Tag Archives: sheep

Redemption: Vader, Peter…you?  John 21:1-19 and Acts 9:1-20

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on April 10, 2016

[sermon begins after two chunky Bible stories from John and Acts]

John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Acts 9:1-20 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

[sermon begins]

Picture a dinner table.  My husband Rob and my almost 17-year-old daughter Taryn are eating and chatting.  I get to talking about how I’ve been thinking about redemption lately.  (I’m pretty fun at a dinner table, let me tell you.) I talk a little about wondering what redemption means today and what redemption stories make sense to people across groups.  And then I say, “So I’ve been thinking about Darth Vader.”[1]  Without even a pause to blink, Taryn turns to her dad and says, “I thought she was going to say something about Jesus.”  Much hilarity ensues.

But she wasn’t far off in her assumption.  I’d been pondering the upcoming Bible verses that we heard read in worship today.  I’ve known they’ve been coming for a few weeks.  Deciding what to preach on Good Friday from Jesus’ Passion came from looking ahead to see when this story about Peter and Jesus would be told.[2]  There it was, scheduled for today.

The Good Friday sermon just before Easter Sunday emphasized the part of the Passion story when Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.[3] Peter is one of the original twelve disciples. He knows Jesus very well. Peter’s pledge of allegiance to the death was still warm when he started telling people he didn’t know Jesus.[4] Peter’s denials happen in the dark of night, over a charcoal fire, during Jesus’ crucifixion trial.  He chooses camouflage over courage and saying the easy thing over the right thing.  His denials of Jesus are an epic fail.  And Peter knows it.

In the Bible verses today, there’s Jesus standing on the beach just after daybreak.  Having apparently worked up quite the appetite after his resurrection, he cooks breakfast over a charcoal fire.  He passes around loaves and fish.  Everyone eats.  Then Jesus and Peter have their moment that includes questions, love, and ways to make amends.

Three denials from Peter before the crucifixion. Three pledges of love following the resurrection.  And Jesus in between those denials and pledges.  Jesus opens up a moment of redemption for Peter.  Interesting that Peter didn’t instigate this moment.  He didn’t launch into explanation or confession or ask for forgiveness.  Interesting that he’s hurt when Jesus keeps asking about the love.  Although Jesus would have at least three reasons to doubt what a profession of love from Peter means on the ground.  And, still, redemption comes whether or not Peter instigates it or understands it.

Saul’s story from the Acts reading is also one of redemption.  This man known as Saul zealously guards the faith of his ancestors to the point of attending the stoning of Jesus followers.  He watches the coats of the witnesses during the stoning and approves of the killing.[5]  He was hunting “anyone who belong to the Way, men or women,” so that “he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”  Saul is frightening and poses real threat to people who don’t agree with him.  He is blinded on his way to do terrible things and Ananias is sent to him to heal him.

Ananias has no interest in being with the man who very recently was part of butchering Jesus followers.  Who can blame him?  But Ananias goes and does what is asked of him.  Saul immediately became a preacher.  Saul is “also known as Paul.”[6]  He ends up starting churches of Jesus followers and encouraging them with his visits and the letters we now read as part of the New Testament.  He is, in short, a man redeemed.

What is it about redemption?  People doing horrible things and seeming beyond all help.  Something happens.  And they are on a new course.  Relating differently to the people around them.  I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’d been thinking about Darth Vader.  The story of Star Wars is a long arc to Vader’s redemption.  (I’m not addressing the 7th film in this statement).  Audiences cheer it.  Fans argue about it.  There’s something about redemption that captures our imagination.

For Peter and Paul, and one could argue Vader, there are people involved in these redemption stories.  For Peter, there is Jesus in his resurrected body.  For Paul, there is Ananias who is fearful and faithful.  For Vader, there is Luke.  Bottom line: There are other people involved in the redemption.

As part of my work at the women’s prison, I met a woman we’ll call Jane.  During the Bible Study before Friday evening worship, the group of women and I were discussing the Ten Commandments found in the book of Exodus.[7]  Jane eventually raised her hand and said that she had broken every one of the commandments.  She looked at the Bible verses again, nodded, and said, “Yup, every one.”  She talked about Jesus’ love and the church in which she heard about it, not believing it could be for her.  Until, one day, she did.

