Eliot Church of Newton Fourth Sunday of Easter May 8, 2022
The Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle John 10:22-30 & Psalm 23
Psalm 23 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
John 10:22-30 10:22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,
10:23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
10:25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;
10:26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
10:29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.
10:30 The Father and I are one.”
Opening Prayer – Under the canopy of the heavens above us, and earth and waters below, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, always be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Introduction: Today, May 8, 2022, falls on the annual commemoration of Mother’s Day.
Yet if we were to go back seventy-four years ago, and only after one month after Martin Luther King’s assassination, we would have joined a massive Mother’s Day March held in Washington DC. So transformative was this march, that it would lay the foundation for the Poor People’s Campaign, currently led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis.
Tragically, Senator Robert Kennedy… whose wife Ethyl is standing behind Coretta Scott King in this photo, would be assassinated less than one month later. (pause)
Yet even now, as we grapple as a nation, a global community and planet in the wake of cataclysmic circumstances, dare we ask this question?
What if God Loves Things by Becoming Them?
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John….
….the setting is within the Temple of Jerusalem. It was winter, the Season of Hannukah. Jesus was in the Temple as well, strolling. But then a group of his adversaries encircled him, saying, “How long are you going to keep us guessing? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly!”
Pastor and blogger, Jo Anne Taylor, candidly observes, [we have to appreciate that] when the crowds gather around Jesus insisting “Stop talking in riddles and parables,” they want clear answers. “Jesus, If you are Messiah, [the one who is going to liberate us from Roman occupation and oppression], just tell us!” And tell us plainly.
Taylor observes that this plea, “Just tell me plainly,” is just as evident in our own lives. She asks, “Have there been times when you prayed that prayer? C’on, Jesus, just tell me plainly what I need to know. Show me clearly the way I should do, so I can make the right decision. And above all, keep it simple, so even I can get it.”
So, there is a problem with today’s scripture, and it is one also mirrored in our world. And it is this: In this passage, Jesus emphatically claims that he has been speaking plainly. But when you and I are looking for direction, clarity as to which way to go – is it any wonder we may be asking, “Is this the right way to go? And better yet, is this God’s leading or something else? Some years ago, the United Church of Christ came up with the by-line, God is still speaking. The UCC put this by-line on just about everything: posters, calendars, stationary, lapel pins, devotionals, bumper stickers and large banners. If there was a place to put it, it was going there.
From the perspective of the United Church of Christ, this phrase, “God is still speaking,” speaks of God’s revelation. In the UCC, we affirm that God was revealed in the past, yes, but also God is being revealed to us in the present and will be in the future. (pause) The late poet, Mary Oliver, was one who paid close attention to the natural world. For Oliver, the sacred was revealed in the natural world.
In Oliver’s 2005 poem, “Lead,” she painfully recalls loons that come to her harbor but die one by one throughout the day and into the night. She writes, “A friend told me of one on the shore, that lifted its head and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing. And for which, if you haven’t heard it, you had better hurry to where the loons still sing.”
If God who loves things by becoming them – what are the implications of God loving AND becoming the very things we have commodified: the land and its waters, the air and creatures, mountains and rivers?
If this is true, imagine if God can be found amongst those clamoring for justice: indigenous people whose lands were taken from them, people of color whose voting rights are being absconded with? What if the voices of the young who must live with the mess we’ve passed on to them,….
….reveal that the God who is still speaking, has taken up their cause? What then?
Writes the Franciscan leader and author, Richard Rohr, “God is not just saving people; God is about saving all of creation. The Incarnate One of God, Jesus, who dared to say before a hostile crowd, “The Father and I are one,” stands for all creation.
The 23rd Psalm that was read earlier…
has been translated into countless number of languages, and is beloved throughout the world. A profoundly pastoral psalm and hymn, it is easy to forget that it was written – not to refute the necessity of action – but to make clear that the Good Shepherd walks with us in the midst of it.
Wrote the psalmist, Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff ‒ they comfort me.
On Sunday, May 12th, 1968 and some 54 years ago:
it only after one month after Martin Luther King’s assassination. But those protesting and laboring for justice did not walk alone, nor do they now.
For the Good News of the Gospel is this:
God loves things by becoming them. And in so doing, God is still speaking.