"Kathy, John, Mary, Joe, time to come and eat!" My mom would yell out the back door and we would come running from the schoolyard, or the neighbors yard, knowing there was a wonderful dinner waiting for us. "Kathleen Ann Monson" was not such a pleasant way to be called, if that was what my mom was yelling I knew I was in trouble. "I Rick, take you Kathy to be my wife" brought tears to my eyes. "Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Kathleen, fill her with grace and power, and make her a priest in your Church," are the words of ordination.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," are the words that William Shakespeare put in Juliet's mouth as she tells Romeo that she loves him, regardless of his family. In a little novel called "The Little Prince," knowing ones name connects or ties one to another, and in a novel by my favorite author Madeleine L'engle, called A Wind in the Door, naming is that which calls a person into existence, unnaming, or xing, allows a person to just vanish, to be annihilated, negated, extinguished, xed. In that story, Meg, the hero, is trying to save the life of her brother, Charles Wallace. Meg meets some very bad characters, called the echthroi, who take life out of the world by unaming them.
"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish," the story in John tells us. Let that just wash over you. Jesus knows you. Jesus loves you. Jesus knows your name. Love wins.
We take a step backwards this week. For the weeks since Easter, we have been reading stories about Jesus after the resurrection, and the question I've been asking is how do we recognize Jesus. Our lectionary returns us today to the time before Jesus the events of Holy Week and Passion, to the festival of Dedication. It is winter, Jesus was in the portico of Solomon, and there were many gathered around him, maybe listening to his stories. They seem impatient, maybe even bored after being there all winter, they want Jesus to spill the beans to them, they want Jesus to give them the breaking news, they want Jesus to tell them if he is the one they have awaited since time began. Is Jesus the Messiah they have been waiting for. Is Jesus the leader, the one appointed by God, the descendant of David, the one who will free them from the tyranny of empire?
Jesus responds "My sheep hear my voice." Maybe that too is an answer to the question how do we recognize Jesus. "My sheep hear my voice." We recognize Jesus as Jesus calls to us, as Jesus breathes us into being, as Jesus says our name, as Jesus gives us life. In the gospel of John, eternal life has a specific meaning. Being known by God is eternal life. Eternal life is realized in the present, it is that which God gives through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus calls each one of us by name and we are known.
But the question many others ask, may be why bother? Why bother listening? Why bother with this shepherd thing? Why bother with Jesus at all? The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff --- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of The Lord my whole life long.
Why bother? Because it's true. It's not true like 2 plus 2 equals 4, but it's true like caterpillars turn into butterflies, and seeds turn into flowers, and wheat turns into bread. You know it's true because you have walked with your family, friends and neighbors through pain and sickness, and you know that there is new life on that path. You know it's true because you have known loss, after your spouse has died, when you didn't think you could ever live life again, someone calls your name, and picks you up and takes you out to dinner. You know it's true because you have not felt protected or safe, and someone gave you hope, someone gave you sanctuary. You know it's true because people run toward the bombs to help each other. You know it's true because someone calls your name, tenderly, lovingly, courageously, encouraging you to be fully and completely human, fully and completely loved. You know it's true, because you have that indelible mark on your forehead, and you have been named beloved daughter, beloved son.
Beloved daughter, beloved son, I am your shepherd, follow my voice, follow me. To listen to Jesus' voice, to follow Jesus, is to be a disciple. And remember, in the gospel of John, love is the definition of discipleship. Following Jesus is all about loving one another. Following Jesus is about pointing people toward hope. Following Jesus is about being the one who calls another's name, following Jesus is about providing a way out of the lostness -- by providing again or for the first time a chance to be invited into a relationship with God. You are called by name, you are absolutely and abundantly loved. You are perfectly forgiven. You are nourished and fed by the bread and the wine.
Listen for the shepherd's voice. Come and be who you are called to be. Love wins.
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