Sermons 2003-2004

The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

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Easter 4C 2004 John 10:22-30

Theres a story about a little parish church in a small town in southwest Missouri. On one Sunday morning the children and their Sunday school teacher were talking about Jesus. Did Jesus speak English or Spanish? the children wanted to know. For the most part, their parents speak Spanish as their first language in this agricultural part of the state. Their teachers, for the most part, speak English. The children are pretty good at both languages. So they could only imagine that Jesus must have spoken one or the other, or maybe even both.

That living 2,000 years ago and in a faraway place, Jesus might have spoken some other language, had not even occurred to them. They found it incredible, literally, when the teacher told them that Jesus didnt speak English or Spanish. He spoke Aramaic, and some Hebrew, and maybe some Greek, she said, at least while he was living on this earth.

Although this did not fit in with their world view, the children were relieved to learn that Jesus did, however, understand all languages in all times and in all places and that they could talk to him in English or Spanish (or for that matter, in any other language), and he would know what they were saying.

Lord, hear our prayer, is a familiar petition used in our prayers. But as a matter of fact, God has no trouble hearing our prayer. There is nothing wrong with Gods hearing. God has no need for a hearing aid. (1)

One of the interesting things about the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel according to Saint John, is that, more than the other three gospels, nicknamed the synoptics, it is both a narrative, a commentary on that narrative, and a theological treatise laced throughout. Take todays reading, for example, which has much to do with God hearing and knowing certain things and certain people. And in the same moment of Gods knowing and hearing, should lie our own listening to the voice of God, however it speaks to us.
It starts out as commonplace narrative. The gospel writer gives enough ordinary details to make the story credible. It was winter in Jerusalem and Jesus was taking a walk through the Temple compound in the place called the Portico of Solomon. Jesus finds himself besieged by questioners, both sincere and insincere, both friendly and hostile.

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."

At first glance this is a simple commentary on who Jesus is as Messiah. But more deeply, it sets forth Jesus claim to be the Son of God and not only that, but that there is no distinction of person or being between Jesus and God: I and my Father are one. This is the statement of the first part of the Trinitarian formulation, the first step into the heart of that greatest of theological mysteries.

It also assures us across the 20 centuries that lie between that time and this one that God hears us, we latter day sheep, when we pray, when we speak to and with God, when we are in communication and communion with God. It also sets forth Jesus claim that because he is God he has the ultimate power over life and death. I give them eternal life and they will never perish.

Some of us may have read the charming memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. In telling the story of the last days of Morrie, his old and favorite college professor, Mitch learned the power of the story telling narrative. He has published a new story telling narrative, the five people you meet in heaven.

the five people you meet in heaven is dedicated to his uncle Edward Beitchman, who gave Albom his first concept of heaven. Wrote Albom in his dedication, Everyone has an idea of heaven, as do most religious, and they should all be respected. The version represented here is only a guess, a wish, in some ways that my uncle, and others like him people who felt unimportant here on earth realize finally, how much they mattered and how much they were loved. (2)

In Johns Gospel it is put in various ways, this ultimate relationship with God the Good Shepherd: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (BCP. 332) And : 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. As well as many other places.

The main character in the five people you meet in heaven is Eddie, the head maintenance man at Ruby Pier on the Jersey Shore. Ruby Pier is an entertainment park built out over the Atlantic Ocean. Eddies father had the job before Eddie. His father died at 51; Eddie dies at 83 trying to save a ten year old girl from being crushed by a runaway cart on one of the rides.

Eddie wakes up in heaven where he meets five people from his past whose task is to teach Eddie two things: what heaven is all about, and, what meaning his own life had for others. The first was the Blue Man, a Ruby Park freak show person whose death Eddie inadvertently caused and about which Eddie knew nothing until his arrival at the first place he went in heaven.

Eddie cannot speak but the Blue Man hears his thoughts. He tells Eddie that it is what everyone faces at first in heaven: Your voice will come. We all go through the same thing. You cannot talk when you first arrive.It helps you listen. Said Jesus: My sheep hear my voice.
The third person whom Eddie meets in heaven is Ruby, for whom the Ruby Pier was named years before Eddie was born. In the course of their conversation, Eddie remembers all the family funerals he had attended during his long 83 years, polishing his black dress shoes, finding his hat, standing in a cemetery with the same despairing question: Why are they gone and Im still here? His mother. His brother. His aunts and uncles. His buddy Noel. Marguerite. One day, the priest would say, we will all be together in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Where were they then, if this was heaven? Eddie studied this strange older woman. He felt more alone than ever.

Can I see Earth? he whispered?
She shook her head no.
Can I talk to God?
You can always do that.

The fourth person Eddie meets in heaven is Marguerite, his wife who died of cancer when she was forty-seven. Eddie lived to be almost twice as old, and missed her greatly and loved her deeply for the rest of time. He spent a lot of time in conversation with her in heaven, At one point, he asked his wife if God knew he was here. She smiled and said, Of course, even when Eddie admitted that some of his life had been spent hiding from God, and the rest of the time he thought he went unnoticed. (2)
I know my sheep, said Jesus.
I leave it to you to read about the second and fifth people Eddie meets in heaven and what happens at the end. Even though Albom says that every one has an idea of heaven, in the end they may differ only in detail. That is part of what we are about.
A last story: It has many parallels to the larger outline of what happens to Eddie as he progresses through the five people he meets in heaven. Its about a man who came back from a religious retreat having learned a way of praying with scripture. It was first to read through a short passage of scripture slowly and prayerfully. Second was to read it several times, if necessary. The third step was to take a piece of paper and write, Dear God, and tell God what you think this passage is about. The fourth was to start a new paragraphand rite, Dear , and put your own name in the blank. Then put down your pen and be quiet. Just listen to what God might have to say. And finally, when there seems to be nothing more, take up your pen again and write. Youll be surprised at what God might say to you. (1)
But then we usually are, arent we?

1. From The Rev. Barbara Beam in Sermon for May 2, 2004 - Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year C at Worship that Works/Selected Sermons,

2. Mitch Albom, the five people you meet in heaven, Hyperion Books, 2003, frontispiece dedication, pp. 34-35, 111-112, 171.