The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Follow the Lamb (sermon for April 29, 07)

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Fourth Sunday of Easter: April 29, 2007
John 10:22-30; Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17

We sang: Our God Reigns; Crown Him With Many Crowns; Lamb of Glory; Behold the Lamb; All Heaven Declares
Prayer; Welcome

Moravian church sealOur Scriptures today tell us of shepherds and sheep and a lamb. I stumbled onto this wonderful seal of the Moravian church on the web this week. “Our lamb has conquered: let us follow him.”

John the Apostle writes Revelation from exile on the island of Patmos. He is old now. He is far from those he loves. Those who follow Jesus are under severe persecution. And he has the vision, one Lord’s day, that is Revelation. God gives him, in the midst of his sorrow, in the midst of his old age, removed from the work he’d been called to do, a front-row seat at a worship gathering in heaven. We come in in the middle of it:

Revelation 7.9-17 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Who are they? Who is this great crowd? They are those who suffered because they were followers of Jesus Christ.

And why is a Lamb there? You’ll recall the Hebrew Scriptures requirement of a sacrifice of a perfect lamb as an atonement for sin. Jesus, at Passover, when the atonement lamb was sacrificed, became their sacrifice. They then followed him – and, as it happened, they would suffer, too.

Most scholars believe Revelation to be written about 95 C.E. By then, the writer and those to whom it was written would have known the horrible destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. When we hear the word “tribulation” or the words “great ordeal,” our theological backgrounds cause us to think of something future. But John wasn’t thinking that way. He’d been there. He’d seen it.

And the Lamb has not only died for them, he has become something else – the Shepherd – for he led the way through suffering – they have only to follow him. The Lamb becomes the Shepherd. He knows the suffering – but he also knows the triumph. As do those who follow the Lamb’s ways.

By the way, at the very beginning of the gospels, when John the Baptist is preaching and Jesus walks up, what does John say? “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s the beginning and the end of the New Testament. And now to the middle: John 10.

The whole chapter thus far has been about the Shepherd and his flock. Some have thought Jesus crazy while others wonder what it all means.

John 10.22-30
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 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.” Jesus answered, “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. 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. The Father and I are one.”

I have several quotes here from Sarah Dylan Breuer at Sarah Laughed and Lawrence at Disclosing New Worlds, both of which are excellent on these passages. Here’s Dylan:

Think of it this way, as I’d wager John’s earliest readers did: Jesus’ saying “the Father and I are one” is saying that if you want to know what God is doing in the world, look at what Jesus does. If you want to know how God treats sinners and outcasts, look at how Jesus treats them.

Here are two more lamb-followers:

Acts 9.36-43
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Peter is given power to heal like Jesus healed. But why did they call Peter? Because they’d been watching a follower of the Lamb. Tabitha had showered them with love and care. Why? She knew that Jesus and the Father were one. She knew Jesus cared for the poor. So she knew God cared for the poor. So she cared for the poor. Her ways were Lamb’s ways.

Dylan: In other words, the Father — the God who created the universe, the ultimate patriarch of those who value patriarchal authority as well as the ultimate love of the ultimately loving, motherly presence, is as Jesus is, is doing as Jesus is doing, is bound as Jesus is bound, and liberates as Jesus liberates.

Lawrence: Being part of Jesus’ flock is following the Lamb/Shepherd. The other side of the same coin is that people ought to recognise Jesus in and through his followers (us) because of the obvious similarities.

It won’t do to say that Jesus is extraordinarily obedient to God – because Jesus changes our idea of who and what God is! Jesus sets many of the old ways and truths aside. That’s why he caused the sort of outrage that led to his death! [The way the religious Jews saw it] Jesus wasn’t obedient to God! He was breathtakingly, blasphemously disobedient! That’s something we’ve lost because we are on the other side of the story. Today’s texts tell us what it was like for those who lived on the cusp!

We need to recognise, like them, that Jesus tramples [some kinds of] boundaries – especially boundaries of in and out. Jesus is always disturbingly inclusive where religious people like us instinctively want to be exclusive. … It’s when we’re looking out for that tendency that we read today’s passage with a predisposition to grapple with the question of whether we’re the Jewish leaders, rather than the faithful sheep. … The fundamental (again!) point ought to be (and it’s so obvious that we miss it time and again!) that the God revealed by Jesus is disturbingly more interested in saving the world and its inhabitants than in judging and condemning it. …

That’s the Lamb’s Way. Lambs, you know, are not known for their aggression. They don’t bite. Our Lamb triumphs, but not by domination or force. And those who preach condemnation of this group or that group are not following the Lamb! For it is Jesus’ radical inclusiveness that gets him in so very much trouble. The judgmental crowd are the bad guys, the ones who conspire to kill him! It isn’t that some are Jewish and some not – all the people in the story are Jewish. Just like today, it is that some are more committed to religion than to loving people, and both of those groups are in church on Sunday morning. Jesus is the Lamb. He and the Father are one.

Dylan – Oh God, may your Church realize the destiny to which that faithful declaration leads!

The Father, the creator of the universe, and Jesus of Nazareth are one. Those who would measure humanity by the measure of God now must now wonder in the utter vulnerability of the Christ who exhorts us all to measure God by the life of God’s Christ, God’s anointed — Jesus of Nazareth, who spat in the mud, wept for his friend, forgave the adulteress and pointed to the absence yet did not demand punishment for the adulterer. Jesus of Nazareth, who, to all … reports, never in his life refused to break bread with anyone — prostitute or Pharisee, doubter or stumbling disciple, inquirer or persecutor.

Jesus, who brings new life to those who are dead as well as those who are dying.

Jesus, who will gather multitudes and cleanse them at the last day.

Jesus, from whom no evil force can snatch those who are beloved.

And please, if you are listening and are in any doubt, listen to this:

Jesus and the Father, the God who created the universe, are one.

Jesus, who is one with that God, is calling you and loves you.

There may be people who say that the world isn’t made for people like you and is stacked against you. Those people are full of what the King James translators rendered as “manure.”

If Jesus and God are one, than God is every bit as indiscriminately loving as Jesus was. Fundamentalists might wave bibles at you all the time. Fine. Read it! Jesus broke bread with, healed, and loved people who were at least as much on the ‘outs’ in their culture as you are in ours.

If Jesus and God are one, than God doesn’t give any more of a rodent’s posterior than Jesus did who you parents were, how pure you are, are how well you’re esteemed in any number of other measures of a person’s worth that our culture might offer.

Jesus cares about something else. God cares about something else.

God, like Jesus, cares about YOU. God, through Christ, has given you gifts through which you can participate in the ultimate destiny of the world — the saving of the world through the love of God in God’s anointed.

God, like Jesus, through Jesus, in Jesus, invites you, anoints you, offers you a life that is part and parcel of the new life of a risen world in the Risen Christ.

Dorcas, God’s servant, received it. John, God’s visionary, foresaw it. You, God’s beloved, can experience it.

Thanks be to God!

So, follow the Lamb’s way:
Shun force and power and control.
Stand up for those without power or respect, those whom others have taken advantage of.
Include those whom others have excluded.
Let your generosity be felt everywhere.
When you feel at odds with the world around you, don’t be alarmed.
You follow the Shepherd. You follow the Lamb.
So, you follow the Father. For Jesus and the Father are one.

Psalm 23 [written by a shepherd; the Shepherd-King predecessor of Messiah]
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
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.

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