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