The Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

John 10:22-30

A minister was conducting the funeral of a rather unsavory character who had never been near a place of worship in his life. Though he had not known the man, the preacher poured on the praise for the dearly departed for the sake of the widow, who was a faithful church member.

After 10 minutes of hearing the dead man described in terms of endearment as a husband, father, boss and neighbor, the widow’s expression grew more and more puzzled. Finally, she nudged her son and ordered, “Go up there and make sure that’s your father in the casket.”

If we were to hear Jesus, the Good Shepherd, standing before God the Father describing our lives, we might look puzzled, too. That’s because when Christ’s grace and love are poured over our lives—yours and mine—they become unrecognizable. God will not see us as sinners; he will only see the love of Jesus overshadowing us.

Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, the center point of the Easter season. And on this “middle Sunday,” the lectionary seems to lose its place. After weeks of resurrection and postresurrection stories, we are abruptly propelled backward to a day before the crucifixion.

Over the past few weeks we have celebrated with Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb and shared her joy in the presence of the risen Lord. We have found with the other disciples the peace that Jesus gives as he comes to us, even in our locked away places, those places where we often hide ourselves for fear of being “found out” by others.

We have, with Thomas, experienced the joy of touching the risen Christ, allaying our doubts, strengthening our faith.

And, finally, like the disciples at the lake in last week’s gospel, we have heard the call of the resurrected Savior to come ashore, to leave empty nets for full ones, to leave fruitless lives for fulfilled ones. To share a eucharistic (thanksgiving) meal with Jesus and receive his blessing.

It has been an Easter celebration. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ does live again. But, now, suddenly, we find ourselves with Jesus walking in the temple. It is pre-Easter, and the “Jews” (John’s word for the temple authorities) have gathered around him to question him and, perhaps, entrap him.

“How long will you keep us in suspense,” they say. If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly,”– their words dripping with sarcasm and contempt. For, obviously, they don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah. To the contrary, they see Jesus as a blasphemer and a troublemaker. He is a threat to their religion, to their nation, and to their own status as leaders among the people.

And so they seek to trap Jesus. They want him to confirm their suspicions with his own words. For if he tells them he is the Messiah (as many people have come to believe) then they can have him arrested, and prosecute him and put him away.

Once again, however, Jesus refuses to be sucked into their scheme. Instead, as is his way, he turns their question back on them: “I have told you, and you do not believe.” How has he told them, they wonder. “By my works,” Jesus says. These testify to who I am. The question is not who I am, but do you believe?

And this is the question the gospel brings us to this morning, in this Easter season. We have seen him risen, seen his works, experienced his peace and presence. But do we believe?

Of course, we do. . . . Don’t we? And isn’t this a really peculiar time to ask that question? After Easter. After resurrection. In the midst of this joyous belief, the promise of victory over death, the celebration of redemption and atonement, the gratitude of guaranteed absolution, all brought to us by the death defeating, redemption granting, grace fulfilling Jesus Christ. Of course we believe. Don’t we?

It is so easy to sidestep the question of belief, sometimes. We tend to focus, instead, on what Jesus does for us, rather than our response toward him. We can always count on Jesus to be there for us when we need him, we assure ourselves; but what kind of priority do we put on our relationship with Jesus? Do we really believe in Jesus? Or, maybe, a more centering question is, do we love him?
Are we among his sheep?

That is how Jesus, responding to the authorities, refers to those who believe in him. “They are my sheep,” he says. “They hear my voice. I know them. They know me. And they follow me.” And to those who believe and follow, Jesus promises eternal life. He says, “No one can take them from me. No one (nothing) will snatch them out of my hand.”

Do you believe?

Our western mind has been formed on the idea that belief is based on evidence. The scientific mind wants facts, hard data, to confirm what we believe is true. Unfortunately, much of our faith cannot be based on “hard evidence” and irrefutable fact.

Some of our main beliefs are really unexplainable, Mysteries of faith, we call them. In fact, a definition of faith might be “believing without knowing,” – for sure – without a doubt.

So belief is not an easy thing. Nor is faith. Nor is church membership, being among the flock of Jesus’ sheep, who hear his voice and follow. If it were, then those big attendance numbers we post on Christmas and Easter Sunday would be the same week in and week out. Those people that show up only when they are scheduled to read a lesson or usher or sing or serve on altar guild would be here week in and week out. And those who see themselves as regular, faithful churchgoers, unless something else comes up or there’s something more important to do, would find few things more important than Sunday worship and fellowship. Of giving part of their week every week to be together in God’s house for the corporate worship and praise of God.

If we believed. If we were sheep who really knew Jesus, and followed him and loved him.

Are you among the sheep of the Good Shepherd? If so, then instead of simply calling on Jesus, or answering a call, out of a sense of obligation or “duty,” instead of calling on him when there is a need or desire to be fulfilled in your life, respond to him in love, in faith. Answer his call to worship (corporately, and regularly, with the flock), take on your ministry service with joy and gratitude rather than a sense of “doing your part” or “taking your turn.” Don’t miss opportunities to share in the fellowship life of the church (for the Good Shepherd is always among his sheep). Make a commitment to learning about the faith, through Christian education events like Sunday school or personal or group Bible study (and God will be there).

“I am the Good Shepherd,” says Jesus. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they know me. And they follow me.”

Do you believe in Jesus, really?
Do you love Jesus, really?
Those are important questions to ask and consider, daily. And, if your answer is “yes,”
Then behave that way. Follow him, truly.

Throughout these great 50 days of Easter, let this be a time of revival and renewal, in this church and in each of our hearts. Let us commit ourselves anew to our God and our faith. If we will, then Jesus, the Good Shepherd, promises to strengthen our belief, fill our hearts, bless our souls and overshadow us with his love and grace.

Let us be witnesses to the risen Lord, who does all these things, so that we might bring ourselves and others to this sheepfold, to love, to serve, and to believe.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.