Easter 4C, 2010
A Liturgy is also available
RESTING IN HOPE AND REAL LIFE…
The image of Jesus as the good shepherd
reminds many past Sunday school scholars of pictures of a Jesus, complete
with flowing robes,
cuddling a tiny lamb,
while other sheep lie peacefully at his feet.
The scene is idyllic. The theology sanitised and sentimentalized.
And while this story by John ranks fairly high in ‘shepherd’ talk,
the most familiar usage comes in the Hebrew scriptures, in Psalm 23...
We shared in a different presentation of that in the liturgy.
But for now, let me stay with John’s story.
Sheep. Shepherd. Eternal life.
After all, that’s a reasonable fist-full in anyone’s language!
In his story, John invites his listeners to see the presentness of God in Jesus,
through the metaphors of sheep and shepherd.
Or to be more precise, good shepherd
rather than bad or indifferent shepherd.
But John was neither a city person nor a 21st century person.
And we are a different people in a different culture and time.
And the image of sheep can be meaningless because we do not live close
to the paddocks and to flocks of sheep.
(Unless you come from New Zealand! Ha ha).
We usually only think of sheep when we're buying lamb chops
for the BBQ on Australia Day.
Or remembering ‘Dolly’ the clone and her offspring of some years back.
So the invitation before us now is to ask the question:
where can this story touch our life stories?
Maybe a clue comes in that part of the John story
where the storyteller has Jesus saying:
My sheep recognise my voice.
I know them and they follow me and I provide them with real life...
Now I am sure the first thing you have noticed is:
the words have been changed.
True. Some translations at this point say ‘eternal’ life.
But the translation we have used this morning,
from the Jesus Seminar, says ‘real’ life.
And I have been deliberate in my choice.
I prefer the Jesus Seminar translation to the traditional words
because it seems to remain true to the vision
and genuine stories of Jesus.
Affirming life rather than denying life.
And it reflects less of the influence
of the early Christian communities, many years later.
Where life then was of little significance in itself,
or is only a kind of prelude to the life after we die.
On the one hand ‘eternal’ life is often given the meaning, living on forever.
In some state of ‘bliss’ - in the presence of God.
On the other hand ‘real’ life paints a picture of the fullest possible life.
Life of limitless new possibilities.
The kind of life humanity has dreamed about.
Not afterwards. But now.
Another reason I favour the Jesus Seminar translation of ‘real’ life
has to do with traditional Christianity.
Traditional Christianity’s concentration on ‘eternal’ life has encouraged
“a preoccupation with death and salvation [which has] worked against a sense of connection to the web of life, and ‘taught people to be homeless in the world’” (Holloway 2001:235).
So this morning I want to thank those biblical scholars
for reminding us both about the presentness of God in life, this life,
and the connectedness of all life.
That ‘real’ life is about being connected to all of life,
unbounded in every way.
Yet always admitting that life today seems often to be set within a culture of death, be it in
“the killing fields of political, ethnic and religious wars, through plagues and pandemics, and even [as it] takes up residence in schoolyards, the promise of present and future eternal life seems fragile” (JDonahue 2001. America web site, 2007).
Perhaps this is also the time for a quick step sideways
and take a look-see at a companion reading, from John the Divine.
We will hear it in more detail next week, but for now…
John, maybe the same John, receives a spectacular vision of heaven,
one morning on the Isle of Patmos.
And inspite of the Jehovah Witnesses ‘picture book’ publications
of a glorified ‘earth-up-there’, John paints a picture of a place
where there’s no more suffering,
no more death, and where every tear is wiped away.
He paints a metaphor of hope and real life.
A hope that makes us human.
Francis Macnab, progressive minister at St Michael's-in-the-City, Melbourne, and
a presenter at the Common Dreams2 Conference in Melbourne in 2010,
has suggested six characteristics or ‘signposts’ of hope which he reckons
the bloke called Jesus of Nazareth was pointing to, when he spoke of God and real life.
Let me share them with you, in point form only, and in the hope
they may resonate with your own experiences and longings.
• Jesus pointed to his God as a life-giving, life-enhancing,
awesome, surprising presence…
• Jesus pointed to his God of affirming generosity,
a God of invitation and inclusiveness…
• Jesus pointed to his God who would bring some healing to the human condition…
• Jesus pointed to his God who opened people’s eyes,
opened rooftops, open doors – and those who were thus ‘opened’,
became part of a new experience, a new life, a new being, a new creation…
• Jesus did not create a church nor did he speak of creating a church.
He gathered people together, and in the gathering there was a listening wisdom,
a nourishment of the human spirit, an expansion of the soul…
• Jesus pointed to his God that passed through all boundaries,
necessary as they may be for some, but held each person’s place
and dignity as important (Macnab 2004:111-114).
Macnab then offered a prayer. And I reckon his prayer
might be a good place for us to rest in for a while this Easter season...
"May the Great Mystery that we call God
keep alive in each one of us
the search for a Faith that is real
a Faith that helps us to live happier lives
a Faith that gives us a fuller
meaning to life and the events of life;
Bring us to know the goodness that flows from
the heart of the universe, and may
we be expanded in heart and soul
by that goodness."
May that be our prayer as well.
May it be so!
Macnab, F. 2004. “Preaching the New Faith” in R. W. Hoover (ed) The Historical Jesus Goes to Church. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.
Holloway, R. 2001. Doubts and Loves. What is Left of christianity. Edinburgh. Canongate Books.