"Brutiful" – 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 meant to talk about stewardship today – the financial kind, I mean. Our General Fund commitment Sunday is coming up on May 1st, and over the course of the next couple of weeks, leading up to that, I hope to get us all thinking and praying and making plans about our money – why we have it, why we give it, the work it does in and around and for the church, the way sharing our money blesses us as much as it does the church and the world, and so on. I even had some good ideas about this Gospel and hearing Jesus’ voice; about faithful sheep who follow what God asks of us to do with our money; about doing the works of Jesus in God’s name, and so on.
But then this week happened.
Someone from our congregation is in danger of losing their home; someone else has lost a job; others continue to search for work.
Many of us keep praying for sick kids and loved ones for whom cures can’t come soon enough.
I know of a young mother waiting with all kinds of sadness and anxiety for what seems like the inevitable loss of a pregnancy.
I heard this week that 70 people were killed by guns in just one 72 hour period in this country.
North Korea just developed a bigger, better, further-reaching weapon of mass-destruction.
An earthquake destroyed Japan.
And, all most people seem to want to talk about is the whole Donald Cruz. Hillary Sanders circus, or whatever all of that is.
So, despair and frustration seem to be the order of the day…every day; or at least more days than not, these days.
So, “away with sermons on financial stewardship,” I thought, “we have bigger fish to fry.” And my inclination – my desire, anyway – is to try to prove something to the contrary about all of our bad news; to undo all of the really good reasons we have to ask hard questions and to harbor strong doubts and fears, even in these days so soon after Easter. And so my head and heart go searching for some evidence to combat it all. And it’s out there. You can find it if you look.
Thanks to the work of a few faithful Cross of Gracers, that home-foreclosure I mentioned a moment ago has been postponed.
The young mother whose pregnancy is failing received a prayer shawl – and the prayers that came with it mattered for her.
We are baptizing babies like crazy around here. We’ve had nine since Easter Sunday, one more this morning, for little Lindy Harrison, and a couple of others in the hopper. These are people and parents – in spite of all sorts of reason not to – who are affirming faith and stepping into the promises of God’s love as a sign and celebration and embrace of gratitude that God is up to something new and holy and different in their lives.
But bear with me, because all of this is more than “looking at the bright side,” or “searching for silver linings,” or “turning lemons into lemonade.” I don’t mean this is simple or easy or warm-and-fuzzy in any way. Which brings me to today’s Gospel.
What Jesus does today Gospel is something we don’t always recognize unless someone points it out. What Jesus does is step into the middle of the world’s news – the good, the bad, and the ugly of the world’s news – very deliberately. See, John’s Gospel doesn’t tell us, just for the sake of it, that Jesus is strolling through Solomon’s Portico.
John’s Gospel wants us to know Jesus is walking around in the Portico of Solomon because this porch – somewhere on the east side of the Temple – was the place from which the King would pronounce judgment and justice upon his subjects, back in the day. And not only that, but Jesus was there during the Festival of Dedication, when believers celebrated the temple’s annual, formal, ritualistic consecration and blessing.
So along comes Jesus, stepping into all of this history; this one who, not long before, had declared himself a new “Temple,” of sorts. During this holy time for that worldly “temple,” then comes a different kind of “temple” God would re-build just three days after the world tried to destroy it. In other words, the “temple” of Jesus Christ was strolling around in the “temple” – in the Portico of Solomon, to be specific – so that into this place of earthly judgment and worldly justice strolls the very presence of true justice; faithful justice; righteous justice; loving justice in the likes of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
And this is our good news. This is our Gospel. This is our comfort and joy and calling and challenge in these days. And again, this is not a greeting card. This is not easy. This is not meant to be some warm and fuzzy response to whatever struggle or sadness we face – because I don’t have answers for all of the despair and fear and disappointment that bombard us from one day to the next.
But I’m encouraged to see Jesus step into the middle of it all to proclaim and promise and become something different. And because of Jesus, I’m challenged to be something better and holy and different, myself; to be something hopeful and gracious and merciful, when I’m able; to step into the mix of the despair and darkness that surrounds me, and to be something forgiving and loving and patient and just, in spite of that.
It’s why we are the Church in the world – and it’s why we are the Church right here at Cross of Grace, together, too. It’s why we worship and pray and tell what we know of grace. And yes, it’s why we share our money and our resources and ourselves, however we’re able. All of this is who and how each of us is called to be. It’s what we’re about as sheep who know the voice of the one who calls us out of the darkness and into the world.
And life in this world can be brutal. There’s no denying that. There’s no escaping that. There’s no fixing that anytime soon, as far as I can tell.
Frederick Buechner, a pastor and theologian said once, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Glennon Doyle Melton, of Momastery fame, a mother and theologican in her own right, who I know many of you are familiar with, calls the mess of it all “brutiful” – as “beautiful” as it is “brutal.” But they aren’t the first to notice or to name it or to call the mess of this world what it is.
Because Jesus knew, too… God knows… life in the world can be as hard as it is holy a lot of the time. And I’ve come to believe those two things – hard and holy – aren’t mutually exclusive. Because into the hard stuff comes Jesus, at one with the Father, calling us all out of the darkness and into the light, like so many sheep, longing for a voice we can follow.
We’re scared sometimes. We’re lost sometimes. We’re hurting and broken and shaken, on occasion. But we follow because there is beauty to be seen and shared, too. And there is generosity, and justice, and peace, and hope. And a lot of the time we are called to be those things – generous, just, peaceable, and full of hope, I mean. We are the ones called to be and to bring the beauty, in spite of the ugly that surrounds us.
As believers, as followers, as faithful ones – even when that faith waivers and gives way, more often than we’d like – we’re called to bear witness to the light, to bring the beauty, to bear the beautiful, and to share grace with all creation in the name of this Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who promises never to let us be snatched away from the love of our creator.