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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

John 10:22-30 Are you the Christ? Shepherd/One
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
May 2, 2004

How can Jesus walk the earth and talk of God, pray to God, and at the same time BE God? "I and the Father are one," he tells the people who are already divided over him. Some say he's crazy, or possessed by demons, or both. Others say a demon couldn't do the good works of healing that he does, but he can't be what he says he is. Either way, the bottom line remains -- he's a flesh and blood human being just like them. And flesh and blood human beings aren't One with God, no matter how good or how crazy they appear to be.

Since the first Christmas, when Herod tried to send wise men as spies, Jesus has been a problem. Since the first Easter, when he appeared to some of his followers, but not all -- Jesus has been a problem. As much as he preached love and peace, his words -- his very presence is a problem. He's a problem for good religious people who wonder why did he have to die. He's a problem for bad religious people who wonder why unfaithful people have to live. Jesus himself said he'd be trouble when he told us, "Don't think that I've come to bring peace on earth. I didn't come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matt 10:34) And ever since, flesh and blood human beings have been more than willing to take up that sword. Jesus is a problem.

So what do we say to friends and neighbors who disagree with us over the meaning of Jesus? "Father, forgive them, for they know not how annoying they are?" "Unclean! Unclean! A pox on your houses?" "Die, you wretched heathen?" And if Christians can't agree on Jesus and how best to understand him, what do we say to people of other faiths? "Sorry, it's a Christian thing. You wouldn't understand?" Yuck. I hope not.

This man Jesus, this God Jesus, this Holy Spirit-giving Jesus -- he's a problem. And he's a problem that's not going to go away. That's the good news. But for us flesh and blood human beings trying to make sense of faith, the universe, and road construction on I-40, the good news is also the bad news. The solution to our problems is a problem to our solutions. Or something like that. The easiest part of today's scripture might be the question they asked Jesus: "How long will you make us wonder? Tell us plainly." Amen to that one, brother. Jesus remains a problem, a problem we have to live with, but a problem we can live with, too.


I went back to St. Anselm, the Archbishop of Canturbury, who wrote a book in 1089 AD, "Why God Became Man." (Probably the most influential book ever written on Christ. If you search on Google you can find it for free. Perhaps Dr. Gant can teach it some semester in Sunday School.) I was glad to find that in his preface, the good St. Anselm wrote in Latin, "Ipsum est capitomum acetomenaphum," which means, "this is hard stuff that can give you a headache." Actually what he really said was, "You ask of me a thing which is above me, and therefore I tremble to take in hand subjects too lofty for me." He must not have trembled too much, though, because he went on to write a few thousand words that became almost as important as the Bible in the history of the church.

Anselm describes how human beings were created for communion with God. But we offend God with our sin. Our sin keeps us from submitting to the authority of God's will. God being infinitely just, demands justice in the flesh. And so God became a man, both fully human and fully God, so that God's justice and God's commandments might be shown in fullness. It's a both-and proposition. Jesus is both God and human. That OUGHT to be hard to understand. It's something completely beyond us. And yet it's also something that's part of us, so that we can believe some of the things we can't understand.

People die for one another every day. It's a tragedy. But if the cause is noble, the tragic can be redemptive. These people can't save us from our sins, but they can inspire us. And maybe because of their inspiration we'll set some of our sins aside.

But God didn’t became human just to inspire us to be better; God became human because even at our best, there are limits to our inspiration. There are limits to self-redemption. We can't outrun temptation. We can't over-improve our virtue. We can't and won't ever measure up to the image in which God created us.

And so God became a man who chose obedience over life. Jesus was human, but he was also God; he showed us how God really is. God is dedicated to justice. God is dedicated to love. God is dedicated to restoring us to full communion. So the tragedy and suffering of Jesus Christ become redemptive in that God does for us what we won’t do ourselves. God allows justice to be executed on the flesh and blood of God’s own Son. For our sakes, God becomes human and the impossible isn't so impossible anymore.

That’s just a thumbnail sketch of St. Anselm’s masterpiece. To me the gist of the message is, God became human because we needed him to. God loves us because God needs to. And if we’re ever going to eat and drink and live with God it’s not going to be because we’ve made ourselves worthy of having supper at the big folks’ table. God has fixed it so it’s OK for God to pull out a chair and invite us share a heavenly feast.


They gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you don’t believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you don’t believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.

(In the next verse) the response of the people is to pick up stones and try to send Jesus back to the Father ahead of schedule. This is hard stuff that can give you a headache, or worse. But it’s also the good stuff that can give us peace.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” In the great cosmic scheme, we may look like little critters on the face of a little planet, but as the kids sang this morning, we are God’s little critters. And if God says so, who are we to argue? Peace comes from knowing, or at least believing, that as Jesus and the Father are one, we’re also children of that One God, the maker of heaven and earth, the maker and redeemer.

Sooner or later, though, if you walk the face of this little planet for more than say, thirty minutes, you’re going to run into people who will challenge your faith, and who’ll put your peace of mind to the test. They may be amoral, atheistic, aliens armed with lasers. But chances are they’ll be more like you than you’d care to admit. A member of your family. A member of your church. A kid at school. A co-worker. The Bible passage today doesn’t tell us exactly what to say to the wayward sheep of the Flock of Irritation. But the passage does give us a good negative example of what not to do. Picking up stones and chasing them away is most always a bad idea. Because one of those annoying sheep might be – and most assuredly is – one of God’s own flock.

The biggest problem with Jesus isn’t that he doesn’t tell us exactly how he and the Father are One. It’s a problem, but we can go on living pretty faithfully without understanding all the mental calculus. The biggest problem with Jesus is that he doesn’t tell us exactly where his pasture ends, or begins. Shepherd Jesus doesn’t build fences. His flock – and other flocks – are free to mix in with each other, sinners with the saints. So after a couple of generations, it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other. Want to know what a sinner looks like? Look in the mirror.

The peace of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, is the peace of knowing that however mixed up you may be, you belong body and soul to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Lord is your shepherd. Listen for his voice and watch for his miracles. And if a problem of faith comes your way, keep right on listening. Keep right on watching. And put down the stones before you hurt someone.