I attended a parole hearing for Jane who was to serve a life sentence for murdering her lover’s wife.  The family of the woman who was murdered was outraged that the hearing was even happening.  Jane did not receive parole at that time.  She did eventually.  Jane’s story is not an easy one. There is carnage in her history.  Her redemption is messy, fragile, and uncomfortable – for her victim’s family and, therefore, for her.  You can’t pretty it up with a bow or a Hollywood movie or a sermon.

What about those of us who may not have as big of a story as Jane, Peter, or Paul?  What about redemption stories that simmer quietly and are still in their “before” moment?  Some of us know what I’m talking about.  Whether it’s quiet addictions that are slowly breaking relationships – a favored chemical or porn or incessant gaming.  Or behind-the-scenes behavior that can be masked in public – rage and abuse that is verbal or violent or sexual.  Or public behavior that is deemed acceptable but destroys people – jonesing after power by way of gossip or ridicule or racism.

Redemption doesn’t erase the reality or consequence of what we’ve done.  Redemption allows for a different way of living moving forward – consequences and all.  After Jane’s parole was denied, her reaction was disappointment and also some clarity that ministry does and will continue to happen in the prison.  Her conversion did not negate the reality of the murder she committed.  The woman she murdered is still dead and missed by her family.  Neither did Saul’s conversion negate what he did. Thomas, the Jesus follower, was still dead by stoning.

How do you suppose Peter took the news that Jesus came back?  Given his denial of Jesus during the trial, Peter’s initial thoughts about resurrection likely included some fear.  But there was Jesus.  Offering redemption and a way to make amends.

Amends are often insufficient and suspect, especially for the people who are hurt by our behavior.  But there’s Jesus, giving Peter something to do in the face of what he has done.  Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus’ offer is on the table for you.  Even though you haven’t asked for it and maybe aren’t ready for it.  Do you think because you screwed up that you don’t deserve a second chance?[8] Forgiveness is the “gracious irritant” that leads to redemption.[9]  Notice again that redemption isn’t self-made and it doesn’t happen in the dark.  Other people are involved.  It happens in the light of day.  There is honesty.  There are consequences.  There is also freedom.

Amen and alleluia.

 

[1] George Lucas. Star Wars I-VI. http://lucasfilm.com/star-wars

[2] ELCA Lutherans, as a general rule, follow the Revised Common Lectionary that schedules scripture readings over a three year cycle. Read about the RCL at http://www.elca.org/Lectionary

[3] John 18:15-27

[4] John 13:37 Peter said to [Jesus], “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

[5] Acts 7: 558 and 8:1 “Then they dragged [Thomas] out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul…And Saul approved of their killing him.”

[6] Acts 13:9

[7] Exodus 20:1-17

[8] Diablo Cody. Ricki and the Flash. (Clinica Estetico, LStar Capital, and TriStar Pictures, 2015). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3623726/companycredits?ref_=tt_ql_dt_5

[9] L. Gregory Jones. Embodying Forgiveness. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995), xvi.

John 10:1-10 “Ticket-Takers and Open Gates”

John 10:1-10  “Ticket-Takers and Open Gates”

Caitlin Trussell on May 11, 2014 at Augustana Lutheran Church

 

John 10:1-10 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

So which one is it?!  Is Jesus the gate or is Jesus the shepherd?  So which one is it?! Are we the sheep?   Or are we the thieves, bandits and strangers?  This text is loaded with imagery as Jesus tries to communicate who he is with his disciples.  No wonder the disciples are confused.   To give us a place to focus, I really want you to hear Jesus’ gift to us as he says, “I am the gate.”  He says it twice.  “I am the gate.”

Think for a moment about gates that you come across in your day-to-day.  Picture the gate in your mind and who controls the gate and whether the gate stands opened or closed.  Think about what the gate is for, who is allowed to go in and go out of that gate and what it costs to move in and out of the gate.

