Occasionally you give a sermon that you know is going to be challenging, or is just not going to connect with some. That is the fact of being an every Sunday preacher. If you don’t that means you are never stretching any of your listeners. And worse you might not be stretching yourself. This is one of those sermons. I like this one. I also know this is one of the types that many preachers would stay away from. The only thing I would add is that we live in a technological society, and locally we have a national-class STEM school. That should be engaged.
Honestly what I wish I had was another 5 – 10 minutes. The set up, which is overly long as it stands, tees up two things that are both present in the text and are important for our Christian lives. A modern reality around AI asks questions both on our divisions and how they are created and about personhood. As I was writing I intended to bring both of those. But the personhood argument is left as something of a stub. It is there. Hopefully it will give you something to ponder.
Some days you have a text that has a powerful image. Like this one with the image of “my sheep”. That image isn’t unimportant, but especially when it is a beloved image, it can erase the rest of the text. It can obscure everything that might contain treasures that aren’t quite as bright. This text has launched many a sermonic broadside on the doctrine of election as well as many sugary sweet meditations on the love of the shepherd. Decent theology and preaching. But the conflict or question in the text isn’t over the things caught up in the image of sheep. The conflict is over the reaction to their statement. Even when it is stated plainly, some believe and some don’t. The question is not if Jesus is the Christ. He is. What we must come to understand is what Christ means. It does include power, but it is a power displayed in this world through weakness. It a power that is great enough to show itself on a cross. Jesus proclaims himself plainly in words, but more clearly in his deeds. And those deeds inspire believe in the sheep, and rejection in others. Revelation is always about faith. Is God – Father, Son and Spirit – as Jesus has revealed him? Does the cross inspire trust, or revolt.
On a practical level, when you pass over such an image for a different thread, you’ve created a problem in the worship service. You won’t get it on the recording, but the hymns of the day were largely given to that image. The hymns are always a second sermon. Most of the time you hope they reinforce what you are going to be saying. Occasionally you let them preach the well worn sermons while you try something different.
The world is full of voices. In the past week we’ve heard from some of the more gruesome. What Jesus says in the text today is “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He also says bluntly that those who don’t believe (because they haven’t accepted/heard the testimony) are not his sheep.
What the Gospel according to John sets up is the duality of voices. The voice of Christ is the call to life, and the call to life is the call to repentance and a life transformed by the Spirit. All the other voices, whatever their form, are voices of the world leading to death, voices breathing threats and murder. And there is no blending of these voices, just a division. Either we follow the voice of the shepherd, or we follow other voices. Either we believe, and nothing will snatch us out of the Father’s hand, or we join the voices contra Christ. There is no middle ground. And if this week has done anything it has shown the foolishness of dialog with those voices of the world. Voices not based in the life of Christ yield bad fruit.