St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"Here's a Story!": Sermon for Easter 4, Year C

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

I grew up in Texas. I lived all of my childhood in more rural, rather than urban, Texas settings. My family took our vacations in the summer to see our aunts and uncles and cousins in South Carolina or Florida. Fall and winter holidays tended to be for our "nearer relations" (at least geographically), like our West Texas and Oklahoma aunts, uncles, and cousins.

What I particularly cherish about this upbringing is the way we've always related to each other. Our family is one of talkers and storytellers. Those vacations were as much about sitting and visiting as anything else. When we arrived at one of the relative's houses, the talking and stories and visiting would go on for hours--maybe days--if we had the luxury of time.

Years later, this upbringing served me well when I was preparing for my oral examination for my Ph.D. in History. For this exam, I was expected to sit in a room with several professors who could ask me any question they wanted in my field. I was supposed to be able to discuss not only the events they inquired about, but also the general bibliography of scholarship surrounding the topic in question.

Going into the exam, I started thinking that these types of tests were about perception. What I needed was for these professors to "perceive" that I had talked knowledgably and authoritatively in answering all of their questions. And, I figured that there was only so much time before they wore out and ended the exam. So I decided that, whatever they asked, I needed to talk and talk and talk.  

So my strategy was to draw on my roots--to try to tell stories. I tried to pretend I was "just visitin'" with these professors who held my fate in their hands. I decided no matter what question any one asked me, I would say: "I'm so glad you asked, but to understand those issues, we have to look at the scholarship and events from about fifty years before that as a matter of background." Then I would just start talkin' and talkin' and talkin'--eventually getting to the question they asked. Of course, I was also eating up the clock and wearing them down...

This worked for about an hour and half. And then...it didn't!

One professor--I will add who was NOT raised in the South like me--asked me his question. I started in on the same line. "Professor So and So, I'm so glad you asked that. To understand that, we should go back at least seventy-five years." But before I had even finished the sentence, the professor interrupted me:

"Actually, if you are going to answer MY question, and if you want ANY hope of passing THIS exam, you'd better GET TO THE POINT, and start with the topic I'm ASKING ABOUT!!"

I was quite shaken! I did what he asked (and, by the way, I passed the exam).  

But, I tell this story, because I think this is what we often face in this world.

There's no doubt that my "strategy" of story-telling in the exam may not have been the most "forthright" approach to achieving my goal. On the other hand, in many ways, I was being authentic to who I was.

And, my professor was being authentic to how our modern world expects us to be. In fact, he was actually being authentic to how we all are so often in our culture today.  

We are all under tremendous pressure to "get on with it." We live in a world where we expect information and results "right now!"  Having instant gratification is now the expectation in our lives of smart phones, "easy pay," and the twenty-four-hour news cycle.

In the Gospel of John that we heard today, Jesus is debating some religious opponents.  Standing in the portico of Solomon in the Temple at Jerusalem, these opponents are like us. They want instant information from Jesus. They want to know RIGHT NOW: "Are you the Messiah?"

They are quite insistent that he come clean:  “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." 

Tell.   Us.   Plainly.

This is just how we like our world today, right? We don't like to wait for information. We don't want to be in the dark! If we don't know, we want to be able to Google it.

Is Jesus the Messiah? Well, according to Wikipedia, it says...

The religious opponents that day said:  “Tell us plainly Jesus!”

But Jesus responds that he has already told them plainly. He's already given them all the information they need. The difference is that the way he told them was through his works. In other words, Jesus did not want them to focus his identity on a title—the Messiah—his identity was something that had to be experienced.[1]

Jesus then begins an analogy--the sheep and the shepherd. The  sheep know and trust the shepherd. But what's important is the nature of this trust.

This trust is not because the sheep have studied all the intricacies of the shepherd’s doctrines. The sheep don't trust because they have been convinced by the logic of the shepherd's policies. The sheep don’t follow the shepherd because they have discerned through rational arguments the shepherd’s appeal. They follow the shepherd because they have experienced the shepherd’s “works.” They follow the shepherd in the same way that a small child trusts his or her mother because of her nurturing and her love. [2]

One of the difficult parts of this section of John are the lines where it sounds like  Jesus is telling those who want instant information—the Jews­­—that they somehow do not belong. Jesus did say: "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.” One of the great travesties of Christian history is that many have used this passage to persecute Jews. But this is wrong. Jesus was a Jew. He was, after all, celebrating the Festival of the Dedication of the Temple.

But the Good News is that what the Gospel of John is doing here is making a much bigger point. The issue in not about "who's in" and "who's out." The point of the Gospel is actually about God’s relationship to us.

Throughout the entire Gospel—from the very first verses that say “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”—to this scripture—John is making the argument that God is the one who initiates a relationship with US. God always seeks us out long before it ever occurs to us to try to seek God out. Jesus Christ—the Logos—makes us his sheep; we do not make him our shepherd. The point here is that God has the initiative. God has the sovereignty. We have the freedom to follow. [3]

John is affirming God’s initiative seen throughout the scriptures—the Hebrew Scriptures. This pattern throughout the Bible comes most complete in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.[4]

 What should  our actual response be to the pain and suffering of this world?  We should pay head to what Jesus also said to those who just HAD to know if he was the messiah. He said: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” There is a unity of hearing and doing that connects the sheep of the fold to Jesus. And in that unity, Jesus tells us, our relationship to Jesus is similar to Jesus’ relationship to the Father.[5]

In that unity we come together as the Body of Christ. That's what baptism is about. Through Baptism, we become part of the Body of Christ. But not just to be "part of a club" or "initiated into the organization." Baptism comes with the promises we make to follow Christ--the Good Shepherd.

In unity, as the Body of Christ, we love one another. We tell each other our stories. We listen deeply to the stories of others. We help those in need. We bring comfort to those who are suffering. We demonstrate God's presence to those who are lost. And we carry God’s love into the hurting world.  


[1] Some of these ideas from Gary D. Jones, “John 10:22-30: Pastoral Perspective," Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary  Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (CD-Rom)

[2] Some of these concepts from Ibid.

[3] Some of these ideas from Thomas H. Troeger, “John 10:22-30: Homiletical Perspective," Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary  Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (CD-Rom)

[4] Ibid.

[5]Some of these ideas from Gary D. Jones, “John 10:22-30: Pastoral Perspective," Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary  Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide (CD-Rom)


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