Scripture: John 14:15-21
It seem that today we live in a culture of consumption. I say this not to be critical of the world but as an observation. We want and we strive to obtain what we want. The problem comes when we do not know what we want. That is where consumption comes in. It is when we seek to fill a need with something but what we seek to find fulfillment leaves us not only still seeking to fill the need, but needing more of it. The ancient Persians observed this sort of thing when they first diagnosed diabetes, saying that there was an increased appetite but a collapse of function. That seems to describe our cultural condition, we have an increased appetite but the results of our appetites seem to go nowhere. This consumptive disease affects all aspects of our lives. It affects our minds when we fill it with things of little or no lasting value. How often do we stay glued to the 24-hour news cycle where there is a constant repeat and rehashing of the same story continuously for days or weeks, or we spend hours online reading articles that seem interesting but have little evidence to back them up? We fill our minds up we consume vast quantities of information yet have learned very little. This consumptive disease affects our bodies in ways that I do not really need to describe because we have all seen these effects. It saps our strength; because we spend hours working in front of monitors sitting in chairs to the point that walking up the stairs becomes a chore. But what we least see is how this consumptive disease has damaged our spirits. It may surprise you that our culture is spiritual consumers, but often people will get a dose of the spiritual fell good for a while and go back for more. The problem is that they seek quick fixes and when reality sets in they leave and try something else, using excuses like, “I’m just not being fed.” Which then leads them to something different that may or may not fill the need, and all too often the spirit is left hungry because we have an increased appetite but a collapse of function because we filled our hunger with nothing of lasting value.
This consumption based culture will often look at passages like John 14 and focus on verse 12, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” and believe that the miraculous should be happening all around them if they believe hard enough. Then they will read verse 14, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it…” and then will allow that to justify their consumption based lifestyles. The danger is that often things do not work how we want, and we pray and ask for things in Jesus’ name and they do not happen how we desire. We strive to do great works and maybe our efforts do not have the results that we wanted so we begin to question our spirituality and question God. We then turn to other ideas and consume other brands of the spiritual. This is one reason why I felt it was necessary to focus on the term believe last week. Because without belief, without the movement from knowledge, to trust, to entrust we run the risk of consuming spirituality without getting nourishment.
Which leads us to today’s passage. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” These verses that follow directly after the verse that says you can have anything you ask of me, seem to turn that verse upside down. Because the asking of verse 14 would be tempered by the pleasure we seek in Jesus whom we love. If we love Jesus, we are entrusting to Him our desires and the fulfillment of our desires. So when we ask for things in His name they are not our desires but His. And the thing that Jesus gives, the desire we long for and ask for in His name is another Advocate that will be with us forever.
Jesus is telling this to His closest friends, He is looking at them and can see that in each of their minds the greatest desire that they have is that He would stay with them forever, establish the kingdom and throw off the chains of their overlords. Jesus is telling them that they will not be without. They want Him to stay but the Father will give them another Advocate. The key word there is another. We often jump over that word and read Advocate. The term Advocate is one that is often illustrated in the legal usage of the word, which is similar to a lawyer or one that represents an individual. This word is also translated as helper, comforter, and consoler each of those terms lend a different type of image. And even the legal terminology seems to fall short, because the term refers to a special kind of lawyer, one that is more of an advisor as well as a representative. This type of lawyer is a close friend that helps you discern a path into the future. So I do not want to diminish the importance of the Advocate but want us to focus in on the word another because Jesus is already an Advocate. The disciples were looking at him thinking we already have you why would we need another?
