Sermon; Easter 4B; John 10:11-18
The 4th Sunday after Easter is referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. Every year on this day we have the 23rd Psalm, and every year on this day we hear from John 10, that chapter dedicated to portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the people as the sheep, his sheep, of the flock.
I began writing this sermon in the food court at the Outlet Mall. Cece was working the morning shift and she had a PT appointment later that day. I dropped her off in the morning and was back to pick her up after lunch to get her to that appointment. Since driving all around town playing chauffeur is sort of a waste of time, it was easier to eat in the food court where I could begin processing the sermon.
It just so happened that on that day there was a bus group of teenagers and their chaperons there. I didn't know that when I sat down, but it soon became obvious. It became obvious when I heard the unmistakable sounds of a round up call – “Okay, time to go!”
And with that the gaggle of teens got up from their tables, some faster than others, took their trays to the garbage cans, and headed out for the bus. A few of them needed some special encouragement as a they lagged behind, but eventually they were all on the bus. After the obligatory head count, the chaperons boarded and they left for their next destination. It was a lot like today's gospel.
Have you ever watched one of those documentaries on the penguins in Antarctica? Invariably there's a shot of the colony with their just-hatched chicklets. Thousands of black and white birds standing next to their babies, all of them squawking at each other, and the narrator says something like, “In all of this noise, the baby penguins can tell their parents apart from other adults.” I'm sure it's meant to sound like an amazing feat of nature, but is it?
The brain, any brain of any species, is an amazing thing. It has a way of identifying to whom it belongs and who it doesn't. When I was a boy I would play in the neighborhood street on summer nights with the other children until dark, or some time close to it. At some point a mother would call out, “Time to come in!” and the child associated with that voice would head home. It was easy to tell my mom from the others because she always called first. But regardless, we all knew the voice we belonged to.
We know the voices of parents and other family members. We know the voices of friends. We even know the voices of those we don't see on a regular basis. We know the voices of actors, even if we can't recognize their face – such as the time I knew the voice of the new doctor on Andy Griffith but couldn't visually identify who he actually was. We have an amazing capacity to identify those to whom we belong. We also have the capacity to identify those whom we know generally, either actually or through other means. And we know, or should know, to be cautious when we don't or can't recognize a voice – such as a phone call from your grandson needing money for medical bills or bail.
All of that to say that we know to whom we belong and who belongs to us through the simple act of speaking and listening. We know to whom we belong by hearing their voice.
This is shown most poignantly in John's resurrection story. Mary goes to the tomb early on the morning of the first day of the week. She finds it empty, runs to tell Peter and John, and follows them back to the tomb. After they leave she sees the resurrected Christ but thinks he's the gardener. She turns her back to him and, while looking away, she hears his voice . . . “Mary.” And in that voice she knows. She knows Christ has been resurrected. She knows he is calling to her. She knows she belongs to him.
We get a glimpse of what that will look like at the end of days when Jesus says the sheep will listen to his voice. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them and they will listen to my voice.”
This listening to the voice of Christ has two points to it, I think. The first point is that, following up on the past few weeks where we learned we are apostles (“As the Father has sent the Son, so I send you”), we are the hands and feet, ears and mouth of Christ. For right now, in this time and in this place, we are the voice of Christ. For right now it is our job to call others into relationship with Christ so that they can become part of the flock. And if we do it right, they will listen to the voice of Christ spoken through us.
The second point is that, at the proper time, Christ will call and a vast multitude will hear that voice and join his flock. These will be people we don't know, or maybe even people we've given up on. But Christ knows them and Christ hasn't given up on them. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
We cannot sit and do nothing, for Christ speaks through us. We cannot wait for Christ to do all the work, for we have been sent. All of us are part of the process of restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
This “all” means just that . . . All. It doesn't mean just the people we like. It's not just Episcopalians. It's all. As I've said before, “All means all, y'all.”
Neither is this just a feel-good church thing. This is a Jesus thing. “I have others that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
As those kids answered the call of their chaperons, people will listen to the call of Jesus. As a penguin chick can answer the call of their parents among the thousand of other birds, so will people listen to the call of Jesus. As I answered the call of my mother at the end of a summer night, people will listen to the call of Jesus. As people we don't know hear the call of Jesus, they too will become part of the one, holy, catholic flock of Christ. But in order to hear the call, the words must be spoken.
Alleluia, alleluia! Let us go forth speaking the words of the risen Christ.