Now, picture another gate.  It’s made of iron, as sturdy as a gate can be made.  This gate is open, wide open.  It’s so open that it’s welded open. There is freedom of movement as it stands open.  The gate cannot be closed or manipulated in any way.  It simply…stands…open… this is the gate I would like you to have in mind for the next few minutes.  A gate that stands open.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Pederson preached to us about the story that comes right before our verses today about Jesus is the gate.  About the story of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight.  The man born blind, who can now see because of Jesus, is asked all kinds of questions by the religious leaders of the temple and they ultimately drive him out of the temple when their questions aren’t answered to their expectations.  And Jesus receives that man who had once been blind.  The experience of the man born blind being given his sight by Jesus which launches the man into a maelstrom of questions asked by the community is the entry point to Jesus naming himself as the gate.

How many times has a new experience led us to new questions?  And those new questions to new answers?  Answers that challenge how we think about life and how we think about God.  Time and time again as children our minds stretch and grow to absorb all the new stuff we see and do and hear.  Time and time again as teenagers and, hopefully, if we’re lucky, time and time again as adults.  We are challenged to either understand something new or take on something new in the face of new information that arrives on the scene.  It is the way of life.  And for Jesus followers, it is a way of faith as we try to figure out what in the name of God…literally, in the name of God…we’re talking about when we talk about Jesus.

But it is also the way of life to not let in all the possibilities and information.  It is also the way of life to be overwhelmed by it.  It is also the way of life to be knocked down by the sheer quantity of information and experience that blow our minds and leave our expectations in tatters.  And it is the way of life to close ourselves off and create our own sheepfolds – sheepfolds that set-up our own beliefs about Jesus as the gate.  We set up a gate so that we might feel some small glimmer of hope that our right faith keeps us safe from that which would harm us or destroy us.  And, very quickly, we fall to the same temptation as the religious leaders did with the man born blind and we drive people out as if we ourselves are the gate.

And then I like to take a big breath as Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate.”  Because Jesus as the open gate in this passage is very, very different than thinking about Jesus as the faith-ticket-taker.  You know, like I have my ticket of faith which gives me entrance to the right church and then, at the just the right time, I hand my ticket of faith over to Jesus so that all will be well, so that I will be well.

I’m pretty sure there are no tickets of faith-in-Jesus that purchase protective outerwear for deflecting the worst kind of pain.  Perhaps to confirm this we could check in with a few of our most faithful brothers and sisters in the nearest ICU or hospice.

And I’m pretty sure that there is no ticket-of-faith in Jesus that unleashes a cash windfall – perhaps we could check in with some of our poorest and most faithful brothers and sisters, numbering in the millions across the planet, who wonder where their next meal is coming from.

In fact, what these faithful brothers and sisters all over the world experience is what we experience. We all experience some moments in life and other people at their worst.  We experience faith living in the shadow of the cross while clinging to the promise of the Easter resurrection.  In the season of Easter, we live on this side of the resurrection although we see it through a glass darkly.[1]  The realities of the cross are real even today.  Jesus does not describe a world free of bandits and thieves.  Jesus names the bandits as real, as the powers that rob us of life and health.[2]

So then, Jesus is the gate to the abundance of what?  He says, “I came so that you may have LIFE and have it abundantly.”  That he says this through the specter of the cross is key.  Jesus lives a truth about the mess of human reality on the cross. Jesus overcomes that reality not by ignoring it but by dying on it.  Lighting up our vulnerability through his own – vulnerability that cannot be ignored.  So then we can stop pretending that we know enough and are strong enough to be our own gates, our own gods.  Jesus promises an abundant life that is the power of the love of God in the midst of real threats, in the middle of thieves and bandits who kill and destroy, who show up in the valley of the shadow of death.

Jesus is the gate through whose death and resurrection we enter and emerge into life abundant.

Jesus is the gate who sees the truth of the whole you – the image of God in you and the worst of the brokenness in you.

Jesus is the gate with whom you enter into the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil.

Jesus is the gate who promises that death, when it comes, may win the moment but does not win the day when you breathe your last in this body and awake in the next.

 



[1] 1 Corinthians 13:12  For now we see through a glassdarkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known.

[2] Craig Koester, Gospel of John, Course Lecture at Luther Seminary, October, 13, 2010.