This other advocate that Jesus speaks of is the Holy Spirit that abides, remains, and continues forever. Jesus tell them that they already know this other advocate, that they have already had intimate experiences with it but that this knowledge will deepen even more. Early Friends often spoke of the Spirit as that of Christ that dwells in all people. Some theologians would say that not all people have the Spirit and that the Spirit only dwells in those that believe, but I want us to just consider for a bit why our culture is so consumed then? Why is it that people continuously sought out the spiritual or why do they seek to deny the spiritual? How could God harden the heart of Pharaoh if the Spirit of God was not active in any way in the hearts of all people? But then you may say that Jesus just said that the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth. This is where deepening our belief becomes important, deepening our knowledge and trust as we move to entrust our lives deeper into our relationship with God. Receive is not just an acquisition but also a benefit. You can read verse 17, as the world cannot benefit from the Spirit, why because they neither see nor know Him. The concept of see extends not only to the visual aspect of the word, means to look at, understand or experience. And the word know refers to an intimate understanding or relationship. So the world cannot benefit from the Spirit of truth because they have not experienced the intimacy of the relationship, they have not understood, examined, or acknowledged that relationship. But you have it.
Let us take a step back again to Advocate. If the advocate is not only a legal representative, but an advisor, helper and counselor then it is the teacher and encourager as well. Jesus is telling us that this Spirit of Truth, who abides forever with us, is our ever-present teacher and guide. This concept is what started the Friends movement. This idea that God will teach us directly is what inspired George Fox and others to begin ministering to their countrymen. George Fox also spoke of knowing things experimentally, which is to say that he had an understanding both through study and intimate experience. Jesus and Fox both are speaking of the same concept here. If you love God, if you believe in God there will be an intimacy that will move you from knowledge, to trust, to a relationship where you will entrust every aspect of your life into the hands of God. And that as this relationship grows you will experience or become familiar with this everlasting advocate, the Spirit of truth. And as that experience deepens you will become less focused on yourself and become more focused on the things that God would have you do in the world around you.
Jesus begins this passage by saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What commandments are we to keep? Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and Spirit and your neighbor as yourself. All the books of the law and the oracles of the Prophets are summed up in those two commandments. Which leads us to another question how do we keep these commandment?
This goes back to the Advocate. If Jesus is the first Advocate, the first advisor, intercessor, helper, and all then we look first to him. Jesus in his humanity showed us a lifestyle, or spirituality that would deepen an intimacy with God. And in His divinity he provided the means for that intimacy to happen. He showed us a rhythm of life that would open our eyes so that we could see and experience life with God. The rhythm of worship, prayer, and service which could be called loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. This same rhythm of life was embraced by nearly every religious movement and order within the history of the church, this rhythm where intimacy with God through prayer and worship led them to serve and minister to those within the community that were often marginalized by the world. It was through the rhythm of worship, prayer, and a willingness to serve others that they were inspired to become the embodiment of Christ to the world that was left blind to the intimacy of God. How will the world ever receive the Spirit of Truth if the people that believe do not entrust their lives to God? How will the world ever experience the truth if those that claim to love Christ do not extend that love to them where they currently are?
We live in a culture of consumption. We have an increase in appetite but a collapse of functionality. We have a desire for spirituality but often we feed that appetite with things that do not reveal the truth. We strive for the abundant life in Christ, but instead of seeking Christ to fulfill that desire we instead look for the quick fix. But there are short cuts to intimacy. Much of the trending and popular things of spirituality are nothing more than pornography for the soul, giving us a taste to quench a desire but leaving us still hungry to the point of collapse. This is why Friends turned from many of the traditional expressions of faith, because all too often the deep meaning behind the symbolism was left behind and they were then presented as quick spiritual nuggets. All you need to enter heaven is to eat this bread and drink this wine, and Jesus is in you. All you need to do to gain the kingdom of God is to be washed in the water and your sins are forgiven. All you need is to say a few words and you are born again. None of those things in themselves are wrong, in fact they are beautiful ceremonies that can be used to deepen faith but all to often they are presented as a quick simple solutions to a spiritual life that has collapsed and is failing to function. They can become a distraction to the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that says that the Kingdom of God is at hand; the kingdom is all around us and abides in and with us. They are quick fixes to a broken life that only true repentance can mend; a life where we turn from ourselves and entrust all our hopes and dreams in God, through Christ in the Spirit.
