He Calls Us Each by Name
Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 11, 2014
Church of the Good Shepherd, Summerville
During the Easter season, it is interesting that a primary theme for Sunday readings and prayers involves knowing the One who has been raised from the dead. Thus, last week’s collect included these words: “O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread…” (BCP, p 224). Jesus, therefore, “made himself known” in that way. Then, this week we prayed in our collect, “Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name” (BCP, p 225). And next week, we will pray these words: “Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life…” (BCP, p 225).
In successive weeks, therefore, we repeat our prayerful request that we may come to know God who is in Christ Jesus, now raised from the dead. And this repetition emphasizes the significance of the theme itself. That is, Jesus is the one who lived on earth as a person. He taught and preached and healed as aspects of his earthly ministry. Then, however, he was arrested, and he was subsequently killed. Our faith affirms that this same Jesus was raised from death on Easter Day. Many Sunday readings during the Easter season remind us of appearances by Jesus to his disciples, following his resurrection. And it is crucial to our faith that we know the one who appeared later as the very one who lived and died previously. Thus, the repetition of the theme of knowing the resurrected Jesus becomes central to our observance of the season of Easter. And that is the main point of what I want to say this morning. The theme of knowing the resurrected Jesus is central to our observance of the season of Easter … and, indeed, to the entirety of our faith itself.
In the life of the Church through the centuries, questions have arisen about matters of orthodoxy, “right doctrine”, as opposed to matters of heresy. And through the history of Christianity, heresies have tended to focus attention too much either on the humanity or on the divinity of Jesus, as distinct from the other. That is, in these heresies, Jesus was understood to be either a man who was very gifted and God-like, or else he was God playing at being a human being. These understandings would focus, in the first place, on Jesus’ earthly life and, in the second, on his life after resurrection. However, the Christian belief always has been that we know Jesus to be the same, “very God and very man”, completely God and completely human. I bring the matter of heresy and orthodoxy up at this point, not as a diversion from today’s subject. Rather, such an awareness underlies today’s collect and Gospel … and it is important for the this season of Easter. Again, knowing the resurrected Christ to be none other than Jesus of Nazareth is so crucial for the whole of our faith.
Today’s Gospel image of sheep and shepherd focuses attention on an analogy which helps us understand aspects of that crucial matter of faith, involving mutual knowledge. In fact, just following today’s reading comes this affirmation from Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd: “I know my own (sheep) and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). In today’s passage this knowledge is affirmed, for the shepherd also acts as the keeper of the gate. Jesus says that the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (10:3-4).
Now, we may not have many sheep in these parts, but we can observe something similar in other situations. For instance, when I am walking our two dogs in the morning, I often am impressed by how well other dogs respond to their masters’ voices. Some of these dogs clearly do not even need to be on a leash. I hasten to add, in the spirit of full disclosure, that this is not the case with my dogs. They may recognize my voice, but they don’t mind very well. In any event, there are examples of dogs who hear their masters’ voices and respond appropriately. They do so because they know the voice, and they know the one who is behind the voice. That is precisely the point of Jesus’ parables of the sheep and the Good Shepherd.
Perhaps an even better example for this technological age is the voice recognition software of computers in our hand-held devices and in our cars. Now, ones among us who are fans of mystery books and movies will be familiar with a popular plot within that genre. That is, the “bad guys” try to gain access to some top-secret information by fooling the computer which guards the secret. This ploy many be attempted by counterfeiting the authentic voice … or perhaps by accessing the fingerprints or irises of the legitimate user. The challenge in such a plot, then, becomes the protection of information so that it may be used only in the way intended – and by the people designated.
I suggest to you this morning that such a story is not too different from the parable that Jesus used in his day. In Jesus’ terms, “a thief and a bandit” do not play by the rules. Rather, such a one pretends to be a caring shepherd, while all along his intention is “to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn 10:10). On the other hand, the designated access person – the good shepherd – “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3). Surely it is this person who may make the claim, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (10:14).
By way of conclusion, then, let me repeat the point of this homily. Jesus is the very one who lived and died and was raised from the dead. These actions all describe one and the same Jesus of Nazareth. Our prayers and readings during the Easter season affirm the importance of knowing Jesus. This was precisely the One who after his death appeared to his disciples as the Good Shepherd of his people. In our day, we know him, too, for he is the One who even now calls us each by name – our Good Shepherd, none other than Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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