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the sermon for

The Fourth Sunday of Easter

07 May 2017

John 10:1-10
God is who god is! And because of that, we believe!

04302017Fortunately, it's only happened a time or two, over the years. When I've written a sermon and, at the last minute, realized it just wasn't worth preaching! Well, this morning, at exactly 7:15, I dotted the last i, crossed the final t, leaned back in my chair, put my hands behind my head, and realized it wasn't worth preaching! It would be a waste of time! Mine and yours! Luther called preaching "wrestling with the angel" and, this week, it seems the angel got the better! And so, at 7:30, I started writing this one!

The problem was, since Ash Wednesday, for over a month, we had a focus to our journey together. A direction. A destination. One Sunday – one sermon – just naturally led into the one that followed. They were all connected, somehow. That goal is three weeks behind us, now. And I need to pick a new objective, to set a new course. Another challenge, this week, is the gospel reading itself. John 10:1-10 , Jesus the Good Shepherd. Here we are on the fourth sunday of Easter and there's nothing uniquely Easter about it! In fact, it's from the other side of Easter! The before side! It's, even, from the other side of the cross! Next year, at least, when we get to this day and read from the tenth chapter of John, we have the part about the good shepherd dying for the sheep! But for now, it's all about bandits and strangers and thieves! And, frankly, I don't find that all too inspiring...

You see, the gospel – the good news – isn't anchored in who Jesus isn't. It's rooted in who Jesus IS! And we can spend sermon after sermon, Sunday upon Sunday, dealing just with this handful of verses and never mention Jesus once! The one climbing in by another way! The one the sheep refuse to follow, who they run away from! The stealing! The killing! The destroying! Somehow, that's the stuff that attracts our interest! And yet, when all is said, that's not what gets us any closer to believing, to real, true believing! Because faith doesn't come from whom Jesus isn't. It comes from who he is. Let me repeat that. Faith doesn't come from who Jesus isn't. It comes from who he is.

I was looking back over something we'd been taught wa-a-a-a-ay back in seminary. Something by the psychologist Erik Erikson. He's the one that wrote about the stages of life. About the first stage – trust vs. mistrust – he said infants needed to know that their parents were reliable and dependable. If their parents' care for them was consistent and responsive, they trusted. If unpredictable and indifferent, they didn't trust. It was either one or the other. And it didn't matter which they weren't! Only what they were!

Faithfulness engenders faith! Trustworthiness creates trust! Believable causes believing! It's a gift! Not in the sense that something is given – like an offering, a present. It's a gift in the sense that it's not something we choose! God is god. . . and because god is god, we believe! And it doesn't really matter what else happens! Are there strangers? Sure there are! Are there bandits? Thieves? Absolutely! But that's not what produces faith! Only Jesus matters! Only Jesus and the love that comes to us through him! The only thing important is the Shepherd's commitment! The only thing meaningful is the Shepherd's devotion!

Think about it! Why do you think sheep – the real, honest-to-god, baa bas kind... Why do you think sheep know the shepherd's voice? Why do you think they know to follow? That it's safe? It's because the shepherd came to them, lived with them, and cared! He loved them! And because of that love, has given them everything they needed. Not out of expectation and demand, but out of the goodness of the Shepherd's heart! Life, he says! I came that they – that you – might have life! Packed down! Shaken together! Overflowing! And I will do anything, everything, to make sure that happens!

Again, are there strangers... and bandits... and thieves... Of course, there are! But that isn't what makes us a flock! That isn't what makes us the Shepherd's flock? And that, certainly, isn't what "makes" us trust! It's the shepherd's trust-worthiness that does that! It's not our will, our choices, our decisions that have done that! It's never been our will, our choices, or our decisions! It's what we have seen... and heard... and felt... It's coming to know the Shepherd that calls out our believing! And faith is never a prerequisite, a requirement, a condition. It simply happens because of who the Shepherd is!

It might be fun to talk about all the others. The strangers... and the bandits... the thieves... At some level, it might, even, serve a purpose. But know this... We can talk about all the false teachers in the world... We can talk about satan, about the antichrist, until we're blue in the face and nothing would ever change! That isn't what saves us! That isn't what redeems! Only the Shepherd – only Jesus – does that! Only Jesus and Jesus' love for us all!

I think that's why we feel like we do about the Twenty-Third Psalm! It sings about the things that really matter! About the things that are truly important! Not wanting! Lying down in green pastures! Being led beside still waters! Being restored! Guided! Not afraid! It's all about a shepherd who can be trusted! In whom we can trust and believe! Not threats! No ultimatums! No expectations or demands! Only love! Faith, simply, happens! Happens because of whom god is! Because of what Jesus did! Of what Jesus does! I came that they may have life! I came that they may live! Live extravagantly! Live excessively! Live abundantly!

I came that they may be loved! Loved totally and completely! Loved without limit and without measure! And I came that they may do the same! I came so that – through them, like through me – those others may believe, as well!

So, maybe this passage wasn't my problem, after all... or the fact that Easter is behind us... or that my sermons are lacking a common thread... Maybe, truth is, even preachers – now and again – get distracted by shiny objects! And just maybe, even the best of us – at times – end up chasing after squirrels! But when that happens, the best thing for all of us to do is set aside what we've prepared and go back to the basics! Actually, go back to the basic... to Christ and to Christ crucified! Because you see, my friends, for us here in this place... for us here at this time... there is nothing else that matters! There is nothing more important!

"In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake..." For his sake god forgives us one and all! That's our origin and our goal! Our heaven and our earth! I came that they may live! That once and for all, they may really live! Dotted i! Crossed t! End of sentence!

 
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