I realize that I may have stepped on toes and may have upset some people, but the truth is that if we want to see great and mighty things happen in our community we must first believe, if we want Jesus to do anything that we ask in his name, we must first be wedded to his name. If we want to see or to know deeply the intimacy of God we must experience him through that rhythm of life that was shown to us by our first advocate Jesus and continuously revealed to us by another advocate, the Spirit of Truth. There are no short cuts or quick fixes only a progression of belief beginning in knowledge, advancing to trust, and engulfed or saturated in the entrusting of our being to God.
Where is it that we stand? Do you have an increase of appetite but a collapse of function? Do you have a yearning for something deeper but do not see where to go? There is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to your condition. Let us now seek that intimacy with God as we enter into this time of holy expectancy and open worship. Let the Spirit of Truth intercede and counsel you in the ways of Christ and let us experience the love of God so that we can then become the living testimony of his commandments.
Scripture: John 14:1-14
How many of us have been asked a question such as this: “If you could talk to any one in the world from any period of time, whom would you want to talk to?” It is a wonderful what if question, as most what if questions are. What if that happened instead of this? The problem with the, “what if,” question is that you can speculate all you want but it will never change. There would be countless people that I would want to speak with. There are theologians that I would like to talk to just to understand how or why they have come to their conclusions when the extent of church history prior to them looked at things totally different. I would love to talk to the disciples, to hear of their experiences, I would love to talk with Jesus face to face. I would like even like to have a conversation with people that are presently living, the president, maybe even the pope. One answer to that question that I bet most of us have not given is to talk with our future great grandchildren, because it would be very interesting to know how the choices I have made today affects them in the future. The problem is that I cannot travel through space and time, and I do not know anyone famous, so it is highly unlikely that I will have an opportunity to speak to anyone like that, but there is a way to get to know someone that we do not have personal access to. I can get to know the saints of history by reading accounts of their lives or reading their writings. I can listen to their stories through the mouths of their descendants or even their students. There are biographies, interviews, speeches, scholars and many other avenues where we can begin to develop an understanding of who or what people are about. With all the books and interviews an issue remains, without personal contact with an individual can we really know who they are, or are we only seeing them through the eyes of someone else.
If you were to read a couple of biographies of a famous historical figure you would quickly find that the image of the person created by the author reflects what they want us to know about that particular person. The authors have a slant; they are interpreting the person’s life through their own eyes.
In today’s reading of scripture Jesus is speaking to the disciples just prior to His trial and execution. He is telling them how terrible things will be in the near future, that even His most outspoken supporter will deny that he even knows Him three times before the dawning of the next day. But He urges them to stay strong. Not to let their hearts be troubled.
If I were just told that I was going to be an absolute failure it would be very difficult for me to not be worried about the near future. If I were going to take a job and as I was beginning the training the boss were to tell me you are going mess up completely how could be excited about my future security?
But Jesus does not just leave them hanging. He reminds them that they believe in God. They know the history of their people and how God had taken them up out of Egypt, how He had given them the promised land, and how even after they had turned away from Him, He had brought them back to the land. They believed in God. They knew that God was their God. In a short little statement Jesus is reminding them that Israel failed God, and that they too will fall short, but that they should continue to believe. “You have and still believe that God did and does mighty works,” Jesus is telling them, “believe also in Me.”
As I have studied this passage over the past week this first verse really stuck with me. This is really the entire gospel wrapped up in one verse, because what do we know about God? Like all personalities everything we know about God or think we know about God has been transmitted to us through a cultural context, and through the interpretations of people throughout history. It is often difficult to admit that maybe our understanding of faith may not be exactly correct. But in this one verse Jesus has basically summed up the entire Gospel. If you believe in God, believe in Jesus too.
This is a bold statement really. We may not understand just how bold this statement is because we are reading it after 2000 years of interpretation through people totally devoted to Jesus, but on that particular day in that moment, to most people of Israel Jesus was not seen as God, but as a prophet. I am not saying that the 2000 years of interpretation is erroneous, I am only saying that because of the progression through history and the continuous study and practice of faith we can sometimes forget that a statement such as this was very risky. In that culture you did not even say the name of God because mankind was not worthy of it. If one were to speak that name they were seen as using His name in vain, and being sinful. But Jesus was not only speaking of God in a very relational sense, but also saying that He was equal.
