Sunday 8 May 2022
Belonging to Jesus , the shepherd.
Lables, groups, ‘friends’ in Facebook or other social media ….
There are so many that might apply to us; it might be around the work you do or that other label ‘retired’! the interests groups – are you in the bowls club, the horticultural society or the stage society (or both?) or as I saw on an adverts page – for sale : something suitable for a wood turner or wood carver; politics –the Brexiteers or the Remainers; Covid vaccinations highlighted age groups, the vulnerable over 70’s, my husband is now in the group who can have a booster but I’m too young … by a few months so I’m not in that group.!
We guess we all fit into a number of different groups, have different labels, informal groups you might be included in? How many can you think of for yourself?
In our reading from John, Jesus is making some very clear distinctions about the people around him. He had only 2 groups, he describes them both in terms they would be very familiar with – sheep. Shepherding was a way of life in Palestine around 30 AD. Everyone knew that sheep live in flocks, stick together, follow the one shepherd they know. At night the flocks would be gathered together in one shelter and in the morning the various shepherds would arrive and call their sheep out. The sheep would only follow the voice they recognised so the flocks would go off in their separate ways following the one they trusted to lead them.
So when Jesus divides the people into sheep of his flock and sheep of another flock everyone would understand what he was saying about the separateness of the two groups.
But this is no woolly pastoral chat.
The Jews are not in his flock because they haven’t learnt to recognise his ‘voice’. The truth was they were so bent on getting rid of him they didn’t want to learn. He did not fit what they were looking for. This was the festival of the Dedication of the Temple remembering when Judas Maccabeus restored it, through fighting the occupiers, to the Jews. Of course they wanted another like him, not this self elevated Rabbi who went around saying things that went counter to their teaching…
Those Jesus describes as being HIS sheep are those who have noticed the way he lives his life, how he relates to people of all sorts, in fact what he does is the window into who he is. And these people have thought ‘yes there’s something different about this man’s teaching, it seems so real, he does what he says. I will follow Jesus and learn to become more like him ‘
Listen to what Jesus says about his sheep. I have CALLED them and they heard me. This was no polite invitation to join a Club “ are you interested in gardening? You could join our Horticultural Society” Because Jesus KNOWS them, the call is personal, is a personal relationship. They FOLLOW me … they want to do what I ask of them, to obey willingly not by coercion.
You’re Worried about the future? ….. I GIVE them ETERNAL LIFE, no fighting for it, THEY WILL NOT PERISH… ever. [Jesus knows he will soon be the way through death to that eternity.]
They are SAFE with me from all who would steal them away.
And the climax, My Father who has given them to me is GREATER THAN ALL. Fighting men? My Father and I don’t need them! This is one great joint offensive, if I can use such a word for a life saving, life fulfilling campaign achieved by the power of Godly love and sacrifice.
It makes good reading doesn’t it.
But those of us who call ourselves CHRISTIAN are included in all of that. We might prefer to be called ‘people of God’ rather than a bunch of sheep but the truth behind the words is the same. All that Jesus claimed in Jerusalem in AD 32-ish he still claims for those who hear his call, recognise his voice and choose to follow him.
Yes we sometime wander away, sheep-like – I did for about 10 years but he came and found me and brought me back.
Jenny has kindly shared her experiences of life as one of God’s people out there in the everyday world doing what Jesus had demonstrated, doing it because Jesus inspires and enables, because she belongs to him.
So back to labels and groups. We were thinking of all the various groups we might say we belong to, often we will mix with others of different groups. And of course we do live and work alongside a great variety of people as Jenny does.
Are we confident of our place in Jesus’ ‘group’? Have we agreed to be a ‘friend’ of Jesus’ …….. To use 21st century vocab instead of AD30? There are so many other faiths, beliefs, philosophies, disasters and failures that can tempt us to question our place.
The message we can take with us today is that Yes we can have confidence and be proud of belonging to Jesus. No one can snatch us from God the Father’s hand.
It doesn’t mean we escape the darker side of life in this human world, we all have our times of pain, struggle, doubts, we see others suffering unjustly the world over.
But when Jesus says you belong to me, I have called you and you are mine for ever, we can have courage. Take ownership of that place in the Christian Church headed up by Jesus …. For yourself, personally, as he knows you personally.
No wonder the 23rd psalm is such a favourite.
But I end echoing the words of the children’s song …. Be bold for Jesus, Be strong even in this troubled world for the Lord you God is with you