Risen. Renewed: Eternal Life
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
April 17, 2016
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.’
Today, we have our third in a sermon series entitled, Risen. Renewed. In this series we’re looking at how the Risen Christ changed lives just after the first Easter and changes lives today–even this day! We looked first at Thomas and how an encounter with the Risen Christ renewed his faith. Then, last week, we saw how Peter’s life was changed through forgiveness and re-directed to service in the name of Christ. This week we’ll consider the Risen Christ and the gift of eternal life.
This time of year is great for so many reasons. The weather changes; the flora and fauna spring back to life; the outdoors can be enjoyed again! For me, it seems to also be a season of joyful gift giving. In my own family, this week has been marked by a baby shower and a bridal shower; not for the same person I might add! Graduations are coming up and several weddings are on my calendar; springtime events where gifts are often bestowed. Today, we have a great group of young people who have been studying the Christian faith for 6 months taking the step to be confirmed or baptized into the body of Christ, the church. Some of them may receive a gift from family or friends. I found some confirmation related items from my family: Carrie’s confirmation certificate, my wife’s and my own confirmation Bibles. Now, I’m too much of a gentleman to read the date written in hers. They’re not huge as gifts go, but I’m grateful to have them a reminder. And our young people will receive a confirmation Bible from Christ Church and a banquet in their honor. However, here’s what’s important for our young people and for all of us; today is a day publicly marking their receiving the greatest gift ever given to humanity: eternal life. Now, for our young folks and all of us, this isn’t so much about a liturgical service or ceremony – it’s about being in relationship with Christ and the rest of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus said it best in our passage, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”
Let’s consider for just a few minutes how that relationship “plays out” in our lives.
First, Jesus teaches our relationship with Him is about hearing His voice. So, where do you hear the voice of the Risen Christ today? One way is through thoughtful study of the Scripture. I hope you all love the Bible enough that you will study it well and thoughtfully. There are always those who “cherry pick” verses of scripture, out of context, usually to validate a belief or prejudice they hold. My prayer is that we love God’s Word enough to study its richness, and look at the history, cultural background and language nuances of every passage. My prayer is that we use the Word to study the word, by that, how often is a message reiterated? And for us today, very relevant to our passage, what does Jesus say about a subject? We can hear the voice of Jesus in the Word.
We can hear the voice of Christ through prayer and spiritual urging we may receive in prayer. And we’re not alone in this but have others to help us understand what we heard with clarity. You see, we also can hear the voice of Jesus in a small, spiritually minded, prayerful group. Jesus said, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also.” It is so comforting to know you have people praying and listening with you.
Dr. Tanya Marie Luhrman, a psychological anthropologist at Stanford University, retells an old joke: When you talk to God, we call it prayer, but when God talks to you, we call it schizophrenia. But in her special report for CNN, Dr. Luhrmann offers a surprisingly supportive scientific analysis of Christians who claim that they have heard God speak to them. She concludes by stating, "Science cannot tell us whether God generated the voice that Abraham or Augustine heard. But it can tell us that many of these events are normal, part of the fabric of human perception.” There you have it: If you hear God speak to you, you might not be crazy after all. Dr. Luhrmann concludes with a powerful example of hearing Jesus speak: "When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sat at his kitchen table, in the winter of 1956, terrified by the fear of what might happen to him and his family during the Montgomery bus boycott, he said he heard the voice of Jesus promising, 'I will be with you.' He went forward.”
And then, we can hear the voice of Christ through the church. When the church is truly acting as the Body of Christ on earth, when it is speaking in ways that are in harmony with Jesus in the Gospels, we can hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Next, our relationship with the Risen Christ plays out in our not only hearing the voice of Jesus, but following Him. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Jesus said. What does following Jesus look like in your life, for you individually? We all need to answer that don’t we, but we do know the general trajectory of a life following Jesus. A life of following Jesus is marked by love, joy and acceptance (particularly of those often rejected). It is a life marked by humility, generosity, sharing, caring, healing, hope and lowly service. It is a life that stands up when the lowly and least are being taken advantage of and most is a life that will ruffle the feathers of the money-changer and animal seller types. It is a life of self-denial. It is a life of the cross.