You believe in God, believe also in Me. What do we know about God? For thousands of years the Jewish people have believed in God. They have an understanding of God, how He responds to humanity and what is required of mankind to find favor with God. Jesus through his ministry challenges this understanding of God in many ways. If we were to just read the Sermon on the Mount we see challenge after challenge. Jesus would say, “You have heard it said…” fill in the blank, “but I say…” What he was getting at is that after thousands of years of study and practice even the chosen race still knew very little about God. To be honest how could they understand God? How is it possible to build an understanding of a being that is so beyond our comprehension? So they would study, they would examine the books of law and history of their people, they would come to conclusions, and they would develop around those conclusions a practical lifestyle of righteousness. They believed in God, but did they know God?
This is the very definition of Theology, or the study of God. It is a constant study, examination, and formation of theories about God. But depending on the information we begin the study with we can come out with a concept of God that could be completely wrong. In many ways theology is a dry pursuit, it is as if we are looking at scripture like it were a frog in biology class. Many of us have pretty much the same response, we are afraid to touch it, so we simply accept the word of others and assume they have done things correctly. But at least in biology we can see what it is we are studying. When it comes to theology we have just the abstract. So it is very easy to get tied up in areas, bogged down and stuck into thinking in certain ways. We see God as judge, creator, king, and it becomes very difficult to see God as something outside our ways of thinking.
This is where the various reformations of faith have occurred. Someone challenged the traditional understandings of God and after much debate and persecution we moved forward and gained a different perspective on God. Jesus was the beginning of a reformation of the Jewish faith, but it went far beyond just a simple reformation.
Jesus says, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen him.” To know God we must look at the revelations God has given us. Jesus is the most complete revelation of God to humanity. Jesus came down from heaven to be born of Mary, he lived among us to teach and show us what life with God truly was. Throughout the Gospels Jesus continuously challenges the traditional understanding of God and shows us something more complete. If you see Jesus you see God. Jesus is the Word of God; Jesus is the Light of God. These concepts are very important; if we move away from these we skew our understanding of God. We again get focused on one aspect and make a claim about God that may not be complete. And we can begin to move away from God.
The prophets of the Old Testament warned Israel of these things. Often the faithful would get so wrapped up in certain concepts, mainly the law, that they forgot something else, like mercy. Or maybe they focused so much on mercy and grace that they forgot that God is a jealous God. What Jesus did is he showed us life with God. A balanced perfect life with God, the perfect balance between worship, prayer, and service. If we want to know God we should first look at Jesus.
This changes things up for the faithful. What do we see Jesus doing and teaching in the gospels? How does Jesus respond in situations? How do we respond? Even when Jesus is telling the disciples they are going to fail he does not let them dwell there. Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but God is saying do not let your hearts be troubled…Believe.
This concept of belief is one that is very deep. It moves beyond just thinking or having knowledge that something is true and goes into trust, and then it moves from trust to entrust. To believe is not just in the head, but it is in the heart. It then flows out of the heart and spills over to others. I bring up those three concepts because they are very important. Faith begins with an acknowledgement in our minds, I believe because I see. Then there is one step more to the idea, “I will believe even if I do not see,” this is trust. The concept of entrust is a bit more difficult. To entrust is to let go of control and allow something that is important to us be controlled by someone else. When we place money in a bank or invest it in a market of some sort, we are entrusting our money, our wealth to someone else. This third step of belief or faith is the area that we have trouble, because it is here that we risk losing ourselves completely.
