Posted on Sun, Apr 21, 2013
April 21, 2013
Fourth Sunday in Easter
Gospel Text: John 10:22-33 “No Altar, No Worship”
Jesus Is Rejected by the Jews
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 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.’ 25 Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.’
31 The Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ 33 The Jews answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.’
Traditionally, this Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The more common text we would use to talk about Jesus as our “Good Shepherd comes from Luke 15:1-7, and we would add the parable of the “Lost Coin” for good measure. Each parable talks about using the metaphor of Jesus as that brave shepherd that leaves the 99 sheep in order to find the one lost little lamb that has wondered off from the herd. I love to preach on that text because it allows me to talk about the real life of the shepherd in Jesus’ day and it also allows me to get really animated… I’m not going to talk about that today. I want to narrow in on that text where Jesus says, “27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.’”
There are many of you, if not all of you have shown to me that that you understand this text from the bottom of your heart; not by knowledge or understanding, but by pure unexplainable faith that is made manifest through the difficult and joyful experiences of your life. I see it in your eyes every Sunday when you come to circle around this Holy Table, the altar, to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I know a whole lot of issues, good and bad, that are affecting the lives of our members as well as many others outside of our faith community that causes them to reach out their hands every week and look to me to ‘give them that food that satisfies beyond all understanding!’
The Pharisees in this text are not looking for Jesus as their spiritual leader, but they are looking at Jesus with eyes that see Jesus purely as a threat to their very way of life and of course their religious society. They are not looking and listening to Jesus with eyes and ears of faith, he has become an enemy to their way of life, and they are actively looking for any excuse to charge him with a crime demanding the punishment of crime.
On the other hand, many of us come to this Holy House, with eyes that are genuinely looking to see Jesus himself. We come to this Holy Place with expectant and faithful ears that are yearning to hear the very words of Grace and Mercy that only Jesus could give us.
We come as one of those sheep Jesus is talking about. Something deep within our bellies knows when Jesus is calling. When we allow ourselves to be in a quiet place, we know when Jesus is calling, instructing, leading or maybe even correcting us like a Good Shepherd would do in order to keep us safe and out of danger.
When we enter our sanctuary, if we look carefully at the furnishings we use in order to “do worship,” we will notice a few objects that connect us very physically to our spiritual ancestors of the past; and the objects themselves proclaim to us what God has done throughout Bible times.
It is easier to understand what I am talking about in older sanctuaries, like the beautiful St. Andrews cathedral, where the sanctuary layout has some rudimentary similarities to the Temple in Jesus’ day. However, in our sanctuary, we connect ourselves to our ancient ancestors through a few very special objects. I want to point out three things.
First of all, in almost all traditional sanctuaries, we have a place that is set apart to be a place from where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed; this is called a ‘pulpit.’ In other churches there is a separate and similar looking object called a ‘lectern.’ From the lectern we hear the scripture or other announcements, but it is from the pulpit, that the Gospel is proclaimed through a special talk called a ‘sermon.’ What is the difference between a ‘sermon’ and a ‘talk?’ A sermon MUST proclaim the unconditional grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If this grace-filled message is missing, it is only a lecture or a talk. We have a more modern and simple design, and we have combined both the pulpit and lectern. Some traditionalists would grumble, but if they had to move these objects around everyday, they would see how wise you were to combine these objects.
The image of a ‘pulpit’ comes from phrases like “God’s Word must be proclaimed from the highest mountaintop!” There is this image of Charlton Heston, better known as Moses or the prophets, speaking God’s word from a very special and considered ‘holy’ place. That is why in many older churches, the pulpit is put in a raised position.
Second is our Cross; it is from the Cross of Christ all the sins, pain, doubt and suffering were laid upon Jesus’ shoulders as he was hung between heaven and earth until he had breathed his last and the cost of our sin, was paid through the death of Christ. It was also from that moment that all same sins, pain, doubt and suffering of the future were covered in the blood of Christ, and all the time following the Cross of Christ belonged to Christ forever and ever.
Notice that our cross is empty, it is not a crucifix. In many Roman Catholic and even a few Lutheran Churches you may find a crucifix. Sometimes it may be healthy for us to cast our eyes on an image of a suffering Christ. Jesus was real, the cross was real, the pain and blood were real… his death was real. But his resurrection was also just as real; that is why we have an empty cross. Our cross proclaims to us that we are an Easter People living, in the promise that Jesus has truly risen from the dead, and is now living among and within all of us.
And that brings us to one of the most neglected and forgotten pieces of ecclesiastical furniture; there is… that is our altar.
Many of you have been to one of those modern, New Hope-kind of churches. Did you ever notice, that in their public school cafeteria sanctuaries, there probably is no altar, no pulpit only some kind of podium that is often transparent, and in many cases not even a Cross. Why? I don’t want to sound cynical or crass, but many of those groups don’t want to talk about the truth that God did suffer and die for our sins, and those objects reinforce the truth that we worship a “suffering servant God.” Dr. Terry Fretheim wrote a wonderful book on this fact. It appears that the church marketing departments have done away with many of the traditions that connect us to our Biblical roots.
Jesus says, “His sheep know his voice,” and this is most certainly true. But when we look to the altar we need to understand its purpose and usage to the people of Israel all throughout the Old Testament. It was upon the altar that people would bring their sacrifice to God for penitence, or just to honor God as their One and True God. Atonement was witnessed when they would sacrifice a pure lamb on the altar. This sounds grisly and almost perverted to our modern ears, but put yourself in their sandals. In their heart of hearts, the prophets made it clear that as humans and people called by God to be God’s Chosen People, the people of faith were not stupid, they knew that at times they had fallen short of the demands of their powerful, yet merciful God. We look back and say, “Jesus died for my sins! Cool! There’s nothing for me to do!!” But the people of the Old Testament didn’t have to Jesus to give thanks to for, and a means of casting their sins and doubt upon. We too, are not any different than the people depicted in the stories of the Old Testament.
We still need a place upon which we can lay our burdens, our fears, our doubts, even our hopes upon and be made free. We need a place where we can offer all of our humanness and brokenness to God, and know that God will take them from us, and bring us back to wholeness… This is our altar. In the Old Testament, there was a lamb, in the age of Easter People, there too is a lamb, but it is the Lamb of God witnessed and experienced in the bread and wine placed upon our altar each and every Sunday. The bread and the wine IS Jesus sacrificed, or GIVEN, “for you!”
The greatest honor I have as a pastor is to proclaim the Gospel “for you,” the gift of baptism bestowed upon us through the Water and Word, “for you,” and to give you the Bread and Wine, which is the true Body and Blood of Christ, which is given, “for you.”
From upon our simple yet beautiful koa wood altar, we receive the very food our hearts and soul long to be fed by, and I can see it in your eyes every Sunday. If you are not fully participating in a tribe and not taking the opportunity of serving communion, YOU ARE MISSING OUT ON ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES YOU CAN HAVE!
Through the Good News of hearing that through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we know that we have been saved. Through the bread and the wine, through the body and blood we are fed and strengthened through a Holy Feast.
We worship around the Cross of Christ, and the Altar that holds the Lamb of Christ! Let us Rejoice and be Glad! Amen.
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