Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sermon; Easter 4B; John 10:11-18

Happy Easter!

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

We are just barely over halfway through the Easter season.  As I’ve said before, Easter is generally the second-longest season of the year.  It's a time of joyful celebration as we stand more often, forego the confession as a reminder of our walk with the resurrected Christ, and loudly proclaim Alleluia.  This is the season of celebration, the season where life and love win, the season where we are lifted up from our heavy burdens and sins, the season of the Resurrection.

But did you notice anything in particular about today's gospel reading?  This isn't a typical, “What did you hear,” Bible study question; but a, “What did you notice?”  That question, I think, opens us up to see and hear over a wider context.

So . . . what did you notice?  Did you notice who Jesus was talking to in this passage?  (The Pharisees following the healing of the blind man).  Did you notice where this story takes place?  (Jerusalem).  Did you notice when this story takes place?  (Before the raising of Lazarus).  What do you notice?

Did you notice that this is not a post-resurrection story?  In this Easter season when we celebrate the risen Christ, the lectionary does not give us seven weeks of post-resurrection stories.  We will not hear the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  We will not hear about Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach.  We will not hear Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me?”  We will not hear the Great Commandment.  We will not hear another post-resurrection story for the rest of Easter.

Why is that?  Why, in this season of resurrection and new life, are we not given stories of resurrection and new life throughout the whole season?

I could be wrong, but I think the reason we only get three post-resurrection stories is because the next four Sundays, including today, are to be looked at liturgically as our preparation for Jesus' final departure.  Over the course of the Triduum we experienced the shock, sorrow and joy of Jesus' crucifixion, death and resurrection.  That Easter joy was expressed through the past three Sundays of resurrection stories: the day of Resurrection, the appearance of Jesus to the ten and eleven in the locked house, and Jesus asking for some fish.

Continual joy is hard to live into, though.  The joy of a new baby eventually gives way to every day living; as does the joy of a new love, a new marriage, a new call, a new whatever.  Eventually we need to get on with our lives.  So even though this Resurrection joy may not dominate our lives, one would hope that that Resurrection joy informs how we live our lives on a daily basis.

For the disciples, and us, we are living into the joy of the Resurrection.  But just as Jesus couldn't live on earth forever, neither can Jesus continually live in post-resurrection appearances.  At some point we need to move past the stages where we simply followed Jesus and where we stood around in joy, disbelief and wonder (as Luke described last week) and move into the stage of being active apostles.  These last four Sundays of Easter prepare us to be active apostles.

If we are to be active apostles, the first thing we need to know is who Jesus is.  Today we are told that Jesus is the good shepherd.

This good shepherd cares for the sheep.  This good shepherd is willing to die for the sheep.  This good shepherd knows his own sheep by name and by trait.

As active apostles, this is how we are to act.  We need to care for the sheep.  Who are those in our fold who need to be cared for?  Who are the sick, dying and home-bound who we need to remember, not forget and work to include in the life of our parish?  Active apostleship involves caring.

We certainly will not be put in a position requiring us to die, but we certainly will be in a position to offer our self-sacrifice of time and talent for the benefit of our parish.  Active apostleship involves a level of sacrifice.

As we look to help shepherd each other, do we know each other?  Dow we take the time to know each others name and traits?  Do we know who likes caramel but not chocolate?  Do we know what interests we all have?  Active apostleship involves knowing people intimately.

The other part of being an active apostle is noticing what Jesus says about sheep in general – “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold; I must bring them also.”

When we take on the role of an apostle, we are called to bring the good news of the kingdom of God to the world.  The world is a big place and has a lot of sheep.  Sometimes those sheep are us.  Sometimes they are in a different place than we are.  And sometimes they are those whom we wouldn't expect, or those whom we might be tempted to exclude.

We are living in the joy of the Resurrection, but it is not possible for us to sustain that joy indefinitely.  As a result, we are being given guidelines to effective apostleship over the next four Sundays.  We are being prepared for Jesus' final departure.

We can't live in a state of perpetual joy; but we can live our lives informed by the joy of the Resurrection.  Our joy comes from the knowledge that Jesus is the good shepherd.  Our joy comes from the knowledge that we are known and loved.  Our joy should come from the knowledge that the kingdom of God is much bigger, more inclusive and diverse than we could ever imagine.

We are being prepared to live into the joy of the resurrection without actually having Jesus present.  Over the next four Sundays, we will be given examples of what active apostleship looks like.

We are the apostles of the kingdom – go and preach the good news of the gospel to the sheep of the world.



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