Sermons from St
Brenda Cottarel, Sunday, 17th
- delivered during her indisposition by Gareth Grffiths.
In the temple Jesus tells his listeners ‘you do not belong to my sheep.’ I think we can assume, given the setting of the temple, that he was surrounded by the pious and faithful, and we might be in danger of buying in to the standard stereotype of the Pharisees as some sort of self-satisfied, self-promoting religious thought police.
But no. In Jewish society of the time they were actually the good guys. They upheld exacting standards, especially with regard to the laws of Moses. Yes they were on the lookout for back-sliding and heresy, but there were some among them, I’m sure, for whom the message of Jesus resonated. Jesus had sympathizers in this group, those that were theological thinkers. So we mustn’t assume that Jesus’s encounters with the Orthodox were always encounters of conflict; sometime there must have been meetings of minds. Nevertheless we read, things started to turn nasty: ‘And they tke up stones again to stone him’, the issue being blasphemy and the fact that Jesus had told them: ‘The Father and I are one’, which provoked a fierce attempt to arrest him.
There will have been some in that crowd, however, who were open to a new perception. We must not assume every time we hear of conflict that it’s as simple as Jesus versus all the rest.
We have already heard Jesus proclaim the ‘I am’s to crowds earlier, in the Gospel of St John, so we can easily see why they ask him ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ So how does the Gospel reading relate to us today?
I’d like to pursue the theme of discipleship and link it to the identity of Jesus. ‘The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me,’ says Jesus, or, put another way: ‘come on people, you’ve seen me and what I do long enough to know that what I do must be from God’ – followed by ‘The Father and I are one.’
As disciples, how do we present Jesus by our works and by our words? Why are we here this morning? Well, unlike Jesus’ questioners, we can assume it’s because we are in the right team. ‘My sheep hear my voice’. I know them and they follow me.’ Well, the ‘them’ and the ‘they’ he refers to include us. Like the crowd, we’ve been following him for some time. We are the sheep of this shepherd, and our presence here this morning is evidence of that.
what about tomorrow morning when we aren’t here? What’s
the evidence of us belonging to Jesus then? We do not
‘The Father and Jesus are one’ – this is one to make us squirm a bit isn’t it! We don’t find it easy to talk to others about God and we often struggle with talking about our faith with others. So my specific challenge to all of us this morning is to spend some time in thought, prayer and discussion with friends about what the essence of our faith is; what needs to be on our lists and what doesn’t. I think being clear about that will increase our confidence as we talk to others about our faith. Don’t get side-tracked by cultural and political issues such as abortion and gay rights. Yes, these are important issues for us, but how much of what we perceive to be Christian is actually essential to the defence and propagation of Christianity?
Yes, this is about mission – Missio Dei, the mission of God. Perhaps we should seek where God is already at work and join in there. Let the Holy Spirit take the initiative and lead us to where we can respond to the needs of others. Then we can truly say that the works we do in the name of the Father testify to him – Jesus and the Father are one.