As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Listen to the Shepherd, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 7, 2017. The Reading was John 10:1-10.
Over the Top Miracles
It can be said of the Jesus presented in John’s Gospel that Jesus never did things by half. Neither, did he give just enough, nor 95%, nor even 100%. He didn’t even give the sporting maxim of 110%. No, the Jesus that we see in John’s Gospel is completely over the top. When we look at his miracles, we see that he goes far above and beyond what was expected, to show the miraculous nature of God.
In John 2, we see Jesus at a wedding in Cana. When all the wine has been drunk, Jesus turns some water into wine. Jesus doesn’t just turn a cup, or a small jug of water into wine. Instead, he uses six stone water jars that held somewhere between 75 and 110 Litres of water. He doesn’t just provide enough, he goes completely over the top.
In John 4:46-54, we’re again in Cana, and a royal official comes to Jesus and begs him to go to his house and heal his son, who is at the point of death. But Jesus doesn’t go to him, but says he will be well and at that exact moment, the boy was healed. So different to the healing tradition where you had to go to the person, Jesus goes beyond what was expected, and goes completely over the top.
In John 5, we have the story of the bland man who had been blind for 38 years. And again, Jesus goes over the top by healing a man blind for so long.
In John 6, we have the feeding of the five thousand, where not only were five barley loaves and two fish enough to feed five thousand men, but enough to fill twelve baskets with left overs.
In John 9 – the passage immediately preceeding and joined to the passage we heard today, a man was born blind, but Jesus healed him, the person thought incurable, who would never have had an opportunity in his life, Jesus goes over the top and heals him.
In John 11, Lazarus has been dead for four days – at which point the Jews believed the soul had left the body, and Jesus raises him from the dead. Jesus raises a man thought to be completely and utterly dead, and goes over the top.
These are the miracles that we see in John’s Gospel. And that common theme is there – Jesus doesn’t just to the bare minimum, or even everything that’s expected. Jesus goes completely over the top.
Are you a thief or a sheep?
So, bearing those things in mind, let’s turn our attention to this passage. As I said, this is a continuation of the Miracle of the man born blind, and so it’s important to hear the context in which Jesus is saying these words. Allow me to read from John 9:35-40
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
John 9:35-40 (NRSV)
As we come to this continuation of Jesus’ words, we see that he is addressing these words to the Pharisees – although his disciples would be listening as well, and Jesus uses this metaphor of a sheepfold. There are a few characters in this metaphor that I just want to highlight. Now, there is the Shepherd – the one who looks after the sheep. There is also the gatekeeper, the one who protects the sheep and only allows in the right people. Then there’s the thief or bandit, and of course, the sheep. Now, if the Shepherd is Jesus, and the gatekeeper is one of the other members of the Trinity – God or the Holy Spirit, they could both work as protector in this circumstance – then the next obvious question is who are the thieves and who are the sheep.
And perhaps the more pertinent question is who are you – the thief, or the sheep?
The thief is one who doesn’t come through the gate, is one who doesn’t recognise the voice of the Shepherd, and comes only to steal, kill and destroy.
The thief doesn’t enter by the gate, doesn’t recognise the voice of the shepherd, and only comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
The sheep on the other hand are led into the fold for protection, they hear the voice of the shepherd and respond, they follow the Shepherd because they know his voice.
Sheep are led into the fold for protection, hear and respond to the voice of the shepherd, and follow the shepherd since they know his voice.
So are you a thief, or a sheep?
In today’s society, it’s sometimes looked down on as being a sheep – that is, someone who blindly follows the crowd without willing to think about what it is they’re actually saying. You can see this with some who have taken a stance against Vaccinations, or climate change, despite there being a large body of evidence for the causes they are fighting against.
But in this context, being a sheep is a good thing. A sheep is someone who is protected, a sheep is someone who is part of the community, who is welcomed by the shepherd and known by name and loved.
And I think most of us would say we are sheep – or desire to be sheep. We are here because we love Christ, and we want to be part of his flock. But are there times where we sometimes act as thieves? Are there times where we don’t listen to Jesus? Are there times where our actions or words harm those within the flock? Or even harm those outside of the flock?
When we don’t listen to Jesus, we can harm others, and prevent others from coming into the love of Christ.
We can listen to Jesus
So how do we make sure we are a sheep and not a thief? We listen to Jesus.
Let’s look at those miracles again. John 2 – the wedding at Cana. Jesus tells the servants to fill up the jars with water, then to take a cup to the chief steward. If they hadn’t listened to Jesus, the miracle would not have happened.
John 4 – Royal official hears Jesus is in town, and went to speak to him
The man who was ill for 38 years listened to Jesus, and was healed. The man born blind listened to Jesus’ instruction to wash in the pool of Siloam, and was healed. Lazarus listened to the call of Jesus, and rose from the dead.
Again, they all have this common thread – of listening to Jesus.
But the Pharisees – they didn’t listen. In Chapter 9 – as they investigate this miraculous healing, they weren’t willing to listen to the evidence showing Jesus’ miraculous healing. And as the man gains an understanding of what has happened to him, he tells the pharisees,
“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
John 9:30-33 (NRSV)
Yet the Pharisees say to him,
“You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
He points out their hypocrisy, but they aren’t willing to listen. Jesus finds the man and reveals himself, and on hearing his words, the man says “Lord, I believe.”But the pharisees near by still refused to accept his teaching. They weren’t willing to listen.
The Pharisees – by not listening to Jesus, drove a man out of community. Jesus welcomed him into community – the community of Believers.
Listening to Jesus leads to abundant life
When we listen to Jesus, we are lead into an abundant life. Jesus concludes this passage, saying that he came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Now, it’s important to recognise what abundant life means. An abundant life is not having lots and lots of possessions. It is not having more than others. In fact, we get a picture of what an abundant life means in Acts 2.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 2:43-47 (NRSV)
So this is just after Pentecost, and the believers are living together. And here we get a picture of what abundant life is about. They take care of each other – even selling their possessions and goods if there is a need in the community. They spend time together in the wider community – that is, in the temple – but they also spent time together in private, sharing meals at home with glad and generous hearts. They praised God – and they had the goodwill of all the people. They were thought highly of by the community they were living in. They knew that by listening to Jesus, they would have an abundant life through living in community with each other. We find value in others. We find value in loving others. We find value in seeing others succeed.
The servants, the man born blind, the man ill for 38 years – they all listened to Jesus, and were brought into the fold, where they could have an abundant life. They were on the outside, excluded from community. But Jesus saw them, and welcomed them, and invited them to be part of something more.
Listen to Jesus, and have abundant life
So listen to Jesus. Be a sheep. Find protection as part of his flock. And find abundant life as part of his flock. We do that by living in our community – helping where needed, caring where needed, feeding where needed, loving where needed. Why? Because we love Jesus, and he knows us by name, he calls us and we listen, and we follow.
As we reflect on that message, I invite you to listen to Jesus. To be in a place where you can be enfolded by Christ’s love, and listen to him. Maybe you need to be reassured of God’s protection over you. Maybe you’re being called to live out Christ’s love in community. Maybe you’re being promised an abundant life, if you live in community. Or maybe, you might be hearing Christ for the first time, inviting you to come into his flock, opening the gate for you, and calling you in by name.
As we sing this song, you are invited to come forward and spend some time in prayer, seeking out God, and listening to what Jesus is saying to you. And may we all be enfolded by God’s love, as we lift our hands in sweet surrender to Jesus’ name.