The Good Shepherd in John’s Gospel

Sermon prepared for a livestreamed Sunday Worship at St. John’s United Church, Marathon on March 22, 2020. Based on John 9:1-10:18 for Lent 4, Year A.

As Jesus was walking he came upon a blind man. His disciples asked him, because he was a prophet and someone who seemed to known secret truths, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”[i]

His disciples wouldn’t have known that the man was born blind. And, in their understanding of illness and disability it was a life of impurity and wickedness that caused difference or sickness. This was a theology you couldn’t investigate too deeply, because there were good people who grew sick, and wicked people who prospered. But in a world where everything was appointed by God, this kind of thinking made the most sense.

“Neither of them sinned,” Jesus said, “This man was born as he was so God’s work could be revealed through his life.”[ii]

And then, calling us back to the creation of humanity in Genesis, Jesus combined earth with his God-stuff, rubbing mud on the man’s eyes, rebirthing his sight.[iii]

Light and dark, sight and blindness are important themes in the Gospel of John. It goes beyond physical sight to something deeper.

The blind man was in darkness before, and now he declares: “I see,”[iv] and what’s more he testifies about Jesus saying, “He is a prophet”.[v]

Last week another person said those same words.

After Jesus revealed truths about her life the Samaritan woman at the well declared: “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.”[vi]

Both of these nameless figures, these social outcasts, see in Jesus something others do not. They recognize in him power and authority, and he extends an invitation to them, by revealing who he is.

To the woman at the well he is the Anointed One, the Messiah.[vii]

To the man born blind he is the Son of Man.[viii]

Both become his followers, his messengers, testifying to things he knew and things he did.

There is another comparison here. Both the woman at the well and the man born blind see who Jesus is. But there are others who are shrouded in blindness.

Like Nicodemus who came under the cover of darkness, the man’s parents are afraid of the Jewish elite. They respond to the same questions their son is asked with answers like: we do not know “how”, we do not know “who”.[ix]

They do not see who Jesus is, and they are driven by fear of being cast out of their community.

Their son, who begins by answering his accusers simply, takes the bold step to proclaim Jesus as a prophet. With each questioning his courage and certainty seems to grow. And so, he is indeed cast out of the community.[x]

Jesus hears the healed man has been driven out, and so he goes to find him. Just like he finds the woman at the well, who was so rejected by her neighbours that she walked a hard and lonely path.

Jesus then offers him a new community as his follower.

The stories of the woman at the well and the man born blind are both stories of the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

They are stories of Jesus calling those who are in need of protection and belonging. They are stories of how he is recognized for who he truly is, and how those he called follow him.

My sheep follow me and they know my voice.

There are many sounds in the world we get used to hearing. When I was younger I could tell which family member was walking down the basement stairs because I had memorized the sounds of their footsteps. Was it a heavy or light tread? Did their ankles and knees crack on the descent? Did they rush down quickly or lumber slowly?

Sounds carrying significant meaning for us.

When someone leaves our shared home we may find, after opening the front door, we are greeted with an alien lack of sound. Gone is the signing in the kitchen. Gone is the constant play of the radio. Gone are the familiar sounds of life.

Infants respond to the sounds of voices they hear most often in the womb, like the ever present rumbling voice of the person who carried them for 9 months. They remember songs that were sung to them during that time.

Jesus speaks about the sheep recognizing their protector, their caretaker, by the sound of his voice.

What are the sounds of God at work in the world, for you? Where do you hear Christ’s voice calling?

[It might be the sounds of children in the street playing, that screeching and piercing laughter that tells us life goes on despite everything around us.

It might be the hoarse cry of activists who refuse to let us make decisions about this shared home of ours without sober second thought, knowing it will effect generations to come.

It might be in poetry or music that is so raw and vulnerable that you feel your own heart beating along to its rhythm, singing a common song.]

What about the times you’re not sure if it’s God voice calling? Are there messages that confuse you or try to distort the truth? How can we tell the difference between the Good News and fake news?

This is an important question now, more than ever. At a time when anxiety and panic are our constant companions, how can we be sure that we’re listening and responding to the voice of the Still-Speaking God?

For me, I try to listen to that voice we’ve carried from generation to generation, passed along by our ancestors in the faith. Reading scripture and the witness of ancient people of faith helps me think about what the Still-Speaking God sounds like.

And let’s listen for its echoes in the lives of faithful people. Let’s look for those all-important themes in the poetry and art of generations that came before us and the generations that are budding up right now.

Let’s ask ourselves: Where do we hear stories of liberation? Stories of dignity? Stories of outcasts finding belonging?

There you will find the Still-Speaking God, there you will find the voice of Christ throughout all of the political turmoil, the pandemics, the injustice, proclaiming a Good Word, a hopeful word, for all people.

[i] John 9:1-2, [ii] John 9:3, [iii] John 9:6-7, [iv] John 9:15, [v] John 9:17, [vi] John 4:18, [vii] John 4:25-26, [viii] John 9:35-38, [ix] John 9:20-21, [x] John 9:34

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