Who do I say that I am?

Sermons

Preached by The Reverend Paul D. Allick on 4th Sunday of Easter (Sunday, May 7, 2017)

John 10:1-10

 

Once in college I was visiting a tiny Episcopal congregation. After liturgy they were to meet with the Canon to the Ordinary to discuss their search for a part-time vicar. I was invited to stay. The Canon asked them to describe the kind of priest they were looking for. When they had finished their quite lengthy description, the Canon responded, “So what I am hearing is that you would like Jesus Christ to be your part-time vicar.”

 

It is natural for us to hope that our leaders, religious or civic, will be all things for all people. Of course, Jesus is all things to all people by just being himself.

 

Today Jesus identifies himself as both the shepherd and the gate. These images comfort us. Jesus knows us by name, meets our needs, protects us and leads unto eternal life.

 

In the Gospel of John we find the “I am sayings” of Jesus:  I am the bread of life (6:35, 48, 51). I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5). I am the door of the sheep (10:7, 9). I am the good shepherd (10:11, 14).  I am the resurrection and the life (11:25). I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6). I am the true vine (15:1).

 

Many of these images are used in Hebrew Scriptures to describe the LORD God. Jesus’ contemporaries were most likely startled to hear him referring to himself this way.

 

In the Good News according to Matthew (16:15) and Mark (8:29) Jesus asks his apostles, “Who do people say that I am?” and then “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus wants to see if they understand who he is.

 

Jesus already knows who he is because he is following God’s will in a perfectly holistic and mature manner. To truly follow God’s will requires constant prayer and self-examination. To follow God’s will one has to intimately understand themselves, their motivations, their strengths and scars. God is in Christ showing us how to do just that. He is showing us how to become whole.

 

Jesus says, “I am.” This was the name God gave to Moses, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). This isn’t like saying “that’s just the way I am” as an excuse for negative habits or behavior. It is saying, “I know fundamentally who I am. I am at peace with God and others because I am at peace with myself. I am.”

 

This is why Jesus gives the impression that he is all things to all people. But he is much more than that. A good shepherd is not all things to all people; a good shepherd knows who they are and why they respond the way they do. This helps them respond to others with peace and justice.  

 

Jesus led a group who were in and out of moments of serious anxiety. Imagine the fears and wonderment that went along with following this man identifying with God. Leadership is always challenging but when it is done during stressful, unknown times it becomes imperative for shepherds to know themselves and to help establish healthy boundaries and procedures.

 

Rabbi and family therapist Edward Friedman, in his book “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” posited that all leaders in modern America are leading in an age of anxiety. He argued that ours is a society in regression. We in the mainline Church have spent the past few decades with increasing levels of anxiety as we shrink and the world around us rapidly changes. And of course we see the ever expanding fretful reactivity in our civic life. Indeed over the past decades our politics have become both extremely reactive and miserably ineffective.

 

A chronically anxious system whether a religious body, a family or a nation has major effects on leadership characteristics.

 

Rabbi Friedman contends that in a highly reactive system, automatic responses and uproars over perceived slights leads to boundary erosion, exaggeration of extremes, ad hominem retorts, and a loss of resiliency and playfulness. Leaders become indecisive because, tyrannized by sensibilities, they function to soothe rather than challenge and to seek peace rather than progress.

 

Rabbi Friedman asserts that stress is not due to hard work. Stress is due to becoming responsible for the relationships of others. And communication does not depend on one’s choice of words and how one articulates them but on emotional variables such as direction, distance, and anxiety.

 

We are all shepherds of something. We are shepherds of our jobs, our relationships, and our lives. We can learn a lot from Rabbi Friedman but even more so from Rabbi Jesus on how to be a good shepherd.

 

I hold this scripture as a useful example of a good shepherd in stressful times. It is from the fourth chapter of Luke (25-30). Jesus has just said something incendiary again. The people in the synagogue where he is teaching are filled with rage. Their anxiety rises and they react, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” He walked through all that reactivity unscathed because he knew who he was and where God wanted him to end up.

 

 

Reference: A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

Seabury Books, 1999, 2007 Kindle edition.

Chapters 2 and 5