05-08-22 Sermon by The Rev. Jim Stickney

St. Alban’s Church  

Acts 9: 36 – 43 

May 8, 2022 Psalm 23 

Fourth Sunday of Easter Revelation 7: 9 – 17 

Pastor Jim Stickney John 10: 22 – 30 

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they  follow me. 

Our Psalm for today is the 23rd Psalm, perhaps the most  famous of the Psalms. It evokes images of the boy David,  who was taken from tending sheep to be King. We find comforting images, the table of feasting spread  despite the presence of troublemakers, the sense of being  guided to green pastures and still waters, and especially  the promise of God’s being with us when we walk in  death’s valley. 

In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus  spelling out in some detail what this image of the good  shepherd really means — putting one’s life on the line for  the sake of the sheep, standing up to the wolves who are  prowling as the flock journeys safely through the valley of  the shadow of death. 

In this tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tries to  reassure anxious people that he is on the lookout for them  even as they impatiently wait for further clarity. Jesus  declares that he knows his sheep, and they know his  unique voice.

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they  follow me. 

In a spiritual sense, those who listened to Jesus felt the  frustration of not knowing whether or not He was their  long-awaited Messiah. He kept things vague. Jesus’  listeners want him to state right out whether or not he is  the Messiah! They are frustrated that Jesus is waiting for  what he calls “his hour”. Like us, they want clarity. And  like us, they cope with not-knowing, with suspense. 

To help his hearers, and us, to be patient with ambiguity  and suspense, Jesus uses the image of the Good Shepherd,  with the idea of caring for the flock. The prayer composed  for this Sunday gives a clear summary of the theme: 

“O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your  people, grant that when we hear his voice we may know  him who calls us each by name, and follow where he  leads….” [Book of Common Prayer, p. 225]. 

Amidst this talk of sheep and shepherd, I recall a very  earthy reflection I heard from a fellow seminarian from  the great state of Montana. He told us that the sheep not  only know the distinct voice of their shepherd, but that the sheep also know the shepherd’s smell. He or she smells  “sheepy”, like them! Can we imagine things being just that  intimate between us and God?

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they  follow me. 

Do we really believe that the Creator of all that exists, the  Uncreated One, beyond all human projection and imaging,  the One who’s simple “Let there be!” initiated the Big Bang  or the Seven Days or whatever creation story we use — could that infinitely powerful God take the time and care  to know me, and to love me? 

Some of us have powerful imaginations, and can take the  idea of “infinity” and understand that such a divine power  is boundless, and not limited by space-time. But others  among us need a more human way of understanding God’s  love — and so we have the Word of God, the Logos, the  Wisdom of God, Sophia, born among us, living among us,  dying at human hands, and rising for us. 

Most of us know that there are many millions of Christians  around the world who call themselves “Orthodox”. They  are located mostly in the East, in the countries of Greece  and Russia and Ukraine and in other Eastern countries. 

When the Orthodox explain how Christ Jesus relates to  human beings, they are rather bolder than most Anglicans  or Roman Catholics. They can say 

Christ Jesus became as we are, so that we might  become as He is.

They speak freely of the divinization of our humanity.  What does “divinization” mean? Just this: By following  Christ’s teachings and example, we participate in divinity. But Jesus does not leave it at that. Following Christ cannot  be just about our own souls. He says, I have other sheep  who do not belong to this fold. Who is Jesus talking  about? Jesus means other people, those not in this flock of  his Christian followers. 

One of the Archbishops of Canterbury declared that the  Christian church is the only organization that exists for the  benefit of those who are not its members. I pray that we  can always support those in the church who turn our  attention to those who do not yet know, or have forgotten,  the shepherding truth of God’s love. 

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they  follow me.