John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43 “The Voice of Jesus is Heard…”

John 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

 

Acts 9:36-43 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

 

There are so many things that disquiet our hearts and minds today.  The unfolding events in Boston and the town of West, Texas, continue as we hear story after story.  There is also much that is close to home and personal.  Family and friends we are thinking about maybe even this very minute who are struggling.  I pray that you find comfort as the love of Christ is shared between us today.  Amen.

Jesus says in our gospel passage today that, “My sheep hear my voice…I know them, and they follow me.”  That is a lovely thing to say and maybe even more lovely to hear.  The imagery of God as shepherd is so common in scripture that many, many people, whether or not they have any connection to church, know the opening lines, and maybe even the whole, of Psalm 23.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”  While the image may be poetic and comforting, I began to wonder what it might actually sound like to hear Jesus’ voice.

The Acts text might help us out here – bringing us in on hearing Jesus’ voice from a different angle.  Only slightly less well known than Psalm 23, the story begins this way.  “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.”  Her name is offered in two languages which gives us an inkling that she is comfortable in her religious community as well as in the wider Greco-Roman culture around her.[1]  The story goes on to tell us that she is known for her charity and good works.  This is how she moves through the world.  And then she dies.

We are told neither how she dies nor the specifics of why the disciples call for Peter to come to them.  Simply that the disciple Tabitha dies and that Peter is in a town near-enough to be able to come.  So he does.  When he gets there, the widows who are there show Peter all the clothing that Dorcas made during her time with them.  We are not told much about the clothing but we know that scripture demands the care of widows who, at that time, were dependent of the community for their lives.  Again, they request nothing of him; they simply tell him their experience and show him Dorcas’ work.  Peter sends them out of the room, prays, and tells Tabitha to get up.  She sits up and Peter offers her his hand to help her stand up, at the same time calling the saints and windows back into the room.

This is a ton of story packed into seven verses.  Imagine the biography that would be written if this story were expanded in its fullness.  It is a story to inspire the imagination.  For those of us who are disciples today, we are here in large part because of the witness of Tabitha and other disciples.  And it is disciples like Tabitha who are powerful examples of discipleship.  But above and beyond the example of discipleship and the witness of a religious faith in a wider world, the story of Tabitha, the widows, Peter, and other disciples speaks powerfully to the way Jesus’ voice is heard in community.  Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  How do we hear the voice of Jesus today?

This morning we will be celebrating many, many people here in this place who give of their time and who give of their skills in this congregational community and beyond its walls as volunteers.  As a full assembly, we will celebrate these volunteers in a litany of gratitude, echoing the grateful celebration of the saints and widows who told Peter about Dorcas.  The voice of Jesus is heard through the work of these volunteers and through our celebration of their work.[2]

There is a story about the love shared between a disciple of Jesus and her community that I’d like to share with you. I received permission this week from her husband Mark to tell a bit of her story.  Her name is Nina.  Nina walked into Augustana many years ago following a nine month long recovery in New York State from a two-seater plane crash.  She suffered major burns in the crash and was still wearing the special stockings for healing over much of her body.  Nina came back Sunday after Sunday and experienced a time of healing here at Augustana; a time that she describes as having “established her faith.”  As she told it to Mark, the church was the one place where she felt welcome all of the time regardless of her physical scars.  The voice of Jesus is heard in this welcome.[3]

A few years ago, Nina’s life situation allowed her to begin participating in the work of Augustana.  Krista Rahe, a good friend of Nina’s and head of the Spiritual Arts Committee, drafted Nina and her creative talent into that committee.  She also began working with Dianne Nelson and the Altar Guild who prepares the sanctuary for worship.  Then Nina became involved with Advent Adventure working with our Children’s and Family Minister, Cary Mathis, which led her to pour her creative energies into the Music Art and Drama camp that impacts children who worship here as well as children in the wider community.  Cary says he keeps a long list of her unique ideas close at hand.  The voice of Jesus is heard as invitations to share Spirit given gifts with people both in the church and beyond and the voice of Jesus is heard in the response to the invitation to share those gifts.[4]

Last Fall, just before Thanksgiving, Nina had a catastrophic stroke.  Her survival in those first days was touch and go but as Mark says, it is not Nina’s first time around dealing with a major illness and recovery that will not be measured in days, weeks, or months – calling into place her resourcefulness and zest for life as part of her recovery.  The church community far and wide began praying, and showing up, and praying some more.  The voice of Jesus is heard in those prayers and in the groans too deep for words.[5]

