Monday morning in the Preacher's Study
First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (4 Easter Year C)
Right in the middle of the Easter season, the Lectionary leaps from resurrection appearances to the tenth chapter of John and faith statements about Jesus. In that chapter we hear Jesus saying, “I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep” (v. 7). “I am the gate” (v. 9). “I am the good shepherd” (v.11). “I came so that they could have life—indeed so that could live life to the fullest” (v. 10), and this Sunday, in response to the question, “Are you the Messiah?”, we will hear Jesus say, “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.” (v. 27,28).
These statements are taken from the life of Jesus and they are applied to the time of his resurrection life. It makes a difference to hear them in the season of Easter, now that Jesus has been crucified, raised from the dead, and seated at the right hand of God in glory. Jesus knows his followers and gives them HIS life in abundance.
Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30). Together with the Spirit, the intimacy between them is unparalleled, and the “I am” sayings in John attest to this from many different angles. Preaching from John 10 does not call for simplifying summaries. A straightforward statement is juxtaposed with deeply symbolic ones. God chooses to give life to sheep and shepherd freely, persistently, and in the face of every challenge. An emphasis on the shepherd might help preachers to avoid allegories unsupported by these texts. This shepherd provides all and promises all. He knows his sheep by name, and is so desperate to give them life that he would lay down his own life so that shepherd and sheep might rise together. This is the way to abundance.
Could we think of this abundance of life as a conversion to the pneumatic/Spiritual life promised, won and given in Christ’s resurrection and ascension? If a sense of abundant life marks our conversion to God, we no longer seek some other kind of fulfillment or existential peace. How does this affect our mission as Christians? Is God’s focus merely me as “the sheep” or is it really the flock, or both?
The preacher this Sunday may want to proclaim that a full understanding of Christ’s abundance allows us to stop striving, to stop becoming idolaters, to stop setting up pet gods and instead accept the Shepherd’s care and presence, trusting the Shepherd to find pastures and protect the life of the flock. Abundance requires not vain striving but instead a joyful worship of God in Christ—a joyful mission, indeed.
(This blog is adapted from the entry I wrote with Darren Marks in Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary (Year A): Preaching Year , edited by Paul Scott Wilson. I can recommend this resource series very highly)