Preached at Christ Church Grosse Pointe, MI on Easter IV. Text: John 10:22-30
I’m the Ministry Developer for the Diocese of Michigan. In my role, I work with many congregations in the diocese helping them to develop ministry. And I get a lot of people asking me, “What does that mean? What exactly do you do?” The question is not always easily answered because how a congregation could develop their ministry varies from place to place, from context to context, from person to person. And it’s really never my decision what that will end up looking like, because it’s not my ministry, it’s theirs. It’s not my church, it is God’s.
But most often what I find to be true, whether I’m working with a congregation and their mission or purpose in ministry or working with a person and their individual call to ministry… is that ministry gets blocked, gets stalled, gets gummed up by one and only one thing. We forget.
And I think, most especially in a week like we’ve had in our country. A very, very hard week. Bombings. Manhunts. Explosions. Gun-control debates. Suspicion. Hate. Anxiety. Fear. Blame. I think during a time like this, it can be even easier to forget.
I’d like to tell a little story to help explain this forgetting. I don’t know if it’s real. That is to say, I don’t know whether or not it’s fact. But I think you’ll find, it is true.
There was a young child of about 4 years and her parents had just brought home a newborn baby brother. When it came time for her new brother to be put down in his bassinette, the young child climbed up beside her parents, peered into the bassinette intently and curiously and looked at her parents and said, “Can I talk to him?”
Her parents replied enthusiastically, for they were pleased that their daughter so wanted to bond with her new brother… “yes! Go ahead. We think he’d like that.” And she looked up at her parents and said, “No, no. I mean, can I talk to him alone?”
Her parents were a little surprised, but wanting to be supportive, knowing that this was an important moment they said, “Sure, honey. We’ll just be right in the next room if you need us.” And, making sure to turn the baby monitor on as they walked away from the bassinette, they left the room and then scurried to pick up the monitor in the next room so they could hear what was happening. I like to think they were just curious, and not anxious.
They heard their young daughter gently calling the name of her new brother. And they heard their newborn son making small baby noises. And then they heard their beloved child say, “You’re new here. Tell me, why did you come? Who sent you? And… where you came from, what it is like? Because I’m beginning to forget.”
We forget. We all forget.
We forget because we get busy figuring out this world and how to navigate it. Learning the signals of this place and the way we need to move so that we can get what we need, so that we can survive here.
We forget because other people around us have forgotten too and in a loving effort to keep us safe, they teach us how to forget. In a gentle way, if we’re lucky. And if we’re not, the experience of forgetting is much harder.
And this learning, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. We need to learn how to be incarnate in this place. We need to understand how this world functions. But we forget the reason we need to learn and so we come to believe that it’s about conquering this world. We trick ourselves into thinking that survival is the end game. And we look to something to save us – money, popularity, perfection, knowledge. We look for messiahs in our midst and turn them into idols. Because we forget.
We forget who we are. And who’s we are. And we forget why we’re here.
And we can get to a point where forgetting has become so important to us, to this world that we have created, and so proud of ourselves for learning to survive it, that when we meet someone who re-members, someone who truly re-members who sent us, truly re-members where we came from and why we’re really here, we can react very strongly.
We can even hate them for it… because they remind us of the pain of feeling disconnected from Love, the pain of feeling disconnected from God. And we can do some pretty stupid things when we have forgotten so completely. We can do some mean things. Some deadly things. We can cause pain – to others, but more often, to ourselves.
This is illustrated in today’s gospel where we have Jesus and the religious authorities facing off once again. They are offended. They respond to Jesus’ presence with incredulity and sarcasm saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Jesus tells them that their response is because they do not believe. He tells them that there are people who believe, people who understand a different reality from theirs, people who have re-membered because they see the re-membrance in him, in Jesus. He says, “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… The Father and I are one.”
And the religious authorities are appalled, aghast. They are so incensed that in the next verses after today’s reading…
“[They] took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ [They] answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.’” (John 10:31-33)
Indeed! What nerve! What audacity! I can almost hear them muttering their contempt. Can you? You know the voice… “How dare you!” “Who do you think you are?” “What a fool!” “Idiot!” “So full of yourself!” I wonder, have you heard that voice before?
And what is important, what I really want you to hear… is that they are not condemning Jesus for his ability to move in this world. They are not denouncing him for his strategy on besting his so-called opponents, or for his ability to make money, or his adherence to society’s standards, or his outfit, or his well-chiseled body, or any other evidence that he has learned to survive in this world.
Because let’s face it, Jesus did not survive by this world’s standards. He died a most cruel death by this world’s standards.
These people are condemning Jesus because he dared to re-member.
They are rebuking him because he did not conform to their standards.
They are convicting him because he showed others how to remember.
And they killed him for it.
This is our good shepherd, my friends. This is our messiah.
The one who shows us who we are and who we belong to. And that is: We are God’s beloved.
The one who reminds us why we are here. And that is: We are here to bring our whole selves to worship God and to care for one another. We are here to be ministers as the Body of Christ.
We are not here to conquer this world by its own standards.
We are here to re-member our purpose and be made a new creation in the bright morning light of the resurrection.
And when we are made a new creation, when we hear the voice of the good shepherd drowning out the mutterings of contempt, we re-member… and we know.
We know we are beloved. We know that our gifts and our skills and our talents and our treasure and our knowledge… all the ways in which we have sought to ensure our survival in this world…
All of who we are is redeemed because we re-member.
Because these worldly reapings, these things that we love, these skills and treasures… when we see them through the light of the resurrection, we re-member that not only are we God’s beloved, that we are God’s good and holy creation… but that God is calling us to bring all that we have gathered, all that we have learned, all we have become in service to Him as the Body of Christ broken for the world.
This is ministry. This is our baptismal ministry. It is not dependent upon a leader for a leader merely provides direction and encouragement. Our baptismal ministry – yours and mine – is dependent upon one thing and one thing only – that we re-member.
When we are baptized into the Body of Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever, we are re-joined, re-membered. Baptism is the good shepherd calling us to stop forgetting. It is the messiah re-minding us that this world does not determine who we are.
The earliest depiction of Jesus, is not Jesus on the cross. It is not conquering Christ – the King, of this world hovering above us. It is not even the crucified Christ suffering death.
The earliest depiction of Jesus, the image that those newborn Christians used to tell the story of our messiah, was the good shepherd – calling to us, carrying us if necessary, rounding us up… re-minding us when we get lost, when we forget. His voice riding the breeze above the din of the worldly noise, saying,
You are God’s beloved.
You are God’s beloved.
And you are here to bring your whole incarnate selves… with your gifts and talents, with your wounds and your victories, with your treasure and your emptiness… you are here to bring all of these things you’ve learned about how to navigate this world and follow your shepherd to become the new creation of Easter morning. To participate in the coming of the Reign of God.
The redemption of the world happens for us, when we stop forgetting and re-member, even and most especially when we feel the fear and anxiety and try our best to blame and protect and defend and survive.
The redemption of the world happens for us when we own our ministry.
The redemption of the world happens when we follow the voice of our good shepherd and believe that voice that tells us:
We are God’s beloved.
We are God’s good and holy creation.
We are called to bring our whole incarnate selves to re-member so that the world may be redeemed through the Body of Christ.
May it be so.