A little over two months ago you called me as a pastor here and very quickly I began to hear about Nina.  First from the Care Team who stay up to date on care visits to Nina and the progress of her recovery, then bits and pieces from the rest of the staff who know her, then from the Congregational Council, then from the Children and Family Committee, then from other people in the congregation…and so on, and so on…you get the idea.  People say things to me like, “Oh, that’s right, you haven’t met Nina.”  And then they would proceed to tell me something about her – making me think of the widows talking about Dorcas in our Bible story today.  The voice of Jesus is heard as you tell these stories.[6]

I had my first visit with Nina this week.  Her long-time friend, Susie, was also there visiting which was wonderful, in part because the way Nina and Susie are able to communicate their love for each other and stories about each other despite Nina not being able to speak. While I was sitting there with Nina and Susie, listening to their stories, watching them nod back and forth to each other, the Easter Sunday story of Mary Magdalene popped into my head in what I like to call a Holy Spirit moment.  As I re-told the story to Nina, reminding her of Mary Magdalene standing at the empty tomb, thinking that Jesus the Christ is the gardener, until he says her name, “Mary.”  And then Mary knows it is Jesus and not the gardener.  Nina nodded and smiled throughout the story as we remembered our way through it and then I said to Nina, “If you could hear the way people at church say your name… … …”    The voice of Jesus is heard as we hear our names spoken by the risen Christ in the Body of Christ knows as the church.[7]

The story of Tabitha’s discipleship intertwined with the saints and widows; and the story of Nina’s discipleship intertwined with this congregation are only two of the stories that help us to hear the voice of Jesus.  As there are these two, so there are many people who form the great cloud of witnesses in this congregation and in the church catholic.  These two disciples’ and their interconnectedness within and beyond their faith community bear witness to the one who calls and sends them into the world for the sake of the world.[8]

For the witness of disciples who help us hear the voice of Jesus through their work and their stories, today we celebrate and say, thanks be to God!

 

 



[1] Eric Barreto, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary.  On Working Preacher for Acts 9:36-43 on April 21, 2013; http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1625.

[2] Matthew 20:1-16

[3] Mark 9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

[4] See 1 Corinthians 12 on Spiritual Gifts.

[5] See Romans 8:26 – “But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.”

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] John 20:1-18

[8] Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-34; Luke 5:1-11

 

John 10:1-10 “Gate: Cross and Promise”

John 10:1-10 “Gate: Cross and Promise”

May 13th – New Beginnings Church at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, Denver, CO

May 14th – Women of the ELCA, RMS Boulder Cluster Gathering, Wheatridge, CO

May 15th – Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO

 

John 10:1-10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

So which one is it?!  Is Jesus the gate or is Jesus the shepherd?  So which one is it?! Are we the sheep?   Or are we the thieves, bandits and strangers?  This text is saturated to overflowing with imagery as Jesus tries to communicate who he is with his disciples.  But today, I really want you to hear Jesus’ gift to us as he says, “I am the gate.”  He says it twice.  “I am the gate.”

Think for a moment about gates that you come across in your day-to-day.  Picture the gate in your mind and who controls the gate and whether the gate stands opened or closed.  Think about what the gate is for and who is allowed to go in and go out of that gate and what it costs to move in and out of the gate.

Now, picture another gate.  And picture this gate welded open. There is freedom of movement as it stands open.  The gate cannot be closed or manipulated in any way.  It simply…stands…open… this is the gate I would like you to have in mind for the next few minutes.  A gate that stands open.

Every so often a text from the Bible is such that it really helps us if we know what comes right before it in the story.  This is true of so many things.  If we learn just a little more of the context of what someone is trying to say, then we have a better shot at understanding at least a little of what is going on.   This story of Jesus is the gate is one such story.  Right before our verses today is the story of the man born blind to whom Jesus gives sight.  The man born blind, who can now see because of Jesus, is asked all kinds of questions by the religious leaders of the temple and they ultimately drive him out of the temple when their questions aren’t answered to their expectations.  And Jesus receives that man.