This concept of entrusting completely is what moves Christianity away from other religions, even away from the Jewish faith. Anyone can have belief in the knowledge part of faith. Universities are filled with knowledge, and they release out into the world people with knowledge. But there can be professors of faith that have not moved beyond knowledge. With trust we have to start walking, our knowledge begins to have action with it. With trust we begin to see things like discipline, if you pray you will have an answer. If you do certain rituals you will find favor. This is where most religions stop, because this is where we as humans still have control in faith. But entrust is a concept that many rarely see. To entrust, one must have knowledge and discipline but they also have to release and risk. Peter had knowledge; he had followed Jesus for three years and listened to the teachings. He had trust, he followed Jesus wherever he went, he participated in the disciplines that Jesus taught, and he even went out to minister in Jesus’ name. But when the time came to risk, Peter, the rock, would deny Jesus three times in one night. Peter, the rock, could not yet entrust his life in Jesus. Jesus said to him and the others, “do not let your heart be troubled…believe.” He is saying start it over, go back to knowledge, go back to the disciplines, and then take that step again to entrust. It is a cycle, every day we must not only believe with our mind, and trust that God will provide, but also entrust every aspect of our lives in Jesus. And when we fail Jesus says to us believe.
But what exactly do we believe in? There are countless theologies out there. Many of us believe that there are basically two major camps of theology, but that is a gross under estimation. Each of these theologies fail in some way, because every theory of theology is at best man’s attempts to explain God. Many begin with creation and then try to systematically explain everything else. Some may being with humanity, others science, some philosophy. But where is Christ? Jesus must be in the center of theology because it is in him that we see the Father. It is through Jesus that we can see the loving God even when the plagues are hitting Egypt. It is through Jesus that we can understand the Acts of the Apostles. It is through Jesus that we can begin to understand our own humanity and how we should react to those around us that have a different understanding of life. Jesus is central. It is Jesus that brought God to mankind, it is Jesus that lifts mankind to God, it is through Jesus that the Spirit of God flows and it is in Jesus that we can entrust our lives to the Spirit of God today. It is Jesus, in whom the Old Testament was fulfilled and Jesus our future is held. The Christian life is well beyond religion, because it is entrusting our life and our hope in something we have little or now control, it is giving all we have mind, body and spirit to Jesus. It is placing our entire life into the hands of Jesus with the hope that we will have a dwelling with God.
As we enter into a time of open worship, and communion with God I encourage each of us to consider just where we stand on that spectrum of belief. I also want us to ask ourselves a “what if” question, what if we were to fully entrust our meeting, and our lives and the lives of those around us into the hands of Jesus.
Scripture: John 10:1-10
Today we honor and celebrate the women in our lives that have greatly impacted us. We call this day in America, Mother’s Day, but that term although is very important does not always cover all the women in our lives. There are some whose mothers have not been their greatest influence and instead were influenced by their grandmother or aunt. And some have not bore children but have been very influential in the lives of many young ones in their communities. Women are very important to the development of both boys and girls. They teach differently than men, they play differently than males; women have a different perspective that is vital to the development of a child. I say this in a holistic sense, not just the physical development, but also the emotional, and spiritual development of every individual. That is why we honor women. That is why in the Friends church we have always counted women as equal in all areas of life. I would have to say the people I have learned the most from in key areas of my development have been women. Edith Williams was my pastor when I fell in love with the Friends Church; she is the one that taught me the history and basic beliefs of Friend when I was just beginning to understand what it meant to be a follower and Friend of Jesus. Lois Smock was my Sunday School teach when I was in college, I was her only student and we spent hours in study of scripture and she helped me through the roughest time spiritually that I had faced, and also helped me find clearness when I first felt the urges to ministry. I remember one Sunday Lois told me that she really felt I was going to enter into the ministry and possibly be a missionary. I had not laughed harder than I did that day and I think she had a very good laugh as well, but a few months later I was sitting in an airport waiting to board a plane heading across the ocean to Ukraine.
Now those women were not my mothers, my mother has always been encouraging in ways that are difficult to put into words. My mom would teach us but always seemed to allow us to make the decisions on our own, and then let us face the consequences of those decisions what ever they may have been. She would always encourage me to try harder, work harder, never to settle for something second rate, but in the same process she taught me to be responsible. My mom, and my grandmother are some of the funniest people I know, many of the most memorable teachings that they have given were their responses to poor decisions I have made. Some might not find the words spoken as encouraging but those that would judge do not know my mom or grandma, because our family has always had a very dry sense of humor and the most profound thing both my mother and grandmother have said was, “Well that was pretty stupid wasn’t it.” And then they would enter into assisting me in figuring out how to redeem the situation.
