4th Sunday of Easter

1. IT was the worst part of the day for me when I was a kid at school

a. Those first few minutes at the start of gym class when the teacher would choose two boys, usually the most athletic in the class,

1. To choose up teams to play baseball, football basketball or some other team sport.

1. IT was horrible because I was NOT the most athletic in the class.

2. Far from it;

a. in fact I could be sure than when it came down to the last two people sitting on the bench, I would be one of them.

b. I guess I was supposed to learn from this humiliating experience to be more athletic.

c. but all I learned was how little my classmates thought of me. . .

d. and how much I wanted to be part of the team.

2. Perhaps this was not your experience.

a. perhaps you were always the first chosen when it came to sports.

1. nonetheless, I think all of us know the feeling of sitting on the bench, excluded from the group.

2. For we human beings long to be part of groups.

1. We are born into families, join teams and clubs, form groups of friends become members of parties and parishioners in churches, together we make up cities and states and provinces and whole nations.

b. We might have all different reasons for being part of a group,

c. but if we are really are honest with ourselves we have to admit it is 

1. because we want the security of working for the same goals,

2. and enjoying the same interests

1. whether that group be a small as a sports team, or a large as a nation.

d. This was something we all saw especially clearly in the aftermath of September 11th ; 

1. for who here during those terrible days did not wave a flag or sing God bless America?

2. And who here during that time, no matter what our political leanings, did not rally around the strong leadership offered by our mayor, and even our president?

3. No, even though we express it differently, all of us, from the most conservative to the most liberal, all are members of groups; and we like them, because they promise to bring order to our group, be it the family, or the world.

a. And that is the problem.

1. For over the ages we have longed to form one group,

2. which would be universal

1. Such an idea was behind the formation of empires and kingdoms,

2. it was behind the soviet Union and the third Reich

3. it was behind the league of Nations and the united nations.

4. Even our own Catholic Church is called Catholic

5. precisely because the word Catholic means universal.

a. and thus the church claims to be the universal church.

b. And yet time and time again whenever one group claimed to be universal, and sought impose its security on all, the result has always been the same

1. Wars between empires

2. Cold wars between superpowers

3. Inquisitions within the church and persecutions without.

1. To be part of one group

2. that is what everyone wants

3. . . . so long as it’s ours.

4. Unless we face that difficult fact about ourselves, we cannot understand what is going on in the gospel of John.

a. For John’s Gospel was written during a time when

1. The people of Israel had risen again and again under the leadership of men

1. who claimed to be the Christ, the Messiah, God’s chosen leader, 

2. sent to establish God’s kingdom on earth where everyone would be part of one kingdom under one God

2. they fought bloody war after bloody war with the Romans,

1. who also claimed to have a mandate to establish one empire under one God, a God named Caesar.

3. As a result the romans won, and Jerusalem had been destroyed.

0. But that did not mean that their hope had been destroyed.

0. they just had to remain faithful and God would still send the messiah

5. There was a problem, however.

a. a Jewish group which claimed as its leader

1. a crucified criminal and heretic called Jesus.

b. IT would have been laughable, except for one thing

1. The group was growing and

a. Not only were Jews members,

b. but those Samaritan half - breeds were joining

c. and those hated Greeks and romans as well.

6. This was contrary to the Jewish law;

. These people were being unfaithful to God

a. they had to be stopped.

b. Or God would never send the Messiah.

7. That is why we hear John refer to the Jews; the Jews the Jews.

a. IT isn’t because he hates them because they are Jews;

b. It is because they are trying to force Jesus’ followers to follow the law

c. Force them to be circumcised

d. Force them back into their group.

8. And these first Christians can’t do that. Why? Because of Jesus.

a. For he was more than just a criminal.

1. He claimed to be the Messiah.

1. God’s chosen leader, sent by God to establish God’s kingdom on earth where everyone would be a member.

b. However, there was a difference.

1. For when the romans looked for a leader they looked for an emperor

2. When the people of Israel looked for a leader, they looked for a warrior

3. Whenever we look for a leader we look for someone who will be strong, impose order . . . usually our order on the group.

1. But Jesus doesn’t call himself and emperor

2. nor does he want to be a warrior.

4. When Jesus speaks of his leadership he calls himself a shepherd.

9. Now the image we have of a shepherd is usually of a man, forcing a bunch of dumb sheep to go in the direction he wants them to by beating them with a stick.

a. Not a very flattering image 

1. of a leader who becomes little more than an abuser, 

2. nor of his followers who are relegated to the role of the dumb sheep.

3. But Jesus doesn’t speak about beating his sheep

4. He doesn’t even speak about using a stick

5. The only thing Jesus uses is his . . . voice.

b. And his followers are not dumb . . . actually they are smart

1. because in the cacophony of leaders and kings, rulers and revolutionaries all trying to impose their leadership on their group

2. Jesus’ followers hear his voice; a voice which imposes nothing, but rather proposes a way of life lived along side other’s lives.

1. Which meant that a Jew could be a follower of Jesus . . .

2. but so could a Samaritan, and a Greek and a Roman and on and on until all people were indeed members of one sheep fold under one shepherd . . . not because they were forced to, but because they chose to.

10. This is something that the church has to learn again and again in every age, for

a. This is something which we forget time and time again;

1. For we begin to listen to that cacophony of voices of kings and bishops, ruler and revolutionaries.

2. All promising that if we follow them we will be truly mighty, truly holy, truly great again.

3. WE believe the voices of radio pundits and televangelists

4. All proclaiming false promises and fake facts foisted upon us to foster their ratings.

5. Many people do this regularly, but in times of anxiety such as now,

6. Many do; the words of these false shepherd fanning the flames of our fear.

11. Perhaps there has never been a time in the recent history of the church where we have all needed listen to the call of the shepherd

1. Who calls all people, no matter who they are to follow him.

12. For It was this openness which was why the Church spread so rapidly

13. It was this openness which made the church so influential

14. It was this openness which made the church what it truly is; a universal Church a Catholic Church.

a. Because there is no loner left sitting on the bench;

b. all people are already welcome; all people are chosen.

c. And that is because its leader is neither emperor, nor king . . . but a shepherd, named Jesus.

15. We hear the voice of the Good Shepherd when we study

a. We hear it when we worship

b. We hear it when we pray

16. We also hear it when we see others following this voice and living concrete lives of faith.

. And when others see us following this voice, then they hear it too.

1. It is desperately necessary that we let the voice of the good shepherd be heard in our world; despite the limitations of online distancing and lockdown

2. Because as we all know

a. when we stop listening to the voice of the good shepherd, that does not mean we follow no one,

b. it often means we end up following anyone,

1. who can give voice to our anxiety,

2. blame someone for our fear,

3. and turn us against one another.

4. and that is, I believe the very definition not only of a bad shepherd

5. but of a dumb sheep.

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