The Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Summerville
April 26, 2015
I John 3:16-24
We do well to pay particular attention when a New Testament passage draws directly from the Old Testament. After all, the Old Testament comprised the scriptures of the Hebrew people in Jesus’ day – and, thus, for Jesus himself. Therefore, a particular reference to those scriptures bears special significance for us who follow Jesus.
With that awareness, then, today we should remember an encounter Moses had with God, as described in the Old Testament book of Exodus. Moses had been identified by God to be God’s spokesman for the people in captivity in Egypt. When confronted with this responsibility, though, Moses resisted the call. He said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11). Further, Moses doubted that the Israelites themselves would accept him as their leader. Again, he said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’, what shall I say to them?” (3:13). And then, this is the verse which follows: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’. He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (3:14).
Now, our Gospel reading today – from the New Testament - is from St. John. More than any other Gospel, this one blends the humanity and the divinity of Jesus, right from the start. Indeed, that is a distinguishing characteristic of this Gospel - the blend of human and divine in Jesus. And, one place we may see this characteristic is in the use of “I am” statements by Jesus in John’s Gospel. These words of self-identification, by Jesus, remind us of the way that God identified Himself to Moses and to the Israelite people. “I AM WHO I AM” (EX 3:14).
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus makes a remarkable claim. He says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). That is a pretty direct reference to God in the Old Testament. This theme continues in St. John’s Gospel. Jesus also says, “I am the bread of life” (6:35); and “I am the light of the world” (8:12); and “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); and “I am the true vine” (15:1). These and others are examples of Jesus’ claim to the identity, “I am.” Thus, such statements in St. John’s Gospel relate directly to words God had used in identifying Himself in the Old Testament.
Along with other examples of such self identification, we read these words of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson: “I am the good shepherd” (10:11). This particular claim of Jesus – to be the Good Shepherd and, again, to inherit the identity of “I AM” – this claim is not a theoretical one. Rather, the claim has its foundation in action. That is, we know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that Jesus is “I AM” by virtue of what he actually does. In making his claim of identity, Jesus points to his actions. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (10:14). Then, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:15). And, further, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16).
Therefore, as we read this familiar passage about the Good Shepherd, please be clear about the connections throughout the Bible. God identifies Himself as “I AM” to Moses and to the Israelites. Jesus lays claim to the divine identity in his own “I am” statements in St. John’s Gospel. That identity – Jesus as God – becomes known by his actions. Specifically today, Jesus asserts that “I am the Good Shepherd.” And then he lives into that identity by his actions … by what he does.
With this understanding, then, it seems to me that this Good Shepherd – this community of faith – also is called to live into your identity with actions. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd”, and then he lived out that claim by what he did. Following his example, that is the call to this community as well.
You had your beginnings – as Good Shepherd anyway – as you lived into your identity as part of The Episcopal Church. That is, you held onto who you said you were … and that is an admirable trait – and a much appreciated one! Since then, you have been a pilgrim people – on the move, traveling light. You’ve taken seriously responsibilities to organize yourselves as a mission congregation. And you have reached the point now of identifying a place of your own, as home.
This new place will give you a presence in downtown Summerville. In addition to being a location for worship and other gatherings of this community, it will provide you with a base to be known and to reach out the larger community as well. In other words, this place will give you the chance to grow further into your identity as “The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.” I look forward to celebrating with you in ways that you claim that identity and live into it, through your actions. My prayer, therefore, is that you always will be guided by God, who is “I AM”, and by Jesus, who affirmed – in word and in deed – “I am the Good Shepherd.” Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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