Although we honor mothers this day, today is more than that; it is the day to celebrate the women who have helped shape us into who we are. Those people became closest to us know how to talk to us in ways that will reach right into the very depths of our hearts and then pull out the greatest good. They have the ability to look past the quirks and see the spark that brings us to life. These people are the ones that we look up to, they are the ones we wish to please, the ones we honor and seek to make proud. Yes often it is our mothers, but there are others.
I want us to consider the way your mother spoke to you. If your relationship with your mother was not the greatest I want you to consider another very influential woman in you life that helped you become the man or woman you are today. I want you to consider what words they would us to direct and encourage you down the path that has brought you here today. Consider the ways they spoke, reacted, and taught you. You can still hear their voice clearly while you think back. Those influential people are the ones that Jesus often uses to teach us profound things about the nature of God.
When Jesus spoke of God, He often used relational terminology, saying things like Father to direct our attention to the intimacy and honor in the family structure. In the culture of that day the father was the most important figure in the family, it was the father that provided for the family, the father was often the teacher, as well as the spiritual leader of the family, and the father would provide encouragement to the children through personal blessings. In the rare case of a divorce in ancient times, the children did not go with the mother but they stayed with the father. To be without a father was the greatest sign of poverty and were the ones that the religious were often called to support. But cultures have changed as time has progressed, as the culture has moved away from an agrarian society and become more urban in setting the father has spent less time at home so the importance of the mother has risen greatly in the lives of children, especially that of boys. This cultural shift can limit our understanding of what Jesus says when he makes use of the term Father in scripture. In today’s culture it may be more accurate to the spirit of the words of scripture to replace that term with mother, because they are often the most influential and relational figure in a child’s life.
Jesus would also use agricultural references to illustrate the relational aspect of God. When he looked and lamented over Jerusalem He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 NIV) These illustrations in that time and place carried greater weight than they do today because as we have moved away from the agricultural culture into an urban culture we do not quite understand the relational aspect of animals, and how they respond to their surroundings. Some today, if they were honest, would not know what Jesus was talking about without doing some research, because they have not had the privilege to observe chickens and chicks interact.
Probably the most memorable agricultural illustration Jesus used was that of the relationship of sheep to the shepherd, which we read about today. This is a very important illustration because like Father, a sheep without a shepherd is a sheep that will not survive. Sheep were one of the first domesticated animals in human history, they have spent so much time under the constant care of humans that there is very little survival instinct left in them. Sheep need a shepherd like an infant need’s its mother. It is the shepherd that leads the sheep to the feeding grounds, it is the shepherd that leads the sheep to the source of water, the shepherd is the one that calls a sheep away from danger and protects them from the threats of the predator. Sheep do very little on their own, in fact a sheep will put its head down, begin eating, and will follow their mouth from one blade of grass to the next until it is totally lost. It is the lost sheep that is then stolen, or devoured.
Jesus uses this illustration because humans like sheep need the social network of others around us. We need the voices calling us and directing us as we walk through life. But again we do not always understand what Jesus is saying because He is speaking in terms of a culture that we do not live. Even the contemporary sheepherders of today do not raise sheep in the same way as they did in the first century. Today we employ the use of fences and dogs, in the first century they did not have the technology to produce various types of wire, so the sheep needed constant supervision. At night they shepherds would gather the sheep together into holding pens, which were usually roofless enclosures that would have a narrow opening and walls all around. The shepherd would lead the sheep into the pen or fold, and would use his rod and staff to inspect the fleece and skin for potential problems, as the sheep would walk by. When they were all safely in the fold, the shepherd would tend to the various injuries and when the sun went down he would sleep in the opening keeping the sheep in and potential threats out. During certain times of the year the shepherds would lead the sheep to more rigorous folds, that had higher walls and more security because as the fleeces became fuller, the threat of thieves trying to obtain the wool while the shepherd slept increased. The sheep were so accustomed to this routine of entering the fold every night and exiting every morning, they would often not move until the shepherd called for them. Since sheep would not move to follow a stranger’s voice and since the shepherd was in the gate, the only way to steal a sheep was to hop over the wall and then lift the sheep out.
