“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. 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. 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. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’” - John 10:22-30 (NRSV)
It’s been a strange week, yeah?
On Monday of last week I finally settled in to tackle my senior thesis for the Children, Youth and Family concentration. I was working hard until news broke out of Boston about a bombing at the Boston Marathon. My productivity went way down and my Twitter timeline reading went way up. And it continued that way for much of the week. I just couldn’t pull myself away from the coverage.
So, while I’m attempting to pump out twenty-some pages of brilliance about how the church might better engage young adults in ministry, two young adults filled pressure cookers with nails and ball bearings and detonated them amongst an unsuspecting and vulnerable crowd. A crowd filled with excitement, hope, pride and happiness.
And while I spent every extra minute I had trying to put words on paper, sharing stories like that of my best friend from high school and why he doesn’t believe in God that very same friend spent his entire Friday on lockdown in his apartment in Boston.
And then a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas. And more bombs exploded in Iraq and Pakistan, among other places. And then a devastating earthquake hit China.
How long will you keep us in suspense?
A version of this question has been repeating in my head, and surely many other heads, as this week has unfolded. And, of course, it’s not just this week. The world and the people who inhabit it experience tragedy and devastation on a daily basis. We cannot escape it. Nor will we ever be fully prepared for its pain.
And so we ask, Lord, how long will you keep us in suspense?
How long will you be absent while people continually kill each other? How long will you hide your face while evil runs rampant in our streets? Why do you make it so difficult to proclaim your loving grace to human beings that are losing hope by the second?
Lord, how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us, show us, assure us. And do it plainly. Because right now, your voice is not easily heard.
And, yet, here we find ourselves the day after Good Shepherd Sunday, a day on which we hear of a shepherd that leads his sheep to the promise of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope. A day on which we are to hear, loud and clear, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. For the love of God made known in Jesus Christ, our shepherd, is a love we share with Christ in our mutual humanity. It is a love greater than all things. We are one with Christ because Christ is one with God. And nothing gets in the way of that.
Or, that’s at least what I’m supposed to say, right? That’s what the text tells us. That’s what Jesus says about who he is and what he does for his flock. Meanwhile, I’ve got a friend who was about to head to the finish line of a marathon where victory and accomplishment were blown to bits by the very evil that stands between my friend and the God I’ve come to know.
But Jesus is your Good Shepherd, he knows you, he gives you eternal life, nothing and no one will snatch you out of his hand. I think.
This week has been a good reminder of how little control we have over what happens in our lives. Whatever we perceive as normal can change in an instant, without warning, without reason. It’s also been a good reminder at how quickly we can give up on each other, how quickly we can lose hope in our own humanity. It’s been a good reminder of how empty this existence can be and how alone we can feel when the shepherd seems to have lost us along the way.
I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes it seems near impossible to proclaim good news into a 24-hour news cycle. Sometimes it’s unfathomable to promise the presence of God where God feels most absent. Sometimes it’s unimaginable to speak life into so much death.
Instead, we just hope. We hope when it feels like there’s no hope because hoping is all we’ve got left. When Jesus says that he knows his sheep, we hope that it’s true. When Jesus promises that he gives eternal life to his sheep, that they will never perish, we hope he’s not lying. And when Jesus says that his Father and him are one, and whatever his Father has given him is greater than anything else and that absolutely nothing will ever snatch it away, we hope beyond all hope that never really means never.
And so in the midst of bombs and explosions, earthquakes and hurricanes, violence and hate, death and even more death, we gather ourselves together as a flock and pray that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, will somehow bring us out of this desert to pastures of hope and new life.
(If you’d like to watch or listen to this sermon you can find those options right here.)