“When Jesus Speaks” May 3, 2020
“When Jesus Speaks”
Some years ago, the question was posed to a small group that I was leading: “What is Jesus to you?” In other words, “How would you describe your personal understanding of Jesus Christ to someone who doesn’t have a clue?” Well, there was some initial chin scratching and nail biting, but eventually folks opened up. Now, “What is Jesus to you” is a pretty broad question – I have to admit that. But it’s surprising, once you put your head to it, how much we find that the life and teachings of Christ really do impact our everyday lives. When I asked the question, a few folks answered with long, deep theological expositions on incarnation and the Holy Trinity and prophesies of the Messiah to come. I had to agree with all that – this is how we understand what Jesus is according to scripture. But the question remains: “What is Jesus to you? How do you sense his presence whether you are praying hard or hardly praying? How does Jesus speak to you?” And then a funny thing happened. One woman in the group spoke up saying, “I’d say Jesus is my conscience. Whenever I’m tempted – whenever I am frustrated or angry or just mixed up trying to figure out what to do next – that’s when Jesus speaks to me. I can’t explain it, really, but I don’t know what I’d do without him.” At that point, I noticed the rest of the group nodding their heads. “Yes,” they said, “that’s the same way with me.”
Our Gospel text today is one in a series of the “I Am” statements of Christ found in the Gospel of John. For example, in chpt. 6, Jesus explains “I am the bread of life,” and thousands of sermons have expounded on that truth. Later, in chpt. 8 we hear, “I am the light of the world;” chpt. 11, “I am the resurrection and the Life” to name a few. One thing is for certain, one thing is constant about the ministry of Jesus Christ: he didn’t seek to impress, he didn’t seek to intimidate. What Jesus sought to do in the short time he was with us was to touch our hearts. He sought to touch our hearts by inviting us in. And this begins with helping us understand – really understand – who he is; who “I AM.”
You know, a lot of things will never change with people. One of them is that we will always want to know who you are. Where’d you come from? What do you do? We accept this. It’s an important piece of living in community. Now Jesus could have proclaimed, “I am the great enforcer and I have been sent by God to straighten you people out!” He could have cast visions of pain and suffering with the hope of scaring folks into some kind of blind obedience. Lord knows the people of Israel were accustomed to that treatment. But that’s not who he is; that’s not who our God is.
As we read John’s gospel in chapter 10, it seems that Jesus is fishing, in a way. In an attempt to get through to a people who have been ruled by law, Jesus is trying to soften up these “stiff-necked people.” He draws an image of a sheep pen – a place of safety, a place of protection. I am the keeper of the gate he tells them. I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved. “I am the gate,” “I am the good shepherd:” these are two of the I AM statements packed into the same text. But lest we get sidetracked on whether Jesus is the Shepherd or the Gate or the Gatekeeper or all the above, let’s look at what I believe is the real heart of this message. (vs. 3) 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. They follow him, for they know his voice.
And somehow, we are back to where we started: “What is Jesus to you?” We live in a very unique time right now – that goes without saying. We live in a time where across the globe, decisions are being made: decisions of life and decisions of death. One faction, which includes the medical community, tells us that if we change our behavior and go back to “normal”, people will die unnecessarily. Another faction claims that the hardships that come from an extended quarantine far outweigh the danger of increased exposure to this disease. Make no mistake; through these difficult times, Jesus is speaking to us. Midst all the voices of fear and tumult, Jesus speaks. Through the acts of sacrifice and care, Jesus speaks. Through the selfless giving to those who are hurt the most from the ravages of disease, Jesus speaks. Let it be our prayer, O Lord, that we remain a people who know your voice – who hear your voice – that we may speak it to a world that surely feels to be walking in the shadow of death. Praise be to God.
Amen & Shalom