Easter 4 May 3, 2009

Acts 4:5-12                                                                          

1 John 3:16-24                                                                    

John 10:11-18


Halfway through Jesus’s earthly ministry, his journey from the shores of Galilee to Jerusalem, he asks his disciples a pivotal question: “Who do you say that I am?” You may remember that St. Peter blurts out the answer—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”—what is called the Confession of Peter. I say this is a pivotal question in the gospels, because it begins to prepare the disciples for what is ahead: for the crucifixion and the resurrection. “The Son of Man must suffer, and be crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead.”


But the question can be turned around: Who does Jesus say that we are, each of us? Here, too, it is pivotal. For how we answer has everything to do with how we go through life, with all its challenges, its deaths and resurrections. It has everything to do with our discipleship.


I know how I have usually approached that question. I have hauled out and dusted off, so to speak, my resume. These are my gifts, my strengths; these are my accomplishments, the ways in which I might be seen to have importance in the eyes of the world. I’m sure Jesus sees these things; they are certainly part of who I am. But there is something exhausting about them, too, for myself and for others. The thing about resumes is that you have to keep working at them; you can’t have any unexplained gaps in them. You can’t be fired or mess up; you have to leave “to pursue other opportunities,” those who hurt you have to be the ones who were wrong. And when we meet people who need to impress us with their importance it always in the end leaves us feeling worked over and empty, doesn’t it? What a windbag! What a narcissist! Don’t ever let me have to spend time with her, with him, again!


Jesus looks through that surface stuff, I think, and sees something deeper and more precious—something we may often overlook. Do you remember the story in the gospels of the rich young man (young ruler in one version)? He comes to Jesus asking what he has to do to be saved—what more does he need to add to his resume to be accepted into eternal life? And he’s clearly exhausted from trying and trying so hard in life; he’s kept all the commandments of good conduct but still it hasn’t brought him fulfillment.


And do you remember what Jesus says to him? Go, sell all your possessions—give up all this accomplishment side of yourself, all your gifts and strengths, and come, follow me. The young man can’t do this, he has too much to give up, he’s too attached to his riches, so he goes away sad. But, says the gospel, Jesus looks at him and loves him.


It’s the us beneath our resume that Jesus sees when he looks at at us, the “us beneath” that Jesus loves. So in the gospel on this so-called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” it’s that hidden self that Jesus calls by name, that hidden self that longs to respond to his voice. And it’s that self for whom Jesus laid down his life, that it might come forth at last and own its true identity, and have life and freedom in his Name.


This morning we’re graced to have the St. Matthew’s Ecumenical Sacred Dance Choir with us. You know, if we were in Africa, dance would be a part of every worship service we celebrated, and people wouldn’t just dance for us, we would all dance together for God. An African once said to me, “Oh, we don’t just say the Creed. We sing and dance the Creed. Singing and dancing is how we show that we believe the Creed.” Episcopalians used to be called the frozen chosen. We’re not so much that way any more, but we still find it hard to move our bodies, to throw ourselves fully in this way into the movement of God. But you know, this has to do with letting out that hidden self that Jesus is calling, freeing that deeper self from its grave.


I talked recently with a woman about these things, asking her that pivotal question about who Jesus says that she is. And she started, as I always do, with the resume answer. She has a good resume; she works hard at perfecting it. But as we searched more deeply, we saw that her real gifts lie in the beauty of her soul—a soul that struggles, often through tears and despair and self-doubt. A soul that bears wounds, like all our souls, from its past, starting in childhood. A soul that aspires to truth and goodness and beauty, and reaches out to others to help them. A soul that is not afraid of revealing itself, its wounds, for their sake. “If I lost everything,” I asked her—“my wife, my job, my reputation, my possessions—and I came to your door in tears and emptiness, what would you do?” “I would take you in and listen to you,” she said. “I would be with you and comfort you.” Comfort me not by fixing me, not with good advice. Comfort me by loving me, by knowing my name.


That is the Good Shepherd. That is the Jesus who sees us and knows us and takes us in and loves us. That is the Christ who laid down his life for us that we might rise and live and love and dance in his Name.




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