Truly, Truly, I Say to You

Biblical Text: John 10:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the fascinating precursor to the “good shepherd” passages. In the context, precursor is the wrong word because the first 6 verses of John 10 are the basis. Verses 7 through 10 are an expansion or a change of emphasis. The good shepherd verses are elaborations on these initial “truly, truly” sayings. What this sermon attempts to do is meditate on those sayings. It asks the confirmation question “what does this mean” about the structure. After answering is examines three things: a) how God acts in this world as explained by the parable, b) our duty after “hearing the voice” and c) what Jesus means by abundant life. I think this is a rather thick sermon, but worth a listen

I was called, gathered, enlightened (and sanctified) by…?

Are our testimonies honoring to the whole landscape of the Christian journey? Not if they only speak of the “how-shocking-was-my-sin-before-I-met-the-Lord” story. (As though the sin I commit today is less shocking!). Not if they only share the safe feelings, rehearsed responses, and good “decisions” for which we give ourselves unearned credit.

This word—conversion—is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God. I know of only one word to describe this time-released encounter: impact. Impact is, I believe, the space between the multiple car crash and the body count.

Those are two close quotes from this book by Rosaria Butterfield. I recommended the book to Sunday morning bible study this last week primarily on the strength of its depiction of coming to faith and the unflinching picture of the work of the Holy Spirit. (That is the answer to the post title’s question. Read Luther’s answer to what the 3rd article of the creed means.) As a picture of being called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified and what that might actually mean in real flesh and blood, the book is harrowing. And it is a spiritual classic.

Our Christian culture likes to tell prodigal son stories or sing Amazing Grace (I once was lost but now I am found.) We love the dramatic Damascus Road conversion. But what we miss is the years Paul spent in Arabia (Gal 1:17, Acts 9:23-25). We hear the story of the slaver John Newton, author of the Hymn, but we don’t notice the timeline. Conversion in 1748, but he didn’t quit slaving until 1754 and that only after he suffered a severe stroke. In 1757 he applied for ordination, but he was not ordained until 1764.

The conversions in the words of Mrs. Butterfield are “a train wreck”. We don’t get off so easy as “I once was blind and now I see”. At least not in how we understand that today.

I bring that up because the gospel text for this coming Sunday is probably one of the most offensive possible for our modern understanding. The 4th Sunday of Easter is usually “good shepherd Sunday”. All the pastoral metaphors come out – still waters, green valleys, protection, leading. But the gospel text in John where Jesus says he is the good shepherd (John 10:14) ends with the Jews saying Jesus has a demon or is possessed (John 10:19). The specific text for this Sunday has Jesus saying, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…no one will snatch them out of my hand.” We don’t get a choice. Like Mrs. Butterfield there are no pat on the back decisions, only an impact, a train wreck, a meeting of the living God.

The Holy Spirit calls us. Usually through common means like preaching and the word, but sometimes uncommon like bright lights. The only choice we really have is to turn it down, to not believe what we hear (or see). And we are called to a purpose or what feels like a process. We are gathered (baptism, church family). We are enlightened (bible study, prayer). All so that we become sanctified. All Christians are being lead by the shepherd’s voice in those paths. And those paths go right through the valley of the shadow of death. Because something does die along those paths – our old self. Leaving that body (of sin) behind can be traumatic. We like to sin. We are good at it. It creates deep roots.

It is also not our decision. The sheep follow the shepherd.

Our Economy vs. God’s Economy – Seeking and Finding

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Text: Luke 15:1-10

Parables tell us about how God and his Kingdom work. Jesus’ parables has this tendency to get us nodding our heads in agreement as our minds slip off into warm fuzzy images of precious moments sheep and shepherds. But we should be struck by the fact that this is not how we work. We lose 1 of 100, we give a cursory look and say oh well. We lose 1 of 10 and we look a little harder, get a little frazzled, but still no real change. We lose 1 of 2 (the prodigal comes after the text parables), and we are changed, but our goal is acceptance of the change. Our economy is about dealing with the losses.

God’s economy says no. I will fix this. I will search. I will search until I find. I will restore the wholeness. That is a far reaching understanding of God’s ways compared to ours.

On the meta side there are two things. The first was my joy in being able to use wholeness and restoration as the gospel/justification metaphor. The bible uses many ways to talk about what God has done for us in Christ. Wholeness or restoration strikes me as one of the more powerful ways to a modern audience. We are so used to being separated and fractured that talk of a God who seeks, finds and restores at all costs is powerful stuff. The danger is in the equating of theological wholeness with therapeutic wholeness. The contrast of our economy’s goal of acceptance vs. God’s goal of rejoicing is the difference.

The second meta thought that I couldn’t get into the sermon is the wonderful female image for God used in the parable. Jesus equates his work to a housewife with a broom. Even pointing that out might be sexist, but by putting it in parallel with the lost sheep, Jesus has placed that woman and the broom on the same level as the shepherd with his crook. That is typical of Luke’s gospel. He has an ear for equality.

Sermon – “The Model Shepherd” – John 10:1-11

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Looking through law/gospel eyes the Good Shepherd and this passage is both severe and sweet. If you are in a position of responsibility here is the model. The two traits of that model are: 1) the model shephed lays down his life for the sheep and 2) the model shepherd knows the sheep. We all fall short of those. In carrying out our responsibilities we more often look like that hired man and occasionally we are the wolf. The good news is that we have a good shepherd. A shepherd that did lay down his life for his sheep, and a shepherd that knows us each by name and calls us. Christians may be scattered in many folds (nations, denominations, churches), but they all know the voice of the Good Shepherd. God, in his sovereignty, choose to be our Good Shepherd. We will lack for nothing.

The Holy Spirit must be at work. A sermon from the Gospel of John that – I think – made sense. I should mention two works that have been great in helping me understand John a little better. The first is William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series. It is hard to find a writer who packs as many insights and spot on information into a devotional format that does not take an expert to read and understand. If you are looking for a devotional book that is deeper than something like the portals of prayer, but not too long or technical, Barclay is a great place to start, and I know that the Henrietta library has several copies on the shelves. The second work is by the Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown. Father Brown would not be a layman or woman’s writer, although he is clear in his writing. He assumes a great deal of knowledge that the typical lay reader just wouldn’t have. There are also nagging questions about Father Brown’s “method” of interpretation. What I mean by method is that Raymond Brown is a critical scholar. To the critical scholar the text of scripture often becomes nothing more than a human writing. The doctrine of inspiration is often tossed out the window, especially when the text contrasts with what modern presuppositions (like there are no miracles) would say. Father Brown uses the methods of critical scholars, but one never gets the sense that he disregards the inspired nature of scripture. Given all those caveats, why am I mentioning this work? Father Brown was a profound and insightful guy. In the modern world, “the poisoned fruit of a poisoned tree” approach is not helpful, if it ever was. To speak to the modern culture that is critical and has torn down everything requires interaction and understanding of that culture. Raymond Brown does not run from that interaction. Much critical scholarship is sterile and fruitless. Raymond Brown’s is neither.