Last weekend, Steve and I took some time away in New York City for our anniversary. We walked through Times Square, around Broadway specifically, and the rest of the Theater district. We heard lots of voices calling to get our attention. Large television screens advertising everything from news stations to clothing. There were broadcasts of games and talk shows. There were pop-up political protests and sidewalk cultural events. Vendors and folks trying to find a place to call home. Voices all around us from every direction! Opportunities abounded! We wondered how would Steve and I hear each other in the midst of all of these voices?
Throughout the month of September, as a congregation have been listening to the good news, the gospels in four different stations. We have tuned into Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We have been listening for the voice of God. Each of the Gospel writers served up their message for a different audience, from a different perspective, and articulated a slightly different voice. All sharing the good news, each proclaim the message of Jesus the Christ. Last week, Karen shared the voice of Dr. Luke, investigator who interviewed and engaged including the voices of all, even the traditionally excluded. Today, we finish this series – Do Good News! By turning to the gospel of John.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all considered synoptic gospels. The word synoptic indicates sameness, that is they held more common narrative stories as well as a common source that scholars call Q. They have a similar voice and earlier authorship. The Gospel of John is written slightly later, closer to 90 or 100 CE and has the distinction of being self-aware as a theological treatise.
In fact, the gospel writer in John begins the gospel with “In the beginning was the Word.” The second creation story, it is often called. Like Mark, there is no gentle unwrapping of Christmas story one crèche character at a time like we have come to associate with Christmas Eve. Instead the Gospel of John majors in the beloved community of Jesus. These teachings of what disciples of Jesus need to know are central. We hear the definite statements of who Jesus is more clearly than any of the other gospels –
I AM the Bread of Life,
I AM the Light of the World,
I AM the Door,
I AM the Vine,
I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life,
I AM the Resurrection and the Life.
In our gospel lesson today, we hear Jesus called the Good Shepherd. Throughout Isaiah, Kings, Psalms, the Gospel of John, Hebrews, Peter, Revelation, the biblical witness refers to Christ and the Messiah as the Good Shepherd. In fact, as a people over time, we have been so moved by this image that we have named hospitals, painted murals, named many churches, and even an extracanonical book has such a title – The Shepherd of Hermas. As a people, the image of Christ as shepherd resonates with us. God, who knows us as intimately and familiarly as shepherd cares for the flock, comforts and encourages us to trust and embrace God.
Jesus is the good shepherd and knows each one of us by name. And more than by name, by distinctive marks. I might look at a herd of sheep carefully and only see the most superficial of distinctions. However, like the good shepherd who looks at similarly marked sheep and can tell which is nicked in the ear and worn in the pads of the hooves, Christ knows which of us is prone to need encouragement and which of us is distractable. Christ knows us well enough to know when we need to be reminded and when we need a bit more space.
Have you watched parents at a playground? This is an incredible sight and sound to behold. It can look at first glance like a gathering of parents are talking to one another and not attending to the children. Then you watch with an ear raised as one child giggles and a parent know that child is theirs. A hand is offered with a water bottle as a child come running requesting a drink. A parent can often stand at the end of a playground with their back to the children and tell if their child cries. They can often even tell if their child cries from injury or exclusion. So that they can determine whether to run quickly to salve a bloody knee or walk purposefully to smooth ruffled feathers.
We are called to know the voice of shepherd distinctly from the other voices around us. We listen for the good news. The good news is salvation to the dying and hope for the hopeless. My great Aunt Maud had a salve, an ointment that you could put on most cuts and infections to bring healing. In Greek, salvation is a restoration of healing and well-being with God. The Good Shepherd knows what you need for full healing and well-being with God, salvation. Jesus has told us, I am the Good Shepherd. This good news is salvific care for us both here and now as we struggle in the daily grind and as we look towards then and there into forever.
The Gospel of John is described as “a book in which a child can wade, and an elephant can swim.(1)“ It offers some of the most unique stories with the Women at the Well, Nicodemus, Lazarus, and the wedding at Cana. And the salve of what the Good Shepherd knows you need is tenderly unique. I am not in need of the exact same salve as my brother in faith or sister in faith, and yet, we all listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd to guide us. We all need the salve of the Savior! John holds the capacity to be the stories of Sunday School and the deep study of scholars.
There are voices all around us. Like walking through Times Square and our vibrating phones, there are always voices calling to us and many of them may be wise. It is easy to be distracted by urgency of others’ voices. The voice of Good Shepherd is consistent and eternal, and one knows it intuitively when other voices are quieted. Christ always brings life and life affirming truth. When you think the voice that you hear is the Good Shepherd, you can always check by what you hear – it will always affirm life and salve -well-being – or salvation. Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
For the beloved community of Jesus, they wrote the gospel of John, so that we too could hear the voice of Good Shepherd and know salvation. Their overwhelming transformative experience of Jesus could not be contained and had to be shared. The good news is at once then and now, communal and personal, eternal and present, salvific and transformational. As followers of Jesus, we are asked: Are you seeking out the voice of the shepherd? Do you hear the voice of the shepherd? Will you go where the shepherd is leading the flock?
This is the Gospel, the good news – salvific news of Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(1) Anderson, Paul N. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John, 2011.
New Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40:11
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
Gospel Lesson: John 10:1-10
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, September 30 ~ Saturday, October 6
Sunday: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40: 1. In times of joys and sorrow, God comforts us.
Monday: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. “Isaiah 40:2. Pray for all those who are feeling the weight of guilt and shame. May they know the freedom of God’s gift of life.
Tuesday: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Isaiah 40: 11. God who leads like a shepherd, gathers and carries us.
Wednesday: “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. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” John 10: 1-2. Determining faithful leadership is a matter of discernment. How are you prayerfully discerning who God is calling to leadership?
Thursday: “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10: 3-4. How have you known the voice of God as you walk this path of discipleship?
Friday: “They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:5. Pray for those who hear the voice of those of temptation and feel lost. Pray that they will hear the voice of Jesus.
Saturday: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:9-10. Consider God’s will for you is goodness and life. As you determine whether or not to participate in activities, you could ask, “does this activity give life or diminish life?”