The Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
John 10:22-30

The longer I am around people of faith, the more convinced I am that for most of us, believing follows belonging, rather then the other way round. It seems to me people are often seeking a loving community in which to belong. People are hungry to belong to something greater than they are by themselves.

I am also convinced that when people belong, they are prompted and called by the voice of Jesus. It is love calling to love.

The metaphor Jesus uses in today’s Gospel is to characterize himself as the shepherd of the sheep. If you know anything about shepherds and sheep, you know how dependent sheep are on their shepherd. The life of a sheep is dependent on the shepherd. Food, water, shelter, protection from enemies, these are all things the shepherd provides for the sheep. Most of all, the sheep know the voice of their shepherd and respond to that voice only.

You also hear from Jesus, in John’s Gospel, who belongs to him. The writer uses the phrase “the Jews” to indicate the people who do not belong to him, to differentiate between those who belong and those who do not. It is an alert to those listening, John is telling us that some of the people walking with Jesus were Jesus’ intimates, that is, they heard his voice and they belonged to him. The people who are not part of Jesus’ intimates question Jesus about his status. They are asking for certainty from him.

In his answer, Jesus tells his listeners what it means to belong to him.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

It’s Jesus’ way of saying, to both his own sheep who belong, and those who do not yet belong, “If you are a member of my flock, you know my voice. You know you depend only on me. You belong. And if you know these things, then you wouldn’t have to ask this question.”

If you were listening on the day John describes, and you were a follower of Jesus, you knew what Jesus meant because you knew his voice. You knew what it meant to belong. You knew that Jesus and God were one. You belonged. No one could snatch you from his hand.

The great blessing for us is that we cannot be snatched away. Even when we are frightened and wondering if we could be snatched away. Many of us have those times. And, we tend to assume that we are the only ones who have those times. We think we are the only one who ever wakes in the night or in the early morning and has to wait for belonging and belief. We are the only one for whom sometimes belonging and belief don’t come that day, or the next day, or even the day after that. We think we are the only one for whom belief isn’t there and hope, wait, and try to believe that someday we will belong and believe again. But a little or a lot, belonging and believing every day, or once a day, or only on alternate days, we are still cradled and held in God’s hands. No one can snatch us away from the hands of God, and God’s love never ends.

You are here, today, in one of the places where we hear the voice of Jesus calling us. We have a community to which we belong: a community of love. The believing comes when we realize we have heard the voice of Jesus. For many of us the love comes through action. We serve and we realize: we are one of his sheep. We are called to follow him. We are called to live in love in his name.

When we are followers of Jesus, no one can snatch us out of God’s hand. We belong in love and through the love of the shepherd we are called by his voice to live out that love in the world.

Just yesterday I heard the voices of love at our Saturday Sandwich Ministry. I heard people speak love as they handed out bags of sandwiches, “Here you are, my brother.” “Have a beautiful day.” “Thank you for coming.” “It’s great to see you.”

No judgment. Just love. Love: faithful, true, and holy, right here, yesterday and every day in so many ways, Love in this time and in this place from those who belong to Jesus and cannot be snatched away. AMEN

The Very Rev Nicolette Papanek