Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 5 May 2019.
To many He is just a historical figure. A good man, friend of the poor, given to many wise sayings. His death was a pity and that was it.
There have been other good and holy men and Jesus was little different – perhaps less fortunate in the way He arranged His affairs and careless in His talk. He really should have been more careful in dealing with the authorities.
To others, it does not matter whether He existed at all and the stories of His resurrection are just that – fables for the feeble-minded. The scriptures are the late-in-time imaginings of wishful thinkers and the church is just another institution, maybe longer-lasting than most.
Without faith this is how Jesus is seen by many and it is certainly the way He is projected by some.
Perhaps the thing is that for all His words and actions, Jesus still keeps people guessing. Yes, there are the miracles, but many disbelieve the reports and anyway He is not here to discuss the matter.
When the Jewish leaders pressed Him, Jesus refused to answer, and He turned the question back on them: ‘Well, you have seen the signs and the miracles. What do you conclude? What do you believe?’
There are places in the gospels where Jesus is clear in stating that He is indeed the Messiah promised by God, and in asserting His relation to God, but these were mainly in private and there were many more when He refused to make any assertions. Assertions could be rejected but the faith of those who questioned Him would be more durable.
And so Jesus demanded that those who questioned Him should also be part of the process. They must also commit themselves, and a simple answer would not be enough. They had seen and heard Him and they had seen His miracles. They also must choose and make a decision.
But there was something else, for there were and are many for whom Jesus is indeed God, risen from the dead. He is indeed Lord and Saviour, and not just a general Saviour for the world but personal. He is my Lord and my Saviour. The relation is deeply personal and here Jesus is also clear and emphatic.
‘My sheep hear My voice and will not follow another.’
Jesus is also deeply personal about those who believe and trust in Him. They are no mere subscribers to an idea who He accepts so long as they pay their subscriptions and attend the meetings.
This is no club or organization with committees and office-bearers, accounts and constitutions. It is a flock in which He is the shepherd, who watches and guides and protects. He leads them to pasture and defends them against predators. Indeed, He also gives His all for them, including His life.
In response, the sheep know how to distinguish His voice from that of another. They have a sense of belonging that is unique. By belonging to Jesus they also belong to one another. They recognize the authenticity of His speech, both in the scriptures and in the encounters of daily life. He is there in the sacraments and He is there in the assembly of those who love Him and worship Him.
To be a sheep was more than being a silly animal, kept only for wool and mutton, and whose destiny was an encounter with a jar of mint sauce. To be a sheep was to be gathered into His flock, under His protection and living within His assurances.
But Jesus went further, for He was clear and definite in saying that since the flock belonged to Him, and He would give all for them, then nobody but nothing would be able to steal them away. Some might wander but He would find them and bring them back. But they recognized His voice then they lived His truth.
No other doctrine or account would persuade them to abandon Him. They would have a discernment to know what of the mass and chaos of competing claims and assertions of their surrounding cultures was true.
And with that discernment, despite being of simple faith and learning they would know to avoid those doctrines and loyalties that did not ring true. They would know the false note and the unresolved chord. They would see the clashing colour and the misshapen form.
And yes, they would penetrate the distorted accounts of the life and person of Jesus Christ Himself. Nobody would take them from His love and protection, and certainly not from the promise of eternal life.
They may be abused, persecuted, and even killed but they would never be alienated from Him.
For us the response is also to be part of that glorious sense of worship, already in progress in the heavenly realm. We are party of that glorious company taken up with the worship of God. In that worship we also join with those who have gone before us for in this sense also we are one flock with one shepherd. While others rest from their labours and their witness we are still charged with our tasks.
But we are never more than the blink of an eye and a heartbeat away from the throne of God, and our prayers bring us directly into His presence. And so we worship with the whole company of heaven and we glorify the name of the Lord for He is our Lord also.