JOHN 10: 22-30
May 3, 2020
Last night I saw a photograph on social media of a person I know who yesterday gathered with family members from around South Jersey to enjoy the sunny day. When I heard about this gathering earlier in the day I expressed my concern but I was assured that there would be social distancing … however in the photo these seven cousins were close enough to fit into a photo together and there was one woman in the group who did not have a mask on. So, I asked … what was wrong with her; no mask. Weren’t you concerned? The reply … oh, she’s a rebel and has always been that way. It’s her way or the highway. REALLY? This time, that woman may have just put her cousins and my friend on the highway of death and destruction by insisting on her way.
Friends, how many of us through the years have thought about the number ONE as being about us. I am the king … I am the queen … it’s about me and if I don’t get my way I will make it my way. I will stomp my feet; raise my voice. The heck with others and what they think or prefer … We see it across this nation during this time when we know that we can infect each other with a deadly disease … there are loud voices screaming me, me, me … government you can’t tell me that I have to care about anyone but me. It was the woman and her husband or boyfriend who snuck into the ShopRite after first being turned back …. They had argued that her holding a small tissue to her nose was a mask … they then walked around the store and no one stopped them as they celebrated being ONE giggling and at times she did cover her mouth with that small piece of tissue.
I hope and pray that you aren’t in the number declaring that your neighbors … strangers in your midst don’t matter because you don’t want to wear a mask. That you aren’t one of those being dismissive of the work that our doctors and nurses have been doing … you see there is just ONE that matters and it’s not Dave nor Glenda nor Rich nor Carla nor Norm … in our walk here on earth there is ONE God not billions of individual gods wrapped up in ourselves and what we want for ME at least that’s what Jesus taught … that’s what the Creator expects.
In our Gospel lesson of the day Jesus was in the Temple but those who wanted to push aside the ONE that God had sent to change the world were once again in His face. They were so wrapped up in their power … in their wealth and control … in being THE ONES who ruled … that they didn’t want to accept what was right before them in Jesus the Christ. They were impatient watching this man who was gaining followers, healing the sick and teaching a message focused on caring for those who were not the winners in society. A man whose calm demeanor and way of living showcased love for all. They did not like what they were seeing and hearing and they absolutely refused to connect the dots and change because they wanted to live every day as THE ONE.
Jesus answered their loud shouting complaint about Him by simply saying “I have told you but you don’t believe.” Now, Jesus in His message during the days he walked the dusty highways healing and teaching was merely clarifying what the Old Testament had already taught … God had provided the prophets and God’s people with the same directives of Jesus … welcome those you don’t know, show love to everyone, care for the poor and the sick, have no other gods before me … live for God and not for the world. But God had decided it was time to make the message totally clear and God sent Jesus for humanity’s sake; to save us from ourselves and our sin.
On this Communion Sunday .. on this Sunday when our prayer of confession included these words … “we have not loved You with our whole heart … we are truly sorry and repent”… are you ready to confess to God, to yourself, to those who are living with you during this pandemic, and yes to the world through social media or whatever means you have … that YOU BELIEVE IN THE ONE whom God sent to change the world. That Jesus is THE ONE … That you want to be walking with Christ each and every day?
Jesus told those religious leaders in the Temple, for the Feast of Dedication, that they “don’t believe because they didn’t belong to Jesus sheep.” They had rejected or perhaps twisted Jesus words for their own personal gain. Jesus taught “My sheep follow me. They listen to me and I know them. I give them eternal life and no one will snatch them from my hand! My Father is greater than all of them … and no one will snatch them from my Father’s hand. My Father and I are ONE.”
David knew that … “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD; I SHALL NOT WANT. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.. He leadeth me besides the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”
But to not want; not want for our own desires … but instead to be protected in God’s hand … it takes belief … faith … and faith is not a word it is an ongoing series of actions and how we live our life. It’s easy to say I believe but in a world divided into states with colors and positions tied to the right and the left … are we centered and living for the ONE or for ourselves. FAITH without actions is dead … our words … our lives … reflect who we belong to. And, I pray today that you belong to the One born in a manger who hung out with society’s rejects before going to the cross taking all of humanity’s sins with Him. On Easter morning church … oh on Easter morning the women discovered it … the women preached it … HE IS RISEN <<He is Risen Indeed>>
We are here today on a day of restoration friends … we are here on a day when it is my prayer and my hope that you have joined the millions around the world who declare Jesus is the ONE! That you are a Jesus follower … a Jesus believer … not merely a convenient Christian who wants to toss aside the teaching of the Son of God so that you can be the person you want to be rather than a child of God. It takes action and belief.
We are here and the Lord’s Table is prepared … In your homes with your loved ones I am hoping you will prayerfully share in the Holy meal of Communion. Do you have a cup? Do you have bread? Are you ready to get that holy energy?
Yesterday, was my weekly opportunity to get a few family moments amidst the pandemic. Donna drove Megan to Hammonton and I met them there. We were masked … we kept our social distance … we ate in our cars a little more than six feet apart. I know Megan wanted to rush to hug me, her dad. And, I wanted to sense those hugs but we understand that in that hug we could do great harm. If we didn’t have our masks on we could harm others … our family.
Later when I returned to West Deptford I received two calls from Inspira. The first was the need of a simple prayer with someone whose time was expiring. Then 20 minutes later just as I was lying back to nap the phone rang and it was an ICU nurse. Could I talk with a man on hospice who needed a pastor. I asked if it could be 15 minutes later because I needed a nap. She said, take a 30 minute nap and I will call back then.
The call was with Mr. Stanfield. He was clear of mind but his body is ravaged by multiple health realities and several essential bodily functions are in the process of shutting down but corona is not one of them. We talked for almost 2 hours as he told me about his life; his family; and his presence of mind. We talked about God and he said he has always understood God’s presence but at times ignored God but we both chuckled as he said I guess these are the days when people remember the ONE. Funny how he used the adjective that is my sermon’s title today. He hopes to have a little time … he wants to go home before going to the Lord. His family can’t be with him at Inspira … he can’t hold his grandchildren in his arms even though they are a short 45 minutes away. But he said eternity’s reality is close and God’s love has given him peace in these last days.
I don’t know if I will ever meet this man. We prayed and after we prayed we laughed a little bit. But Dr Charles Stanfield former professor of Geography at Rowan University understands that God is his ONE. That Jesus is the ONE who has helped him through his tough days … his disabled daughter’s realities … THE LORD is Mr. Stanfield’s Shepherd and yesterday afternoon other than wanting to talk with a pastor while on hospice Mr. Stanfield is not wanting. Yes, he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death but he is not afraid because God is with him … and he knows he will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. His arrival time there very soon.
This morning friends, there is a means even amidst the pandemic for each of us to have goodness and mercy following us every day of our lives. To be restored and directed out onto the paths of righteousness … not selfishness; not the all about me world but the all about our neighbors world. Because we are to love God and love ALL of our neighbors.
THE LORD IS THE SHEPHERD … do you belong as one of the sheep of Jesus? Are you listening to Him and believing in Him or do you prefer to follow the loud voices out in the world today?
It’s your choice … my choice … but in that decision we will either have a life protected by the God of Creation’s love that takes away our fears, gives us hope, and allows us joy even in the midst of the storm or we’ll join the chasm of division and selfishness that only puts those in that path at risk now and in the days to come when heading to eternity.
Focus on God; now as we get ready for the Table of Love because Jesus died for us … Jesus rose from the tomb for us … Jesus came and taught us how to live and that is as simple as loving God and loving ALL of our neighbors! And, Jesus taught when we come together that we are to break bread and drink from the cup and remember Him. THE ONE!