Our gospel lesson this morning from John recounts a conflict that Jesus had with the synagogue authorities. They confronted him about being the Messiah, and demanded of him that if he was the Messiah, he should tell them plainly.
Jesus responded by saying that he had told them, that the works he had done in the God’s name said all there was to say, and yet, they still did not believe. He told them that his works done in God’s name testified to who he was, and they did not believe. He used a shepherd metaphor to point out that the synagogue authorities did not belong to his sheep, that his sheep hear his voice, and follow him.
I love that Jesus told the authorities that he told them who he was by what he did in the name of God. The teaching, the healing, the feeding, the miracles. The advocacy for the oppressed and the vilified. Table fellowship with the despised. He didn’t have to come out and say it, because he lived it. And I especially love that he told them plainly that they weren’t part of his flock. Not because he rejected them, but because they rejected him.
We want to be a part of that flock, don’t we? We want to hear the voice of Jesus, want to join together under his protection, guidance, and care. Want to find rest in green pastures beside still waters.
Believing that his actions testified to who he was helps us be part of the flock; listening for, and listening to his voice helps us be a part of the flock, but I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t a time when the members of Jesus’ flock have to work harder at doing their own actions in God’s name. At what point in our faith lives do we have to act on our faith in order for the world to know whom it is we follow? When, as part of the flock, do we band together in order to feed and comfort, clothe and house, advocate and invite? Even if it angers the authorities? When is it that the followers from the flock begin to push against injustice, and oppression, even if it’s unpopular? Anytime now, actually.
The metaphor of shepherd and sheep only goes so far. In today’s gospel lesson, we learn about those who hear the shepherd’s voice and those who do not. We hear from Jesus that the consequence of being part of his flock is eternal life, that we will never perish. But something is nagging at me about this. Part of my spirit is restless, anxious. Those of us who follow Jesus can do many acts in God’s name. We can specifically act to resist racial oppression, to eliminate gender violence, to find ways to bring about economic equity, to advocate for reproductive freedom and justice. But are we?
It is nice to find rest in Jesus, beside the still waters, yes. But after we’ve rested for awhile, it will be time for us to gather ourselves and begin acting on our faith, acting on our beliefs in a shepherd stands for the oppressed.
The authorities of today may not belong to the flock. They may not hear his voice. Do we? And what does he say? Where does our Good Shepherd want us to put our energies? What risks does he want us to take, since he has promised us protection? How will our acts in the name of our Creator God testify to who we are?
Each of us can do our part, each of us has gifts given to us for this purpose. What God-given gift have you been given, that can help in the work of the flock? What are you willing to risk, to sacrifice, in order to faithfully act in the name of God? What will your testimony be?
As individuals, as members of our two congregations, as part of one worshiping community, we can be a powerful force for good. With resolve, with focus, and with confidence, we can act in ways we never thought possible. I firmly believe our future depends on it. Being good listeners is a start. Being willing to follow is a good start. The difficult part is acting, sometimes, especially if it flies in the face of the authorities.
No matter how many days we’ve been walking upon this earth, there is always something we can do to advance the love, the compassion, the patience, and the caring of the Good Shepherd.
As you reflect during the coming week, I’d encourage you to consider how it is that you act on your faith, what things do you do in the name of God? Prayer? Stewardship? Feeding? Clothing? Visiting? Advocating? Resisting?
Now, I know these are not traditional words used to describe sheep, but as I said before, that metaphor only goes so far. The world as I see it needs us, the flock that follows Jesus, to start tipping the balance towards justice, towards the core values and principles of our Shepherd. To find ways to make a difference with the gifts God gave us.
Jesus told us who he was by what he did. Jesus told those who would silence him, those who were afraid of him who he was by his actions. We can do the same. And we need not be afraid. He knows us. He knows each of us, inside and out. And I believe he calls us to act, in the name of God, in any way that we can, to fight the injustices of the world. We hear his voice, even when it’s a quiet voice, calling us to action. Can we respond?
I believe we can. I believe we do.
There is protection by being in the flock. There is reassurance. There is support, affection, even power.
Those things will help us in our mission. With the guidance of our Shepherd, and the power of our flock, our works in the name of our God can do miracles. Let us listen for our Shepherd’s voice, for we know it well. Let us remember the protection our Shepherd gives us, so that when the time comes to act on our faith in God’s name, we won’t be afraid.
There is no shortage of injustices out there. No shortage of oppression. But maybe our work together as the flock can identify one on which we can focus: bring to bear all our resources and all our gifts to affect change in one area of injustice or oppression.
We may in fact, be individual members of the flock, but we are not powerless: we are the very testimony the world needs to survive. Let’s get to it. Amen.