How many times in each of our lives has a new experience led us to new questions and then to new answers that challenge how we think about life and how we think about God?  Not God changing but us changing.  Time and time again as children our minds stretch and grow to absorb all the new stuff we see and do and hear.  Time and time again in our adolescence and, hopefully, if we’re lucky, time and time again as adults, we are challenged to either understand something new or take on something new in the face of new information that arrives on the scene.  It is the way of life.  And for Jesus followers, it is a way of faith as we try to figure out what in the name of God…literally…we’re talking about when we talk about loving to tell the story Jesus.

But it is also the way of life to not let all the possibilities and information in.  It is also the way of life to be overwhelmed by it.  It is also the way of life to be knocked down by the sheer quantity of information and experience that blow our minds and leave our expectations in tatters.  And it is the way of life to close ourselves off and create our own sheepfolds and set ourselves and our beliefs about Jesus as the gate so that we might feel some small glimmer of hope that our right faith keeps us safe from that which would harm us or destroy us.  And, very quickly, we fall to the same temptation as the religious leaders did with the man born blind and we drive people out as if we are the ones who are the gate.

During the Apostles’ Creed, the traditional line spoken throughout the centuries is “I believe in the holy catholic church.”  This can be incredibly confusing for people since a large part of the world worships in the Roman Catholic tradition.  So, we often change the traditional language to say, “I believe in the holy Christian church.”  My kids will tell you that on any given Sunday, they’re not sure exactly what will come out of my mouth during this part of the Creed.  In whispers, you might even hear them say, “You said it again Mom.”  And here’s the truth of it for me.  I love the word catholic.  I love that it means universal.  I love that our ancestors in the church applied the word that means universal to the church.  I love pondering what the God of the universe, which includes us sitting in our teeny-tiny corner of it, thinks about how we’re doing in our teeny-tiny part of the church catholic as we divide, and divide again, and divide again – driving people out of sheepfold, after sheepfold, as if we were the gate.

And then I like to take a big breath as Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the gate.”  Because Jesus as the open gate in this passage is very, very different then Jesus as the faith-ticket-taker.  You know, like I have my ticket of faith which gives me entrance to the right church and then, at the just the right time, I hand my ticket of faith over to Jesus so that all will be well, so that I will be well.

I’m pretty sure a ticket of faith in Jesus does not purchase protective outerwear that deflects the worst kind of pain – perhaps to confirm this we could check in with a few of our most faithful brothers and sisters in the nearest ICU or hospice.

And I’m pretty sure that a ticket of faith in Jesus does not unleash a cash windfall – perhaps we could check in with some of our poorest and most faithful brothers and sisters, numbering in the millions across the planet, who wonder where their next meal is coming from.

In fact, what these faithful brothers and sisters experience, indeed, what we experience as we experience life and others at their worst, is faith living in the shadow of the cross while clinging to the promise of the Easter resurrection.  And we don’t have to look very far within ourselves, our own families and our circle of friends to see and feel its shadow too.  In this season of Easter, we do live on this side of the resurrection although we see it in a hazy kind of way because the realities of the cross are real even today.  Jesus does not describe a world free of bandits and thieves.  Jesus names the bandits as real, the powers that rob us of life and health.[1]

So then, Jesus is the gate to the abundance of what?  He says, “I came so that you may have LIFE and have it abundantly.”  That he says this through the specter of the cross is critical.  Jesus lives a truth about the mess of human reality on the cross; Jesus overcomes that reality not by ignoring it but by dying on it, lighting it up so that our vulnerability cannot be ignored and we can stop pretending that we know enough and are strong enough to be our own gates, our own gods.  Jesus promises an abundant life that is the power of the love of God in the midst of real threats, in the middle of thieves and bandits.

Jesus is the gate and sees and speaks the truth of the whole you – the image of God in you and worst of the brokenness in you.

Jesus is the gate who pours out forgiveness for you when you bring your worst.

Jesus is the gate who stands open by the grace of God for you – nothing you do opens it and nothing you do can close it.

And Jesus is the gate who promises that death, when it comes, may win the moment but does not win the day when you breathe your last in this body and Jesus welcomes you into the arms of the eternal God.



[1] Craig Koester, Gospel of John, Course Lecture at Luther Seminary, October, 13, 2010.