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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Speak Plainly To Us - 04/17/2016

“Speak plainly to us, Jesus. Are you the Messiah or not?”

For us reading this story at this time, some 2,000 years after the crucifixion, in our season of Easter when the news of the empty tomb is still pretty fresh in our ears, it may seem like a pretty strange demand the Jewish leaders are making of Jesus.

I mean what else do they want? John the Baptist had clearly recognized that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and didn't hold back in telling everyone he could. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29b) He proclaimed it so much that he was eventually killed for the Way he was working so hard to prepare.

At this point in the Gospel of John's account of Jesus' ministry on earth, many have witnessed signs at Jesus' hand, like the turning of water into wine during the Wedding at Cana. Jesus has healed people who seemed impossibly beyond healing. He's walked on water. He's fed multitudes with meager resources. His teachings have opened up the scriptures in new ways to all who would listen.

Many people have witnessed these things and even more have heard the testimony of these witnesses. And many, many people have come to believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. But there are still those who are not sure, who cannot seem to hear what it is Jesus is saying.

Jesus himself has used different ways to explain that he is the Messiah. “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world.” “Before Abraham was, I am.”

On what we often call “Good Shepherd Sunday” in our season of Easter, Jesus is returning to another way of explaining this to those who gather around for his teaching on the porch of Solomon's temple – whether they are there  to learn from him or find reasons to condemn him. He's been teaching at the synagogues of Jerusalem for some time now and he's used this analogy before.

“Speak plainly to us, Jesus. Are you the Messiah or not?” the leaders ask him.

“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.”

So let's unpack this short bit of John's gs[e; we have today. First of all, it's pretty clear that Jesus is a little frustrated at repeatedly being asked who he is and then repeatedly answering that question. He reminds me of a parent of a toddler who asks the same question over and over. The parent tries so hard to answer calmly and with as much love as he can muster until finally he just hits some limit on patience. “How many times do I have to answer that question!?” The Jewish leaders are most certainly testing Jesus' patience here.

And then Jesus says something that some may think is really out of character. “...you do not believe me, because you do not belong to my sheep.” I wrestled with this response for awhile because it almost seems like Jesus is saying that God has already decided some people belong to Jesus and some not and that flies in the face of our overall faith that Jesus died for the sake of all of creation.

But I think Jesus is recognizing that some people just cannot hear what he is saying at that moment. It doesn't mean they will never be in that fold. As we said  in our recent First Communion class, even the grumpy people are gathered up by Jesus when he comes again.

Evidence within the Gospel of John shows us this change not only takes place, but that is is God's will that this happens. Consider the case of Nicodemus, one of the Jewish leaders in John's Gospel. We he first enters the story he comes to Jesus cloaked in the secrecy of the night, seeking answers, seeking Jesus. Despite the reluctance of the Jewish leaders to hear what Jesus is saying and to recognize him as the fulfillment of the scriptures they have been teaching, Nicodemus is beginning to see, he is beginning to believe. And he seems to speak for a number of Jewish leaders. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” (3.2b) And from there, Nicodemus begins his transformation to a believer, to one of Jesus' flock. When we see him again, he is making a case for Jesus among his peers. And when we meet Nicodemus for the last time in John's gospel, he has fully emerged from the darkness and secrecy of that first meeting as he and others take the crucified Son of God to the tomb in broad daylight. It is a bold testimony to who Jesus really is.

But it took awhile for Nicodemus to hear what Jesus was saying, it took awhile for him to become one of the sheep and respond to Jesus' voice.

I think we can perhaps recognize ourselves here. Even if we say we are confident that we recognize the sound of Jesus' voice – but we may also be more like the Jewish leaders some days. I know I certainly can relate to those who struggle to hear the voice of Jesus above all the other voices that come my way in this life. Voices that condemn me for the mistakes I make. Voices that try to convince me that I'm not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, beautiful enough.

I am probably more like the doubtful Jewish leaders when I, in my own way, demand “Speak plainly to me Jesus. If you are truly the Messiah and have really ushered the Kingdom of God into creation, then why is there still so much pain in the world? Why must this world always look for groups of “others” to vilify and blame? Why do some relationships seem so hopelessly broken? Why do children die and why do so many of our elders suffer endless loneliness? Why cancer? Why hate and violence? Why?” I confess to you that I do have days like this.

And then Jesus, usually in a gentle way, answers my “who are you?” questions through scripture, through the love and care of others, through the bread and the wine … until I can hear the Shepherd's voice more clearly again.

As I've thought about this story this week, my mind has continued to return to the 9 o'clock siren we hear in Munising every night. When we first moved here, this siren confused me, frankly, once I figured out there wasn't a house fire or paper mill accident every night promptly at nine. So I finally had to do a little research to find out what its purpose was. A quick Google search answered my question and I found out it used to be the curfew, but now it's more just a tradition that the locals like. So for me, it didn't really mean anything except that … and maybe a reminder to let the dog out.

But that has all changed recently as a growing number of us here at Eden and throughout Munising have started using the sound of the 9 o'clock siren as a call to prayer for peace … peace in our individual lives and families, peace in our nation, peace in our world. More and more people seem to be drawn into this fold so that these days, when I hear that siren go off, my heart is filled with hope for this world just by knowing that I and Larry and so many others are taking a moment to stop whatever it is we were doing and lift our prayers for peace to God. “Make the way to peace plain, God,” I often pray. “And make me an instrument of that peace.”

I think the 9 o'clock siren for world peace is one very powerful way that we put our flesh and blood into what Jesus says about us in our story today. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” For me, and I think many others now, that 9 o'clock siren has been transformed into the voice of Jesus calling us be his light in the world. Calling us to life forevermore through the redeeming grace of the Good Shepherd, no matter what brokenness or disease or voices of condemnation may call out to us as we make our way through this life. It calls us to keep this story alive, to keep inviting people to join us around the table and the font so they too can hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. It calls us to testify that Jesus and God are one and in the Good Shepherd we hear the resurrection promise, the promise that not even death can snatch us away from God and the victory won for us by God's son, Jesus Christ, who is quite plainly, the Messiah.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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