Monday, April 11, 2016

Not What but Who

This is going to be a "catch-as-catch-can" week since I'm headed down to L.A. for a conference through Wednesday. I'm preaching at our parish retreat this Sunday, which means that sermon prep will look a little different, too. A first look at the lessons for 4 Easter--also known as "Good Shepherd Sunday"--brings to my mind questions of evangelism. How is it that we are inviting the world to know Jesus as the Son of God whose death and resurrection bring hope and life and redemption to those who believe in him?

Easter is a season of discovery. Not unlike the season after Epiphany, when many of the lessons focus on Jesus' miracles, this is a time for the followers of Jesus to learn who he really is. I continue to maintain that the resurrection itself was the first clear and lasting sign of Jesus' true identity that the disciples received. Otherwise, they would have been waiting at the tomb for the resurrection on the third day--a miracle that caught everyone by surprise. Only in the light of the resurrection do all of the other teachings and miracles make sense.

This Sunday, we read in John 10:22-30 about those who asked Jesus, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Since we're jumping back to the pre-crucifixion, pre-resurrection part of the gospel story, it may seem like this is a non-Easter encounter, but I assure you that Easter is at the center of this exchange. The religious people of his day want a plain answer, but, as Jesus explains, even a clear and plain answer will not help them. "I have told you, and you do not believe," Jesus says. "The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice."

There is a real sense that, no matter what words Jesus uses to identify himself, those who do not belong to him cannot understand. His sheep, on the other hand, hear his voice. They know his voice. They recognize what is being said--even if they do not understand the words--because the know the one who is speaking. As evangelists--and, yes, we are all evangelists--we must remember to set aside our words about Jesus and let Jesus speak his own words through us.

You cannot explain Jesus to someone who does not know him. You cannot argue Christianity to one who is not seeking Jesus. Instead, Jesus must call them. Our job isn't to save anyone. Only Jesus saves. Our job is to bring people to the feet of Jesus--through our words, our relationships, our actions, our communities--so that they can hear his voice. We might be the ones who are talking, but the voice must belong to the Shepherd.

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