Day in and day out for centuries shepherds have done this same thing. Year after year the sheep follow the voice of the one that leads them. When they hear a voice they do not know they run away, but the voice of the shepherd calmed them. The people understood the idea and concept of the shepherd in the first century, this is nothing new to scripture because David often would refer to God as his shepherd. What they did not understand was the context that Jesus was speaking in. Jesus was saying these things to the religious leaders of his day. He spoke these words after he gave sight to a man who was born blind. And when the leaders began investigating how this thing happened, it became clear that Jesus was attracting more of a following than the most prominent religious leaders of the day. Because of this the man that Jesus healed was driven out of the synagogue out of the community and Jesus then told them that they where the ones blind. So he uses this illustration saying that these leaders and teacher were not shepherds but thieves. They were not looking after the sheep but taking them away from the fold of God.
This is pretty steep and serious charge. Through their teachings if a person did not follow them exactly they could be totally removed from the community. In that culture to be removed from the community was to be removed from God totally, there were not other options, if you were not part of the synagogue you were equal to a gentile, and not welcome in the temple. If you were not welcome in the temple you then could not be forgiven of your sins and were damned to Hell. That is what the blind man was facing when he chose to follow Jesus. But Jesus turned their teachings around on them and said no you are the ones that are the thieves you are the ones that are keeping the sheep out of the fold of God. “I am the Gate,” Jesus says. Jesus is the one that stands guard, watches over, protects, and nurtures the sheep. Not the leaders, not the teachers, and not the priests. Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
This brings us to some very touchy situations. The religious leaders Jesus is speaking to were the ones that were keeping the faith pure. They were the righteous ones. They were the ones that had all the answers and held the keys to interpreting the laws. Yet Jesus accepted the one that they rejected. Jesus says whoever enters by me will be saved. They put conditions on acceptance into the community yet Jesus opens the gate and calls out to the sheep.
I want us to again reflect on those women in our lives that have help shape us. I mentioned that they would often reach deep into our hearts and pull out what is good, that they would look beyond our quirkiness and see the spark within that could be fed until we become fully alive. They, like Jesus, look at us in love. They may not like what we do but they continue to provide encouragement every step we take. Often our mothers are like our shepherd, they lead and guide us for a while but eventually they release us, and we must listen for the voice of God on our own. But what voices are we listening too?
We sitting here today easily become like the religious leaders that Jesus called sheep thieves. We are the keepers of the faith, but are we listening to the voice of the Shepherd or are we letting other voices enter in. I spoke of two women that were very important to my own faith; they each were active ministers during two fundamental periods of my life. One taught me about Friends, and she spoke about how Friends would seek and listen for the voice of God to direct them to speak and act in their lives. That act of listening for the voice of God is at the very heart of our faith. But how do we do this? How do we remove the distractions from all around us and just listen to the direct guidance of our shepherd. We enter into the rhythm of life that Jesus taught a life of worship, prayer, and service. But some times we cannot remove all the distractions and at times we may feel confused and that is where we need the encouragement of friends to help us find clearness. Gently listening and urging us, encouraging and questioning us until we feel we have the answer from God.
There is another lesson to learn from the shepherd. When I was working on the farm we raised livestock but cattle are not the same as sheep. Cattle are driven where sheep are lead. Cattle are pushed and prodded along, and sheep are called. There is a difference; one is forced the other is encouraged, one is controlled the other is guided. Parents, and others that mean the most to us guide us and encourage us to become complete. Jesus does not force us to become His followers, he does not demand us to adhere to rules but he calls us to a life of completion.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends. I encourage each of us to remember our mothers. Remember how they encouraged us and guided us. If there is pain, ask the Spirit to help you forgive and to see them through His eyes. I also encourage us to consider the Shepherd. Are we listening to His voice or are we listening to the voices of our culture? Are we hearing his calls or are we like the Pharisees trying to control our own lives and the lives of those around us? Let us also consider how we can become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, living the love of Christ with others.