Sermons


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Sermon for 4th Easter - 
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -

 

In today’s Gospel lesson this 4th Sunday of Easter, Jesus shares some important words of promise for us, a promise that is at the heart of this lesson and, indeed, is at the heart of the entire Gospel of John – Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.”

God will never abandon us. Jesus will hold on to us through all things. God will never, ever let us go.

Let’s look at this entire text again and see where we are in John’s Gospel. After healing the man born blind in chapter 9, Jesus goes on to interpret that sign - John calls Jesus’ miracles “signs” – Jesus goes on to interpret that miracle across the first two-thirds of chapter 10 in what is often referred to as the “good shepherd discourse.” In these verses, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, the one sent to lay down his life for the sheep to protect them from the robbers and bandits and grant them abundant life. In these verses, Jesus again engages in a debate with those around him, this time within the portico of Solomon in Jerusalem, the place from which the kings of Israel would render judgment. Jesus states words familiar to many – “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Before today’s text, John records nearly 20 verses of Jesus speaking about being the good shepherd. This is why this Sunday is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
We do not know how much time elapses between these conversations, but given the continuing shepherd imagery, these verses appear to have been said together. Regardless, right before today’s lesson, John records disagreement among Jesus’ listeners with some saying that Jesus is demon possessed and out of his mind and others noting that a demon could never cast out by a demon.

With this background, we come to today’s Gospel lesson still set in the portico of Solomon in Jerusalem. The conversation initially seems straight forward enough, even promising, as those questioning Jesus ask plainly and simply, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus, however, doesn’t seem to see it that way. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to believe their sincerity at all: “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.”

And then we get to the words with which I began, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.”

quote neverabandonGod will never abandon us. Jesus will hold on to us through all things. God will never, ever let us go.

Sally, not her real name of course, Sally was a member of my first congregation in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. When she came to our congregation as a new member, Sally was a newly-wed and had been a life-long Lutheran. I always thought that her husband was a bit of a strange character, but, at least in public, they seemed to be okay together.

One night, while I was on duty as a volunteer chaplain at the local hospital, in the middle of the night, Sally called. She had been awakened by her husband who, with a scissors, was cutting off her nightgown. I wanted to call the police but Sally insisted she was okay. (I would add that today I would not have listened to Sally and would have immediately called the police – I have learned a few things since that time). Fortunately, by the time I reached her home, things had calmed down. I helped Sally get out of that unsafe place and relationship. That was obviously the beginning of the end for that marriage.

Sally left the area and our congregation, but I would still hear from her from time to time. When it came time for her to remarry, she married a fellow whom I had known from high school days and I performed the wedding. Unfortunately, that marriage also ended and Sally went into a downward health spiral. She became an anorexic before we knew much about this eating disorder. Her life was nothing but sadness.

Somehow, through all of this Sally never lost her faith, never doubted that God was with her. Some years later, after hearing her pastor in Georgia during an All Saints Sunday sermon suggest that people should seek out the saints in their lives and thank those who had been kind to them in the past, Sally called me to tell me how well she was doing, that she had remarried and was now healthy and happy. She wanted to thank me for what I had done for her so many years ago.

And, Sally shared with me that she always knew that God had been with her through all of the ups and downs of her life, that God would never abandon her and had not abandoned her, even in the lowest times of her life. And that that assurance had gotten her through all of the tragedies in her life.

Sally knew that God will never abandon us. God will never let go of us.

These are important words for a child afraid for her safety at home, for a spouse victimized by domestic violence, for the college student worried if there will be any jobs after graduation, for a person fearful of being stopped by the police because of their skin color, for the police officer who never knows what will happen when she arrives at the scene, for the mid-career person who is afraid of losing her career, for the retiree with no idea of what do after absent his career, to anyone mired in grief at the loss of a beloved spouse, relative or friend, for the person shattered by the disintegration of a relationship, for you and me.

Life can be harsh; reality can be harsh but even greater is the reality of God’s undying, unconditional and unyielding love. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

No matter how crazy or difficult or stressful or scary your life is, God has chosen you, loves you, accompanies you and will hold you through all of life and even into death, into the new life that God offers us all. God will never abandon us.

On Easter Sunday I shared with you my “take,” so to speak, on Easter, which I dare to say is my “take” on all of our Christian faith, and it bears repeating here: In the end, no matter what, no matter what happens, no matter what you are facing, in the end, my friends, God has your back.

God has your back. God has chosen you, loves you, accompanies you and will hold you through all of life and into death, into the new life that God offers us all. God will never abandon you or me. Never.

Amen.

 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California


God Will Never Abandon Us
Sermon for 4th Easter “C"
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
April 16 & 17, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California

 

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