Audio 4 Easter Yr C May 12 2019 Acts 9:36-43, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30, Psalm 23
"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. And anytime we look over or around or through a person, anytime we disregard their name, the word by which they are known, we devalue and dishonor that particular creation of God.
"My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish," this story in John tells us. Let that just wash over you. Jesus knows you. Jesus loves you. Jesus knows your name.
We step off the path this week. For the weeks since Easter, we have been reading stories about Jesus after the resurrection. Our lectionary returns us today to the time before the events of Holy Week and Passion, to the festival of Dedication. John tells this detail, because then we will know that there are many people gathered in Jerusalem, many people around who may hear from Jesus. Today we know that festival as Hanukkah.
It is winter, Jesus was in the portico of Solomon, and there were many gathered around him, maybe listening to his stories. Though 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?
And, the piece of the story we are attending to today, is part of a much larger story in which Jesus tells those who are listening that he is the Good Shepherd. They ask him if he’s the Messiah, and Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice." They weren’t asking Jesus anything about sheepherding. They were asking him about what Jesus would do for them. But Jesus would not be put on the pedestal of power, instead he told them that being a child of God is to hear our name spoken by the God who creates, the God who loves, the God who empowers.
And 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. In our baptism, we are marked and claimed as God's own.
But the question many continue to ask is the same one those who surrounded Jesus ask. Who are you Jesus, what can you do for us, Jesus? And what we hear is: 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.
So it’s not about what Jesus can do for us, it’s about being in a relationship with Jesus. A relationship in which we are called by name. Why bother in this relationship with Jesus? Why bother with this ancient story? Because it's true. It's not true like 2 plus 2 equals 4 is true, 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 gunshots to guard their classmates from the bullets. 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.
Following Jesus is to listen to the voice of hope, the voice of mercy, the voice of compassion, the voice of healing, the voice that knows who you are. Following Jesus transforms how we occupy our space in this world. You are not alone in this endeavor. You are called and known by the one who knows what joy and pain and suffering feel like. You are connected to the others around you by virtue of your humanity. We really are all in sheepfold together. And when you go missing, when you are lost, when you feel like there is no one anywhere who really knows you, this shepherd, this one who loves you, this one who knows you from all the others, this one who knows your name, comes to find you and carry you back to safety.
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.