerstone of a new humanity that no longer espouses the way of violence or wills to live at the expense of victims, but through the power of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit, empowers us to lead a new way in this world and it is this voice, which I believe all of God’s creatures know deep down, this is the best and only option for us to live in terms of harmony with each other, and with all of creation and with God.
Now I know that’s a lot of high-minded theology I just threw at you in terms of what God’s response is to our troubled world and it is only just, that we ask ourselves, well where do we see or glimpse or even hear where this so-called rubber hits the road, sort to speak.
It is a very fair question, and all I can share with you in terms again of what just happened to me in that grocery store is when I got into the next aisle, I ran into the couple who were grocery shopping. And where just less than 5 minutes ago, the man was on edge and was ready to drop the gloves, but now the man spied me looking for something and when they came to go by me, he said to me: excuse me sir, and he nodded to me knowingly about what had just transpired in that aisle previously. I was glad because I didn’t want to get beaten up.
But what I believe that day taught me is that indeed, there is a voice, that deep down reminds us and yes, also empowers us to permit the better angels of our judgement to prevail. Now truth be told, it is a voice that does not always speak loudly and can be hard to hear, especially as there are other voices that would love to drown it out, but time and time again, the voice and that Spirit of Jesus will not be silenced and will not go away.
Because it is a voice which throughout the ages, has turned the heads of all who would follow Jesus towards the gate, the gate that leads us as in the powerful words of Psalm 23 to green pastures, or as we have seen in our other lessons from Acts and from the letter of Peter, a voice that shows us what happens in this world when we live together peacefully, especially as St. Peter reminds us to those who have learned the powerful lesson and example of the Cross that Christ gives us, and empowers us to hear clearly in our lives and to make this truth known to others; others who deep down, also hear this voice instinctively that leads to a life full of abundance and salvation.