Mother Vivian Shelby – Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2023
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
So Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. He’s talking to the Pharisees. He is speaking to the very people who in the story, he calls, “Thieves and bandits.” And that is not lost on them. So we love thinking of Jesus as a Good Shepherd. It is a comforting, comforting way to think of Jesus. Wandering around, the sheep are following. He’s taking them to pastures and water and putting them back in the pen and locking it up tight at night. So they are protected.
So why is he talking about this to the Pharisees, who don’t believe that he is the Messiah? He’s trying to get them to understand, as he has been. But they can’t understand him because they won’t truly listen. They won’t truly listen. He says, “Look. There’s a gate and the gate is me. The only way for the sheep to have access to their protected space is through me. And I will take them out, bring them in and they will be safe. So he’s explaining how he comes to offer salvation, abundance and eternal life. Now, the sheep know him. They know his voice. They recognize his voice and he calls them each by name.
Now as parents, have you ever lost sight of your child for a fraction of a second in a mall? And you call their name. And you are waiting for that, “Mom!” And you recognize that voice, right? There’s a connection with the hearing of a voice. So what’s happening is, they recognize these sheep, these Jews. Some of them recognize Jesus’ voice and they follow him. Which means they’re not listening to the Pharisees anymore. The Pharisees have touted themselves as the leader of God’s people. And basically Jesus is saying, “Not anymore. You did lead them but now you won’t listen to the truth. Things are changing. God is asking for something different from you now.”
So this is why they didn’t want Jesus around. They had an idea, their own human idea of what the Messiah would be. And when he would come and what things would be like. And Jesus has not fulfilled their expectations, their human expectations. And the sheep are leaving and following Jesus. So Jesus is so bold today in the gospel as to tell them that to their face. “I am the gate. You try to sneak in the back. And only thieves and robbers do that. You are not being the representation of truth to God’s people.
So, in our lives, in our world today, has there been a time when you’ve been like the Pharisees? Where there’s something that you’ve known your entire life? You’ve studied it. Taken classes. Thought about it and talked about it with your friends. And you made up your mind what you thought. And somebody new comes. And you meet this new person and they say there’s a different truth. And you go, “What? No. I’m solid on this point. I know what I’m talking about.” Now sometimes that’s true and we do know what we’re talking about. And sometimes it’s not. It’s an opportunity for growth. My lessons that God has taught me, the hard lessons, have been in those moments when I was sure that I was right. I had done my homework and thought about it. And I didn’t need to think about it anymore because I knew what I thought about that issue. And then somebody comes and just like a cat that’s being rubbed with it’s fur backwards from the tail to the head. I’m like, “NO!” And I’m appalled and I/m offended sometimes. But then if I have the courage to have a conversation with that person, every time, I learn something. I learn something. It doesn’t mean I changed my mind, or that I was wrong. But if nothing else, I’ve now entered into a conversation with a person who thinks differently than me. And I can understand more about where they’re coming from. So that we can be friends, regardless of our differences.
Anybody ever felt that way? So this week I want you to think about those times when you struggle. When you struggle with something or someone. This just doesn’t sit right. And seek out someone who thinks differently than you, to understand their point of view. In our world, the way it is today, right now, we need a place where we can talk to people who think differently than we do. We need to have those relationships. Jesus is saying we need to be in unity as a flock, in the sheepfold, with the fence around it, with the gate that protects us from evil. In unity. And the Episcopal church is really big on this. We can be in unity. We can break bread together, even if we disagree on things in life. Jesus is the Son of God and he’s the Messiah. That’s about the only requirement to come in this building. And even if you don’t believe that, you can still come and explore. We are not called to be in relationship with those who are like us, exclusively. Who did Jesus eat with? Tax collectors, Pharisees, Sadducees, the poor, the marginalized. Who are the people that he healed? Women, blind people, people who were crippled. The people that the Jews kicked out of the synagogue as not worthy. That’s who Jesus ate with.
Do you remember back in the nineties I think it was. There were these little bracelets you would wear. And it had WWJD on it? What Would Jesus Do? It was really popular for a while. What Would Jesus Do? So no matter where you were, you had this thing on your wrist and you’d be like, “What would Jesus do in this moment when I’m not in church?”
This week, think about that when you come across this struggle, when your fur is rubbed backwards and you think, “That person is just wrong.” Stop. Take a breath. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do? In order for us to be united we cannot judge each other. We can’t say, “Well I’m only going to be friends with the people who think like me.”
Now, having friends who just think like us keeps us in our comfort circle. And we need a comfort circle. But in order to grow, especially in God’s word, you have to be willing to step outside that circle. Just a bit at least. It should not matter your age, your gender, your politics, the color of your skin, how much money you make, where you live or your sexual identity. There is no one in this world that Jesus would say, “No, you can’t love that one.” No one.
Sinners. We’re all sinners. We come here, we say confession and we’re good. Even if you think someone else is sinning, do not judge them. It’s so important right now. Because what is the message that our world needs, amidst all this violence and climate stuff? So much violence. It needs the message of Jesus. The two important things: love your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. Oh, and love everybody. Love God and love everybody. We’re human, it’s not gonna be perfect. But we have to try to get that message of love and acceptance and salvation and eternal life into a very broken world. You’re already disciples of Christ, this is just the job description. We all struggle with these things. We all have a bar of something that puts us outside of our comfort zone. Try it this week, just once, even if it’s a toe. Step out just a bit. Just a bit. And as a community that is Trinity, we can struggle together and support each other. Amen.