Easter 4. St Johns.
Acts 9 v 36 to the end; Rev7.v9 to end, John 10 v 22-30
I am in the Father and the Father is in me; the Father and I are one
Most of us, whatever our political beliefs, would have paused to notice that on Wednesday the funeral of the former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher took place.
We do not know what History, longer term, will make of her legacy. She began her life very humbly, in a town out in the sticks, she was an outsider in the politics of the day; a world of privilege, largely male privilege. In her older years she knew disappointment, betrayal, loss, abandonment , mocking when she apparently failed. You can see that the life of Jesus as a human being has some parallels when viewed simply through the lens of the pervading culture of His day. David Cameron on Wednesday said ‘we are all Thatcherites now’. Emperor Constantine many centuries ago declared ‘We are all Christians now’
Yet we know that whilst Jesus was human, he was also divine. ‘I am in the father and the father is in me; the Father and I are one’.
Our readings today challenge us to think, as we continue our Eastertide, what does it mean to be a Christian now- in a world where frankly, in the developed world, we are on the decline?
The puzzling features for generations of people who did not live through the Thatcher policies is why she evokes such contrary emotions; many of us lived through the hunger strikes which claimed ten Irish Republican lives, the Belfast of a capital city at war with itself , the terrible pictures of hunger as communities struggled without the welfare state to hold on to mining villages; yet also the joy she gave millions who could own their own homes rather than depend on state housing, and so determine their own lives with their own choices. Margaret Thatcher was a person of her times.
Potentially it can be more puzzling for us to explain our faith to our secular friends , through Jesus, whose life on earth two thousand years ago was in a culture of shepherding unknown to modern day Twitter users…Yet Jesus, as the risen Lord, as Christ, is as relevant and accessible now as he was then. Jesus is a man for all seasons and for all times, as the Risen Christ.
‘My sheep know me and follow me’.
I knew a young boy from my childhood who used to be regarded as very weak by his mother, and she would call him a sheep in a pejorative and mocking way. I felt so sorry for him as she bellowed out her contempt for him ’you sheep, ’
Yet to be a sheep in the Christian fold is no weakness because to follow is to place our trust in the great mystery of our faith. In order to trust God we have, to a certain extent, to venture into the unknown, prepared not to seek to control everything ourselves but to allow God, through the Holy Spirit – to lead us. The sheep have to trust in their Shepherd, and follow by faith. How can we develop the courage to do this?
To be sheep in Christ’s’ fold we also have to be the searchers, we have to ask questions, and to be prepared to answer questions too.
It is in Johns Gospel, a Gospel which really does focus on the living dynamic Jesus, through the many stories of personal encounter with Jesus there that the great questions are posed for each of us today as they were two thousand years ago to the first followers .
John‘s statement in the first chapter of his Gospel says ‘What are you looking for?’(1.38)
Later on in Johns Gospel Jesus says ‘Will you also go away? (6.67). Then ‘Do you believe this? (11.26) ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’(13.12) ‘Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know me’ [Philip] (14.9); ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘Who are you looking for? ‘(20.15) and ‘Do you Love me’ (21 15-17)
These questions are for us too, the Easter people today.
We can over time come to know Jesus but we will never be able to know him fully because the search will take our full lifetime, but on the search we will need to change, to turn, to try and offer ourselves as fully as we can in whatever way we can.
In our Readings today we see how the Christian movement survived the death of its leader; Peter carries forward the transforming power of faith. Peter does not do so relying on his own power, but accepts that he is a channel of God’s peace, and healing and Love; the power and the glory is firmly Christ’s. The gift of transforming faith is given to Peter, and we know from the Gospels how he wrestled, and failed and betrayed Jesus on his own journey of faith, reaching a point however where he felt he could trust so much in God, that he was able to heal, and to lead a fledgling church forward which took root and flourished.
The Christian faith therefore goes beyond the human Jesus, it rests critically on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit ; the resurrection was so evident in the first century after his death, that people converted in their thousands and went themselves to a gruesome death and a disrespectful burial, a far cry from what we saw of the Established church last week for Baroness Thatcher, where we saw all the pomp and ceremony of a state funeral in all but name last week.
It is in answering the questions and being prepared to face the questions which sometimes mean we will wrestle with our faith, that will draw us closer in faith. Today we and our church have to find ways to restore brokenness, bring wholeness, healing, justice, encourage faith. Paradoxically it is by persistent questioning and reflection on our answers that we can learn to follow our shepherd more obediently. By following faithfully we too can breathe life into others, because we too are healed and are becoming a new creation, through which the church in our times can find its voice being heard; any success we have is not ours but Gods, because in your unfailing Love o Lord, you lead the people who you have redeemed, who for our sakes hung upon the tree but now is risen from the tomb. Amen