And this relationship of listening to Jesus and following him, John teaches, is the beginning of eternal life; in the here and in the now, but continuing forever. So maintain the relationship as you would with any friend! Speak and listen to Jesus! Be a companion of Christ, going where He leads you. Keep your relationship with Him strong. Live with and for the gift of eternal life today and forever.
Bishop Will Willimon once wrote: Early in my ministry, I served a little church in rural Georgia. One Saturday, we went to a funeral in a little country church not of my denomination. I grew up in a big downtown church. I had never been to a funeral like this one. The casket was open, and the funeral consisted of a sermon by their preacher.
The preacher pounded on the pulpit and looked over at the casket. He said, "It's too late for Joe. He might have wanted to get his life together. He might have wanted to spend more time with his family. He might have wanted to do that, but he's dead now. It is too late for him, but it is not too late for you. There is still time for you. You still can decide. You are still alive. It is not too late for you. Today is the day of decision.” Then the preacher told how a Greyhound bus had run into a funeral procession once on the way to the cemetery, and that that could happen today. He said, "You should decide today. Today is the day to get your life together. Too late for old Joe, but it's not too late for you.” I was so angry at that preacher. On the way home, I told my wife, "Have you ever seen anything as manipulative and insensitive to that poor family? I found it disgusting."
She said, "I've never heard anything like that. It was manipulative. It was disgusting. It was insensitive. Worst of all, it was also true."
So, friends, with the help of the Spirit, let’s live in “eternal life” relationship with Jesus, day by day until we meet Him face to face and in joy, celebrate in heaven as He knows our name.
Ever since he was a kid, Bob Goff had a dream to sail across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. So Bob and four of his buddies entered the Transpac Race, a semi-annual sailboat race from Los Angeles to Hawaii. With limited sailing skills, Bob and his friends loaded their thirty-five foot sailboat with canned chili and bottled water and set sail for Hawaii. But for Bob and his friends, the most moving part of the journey was the arrival at the finishing line. Bob writes:
“There's a tradition in the Transpac Race no matter when you finish the race, even if it's two in the morning. When you pull into the Ala Moana Marina in Oahu, there's a guy who announces the name of the boat and every crew member who made the trip…It’s the same guy, and he's been announcing each boat's arrival at the end of every Transpac Race for decades.
Just when we came to the end of our supplies, we sailed across the finish line just off Diamond Head and into the marina. It was a few hours before dawn. It had been sixteen days since we set out from Los Angeles in our little boat knowing very little about navigation. Suddenly, the silence was broken by a booming voice over a loudspeaker announcing the name of our tiny boat …. Then he started announcing the names of our ragtag crew like he was introducing heads of state. One by one he announced all of our names with obvious pride in his voice, and it became a really emotional moment for each of us onboard.
When he came to my name, he didn't talk about how few navigation skills I had, or the zigzag course I'd led us in to get there. He didn't tell everyone I didn't even know which way north was or about all my other mess-ups. Instead, he just welcomed me in from the adventure like a proud father would. When he was done, there was a pause and then in a sincere voice his last words to the entire crew were these: "Friends, it's been a long trip. Welcome home." Because of the way he said it, we all welled up and fought back tears. I wiped my eyes as I reflected in that moment about all the uncertainty that had come with the journey, all the sloppy sailing and how little I knew. But none of that mattered now because we had completed the race.”
I've always thought that heaven might be kind of a similar experience. After we each cross the finish line in our lives, I imagine it will be like floating into the Hawaiian marina when our names were announced, one by one. At the end of our lives, after our many mistakes and midcourse corrections, our loving Heavenly Father will simply say, "Friends, it's been a long trip. Welcome home.”
Share with your group gift-giving you associate with spring.
Share with your group, what you remember about joining the church.
Share with your group how you best hear the voice of Jesus.
Share with your group how you follow Jesus in lifestyle.
Share with your group how you maintain your relationship with Jesus.