It is odd, in the midst of Easter season, to be thrust back into the life and times of Jesus as he walks purposefully toward Jerusalem and his death, to hear again his words, not as the Risen Lord, but as the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, castigating those in power, telling stories that no one can really understand.
But this is where we are on this 4th Sunday of Easter. No resurrection story for us this day: Rather, a return to the teachings of Jesus, the teaching of the Good Shepherd, of Jesus being both the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold.
Now, we could spend our time today looking at what it means to be a sheep – are they dumb or smart? Dependent or independent? – and how that makes us feel, and how we really don’t know much about sheep anymore, because we are not an agrarian society and we don’t have sheep wandering our streets and fields.
We can spend our time concentrating on out what it means to be led, to have someone
(the Risen Lord?) calling us – by name — and leading us through our lives. We can spend our time together this morning figuring out what it looks like, what it feels like, to follow the Risen Lord so closely that we practically step on his heels, and how the Risen Lord leads us to life abundant (or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, to “real and eternal life, more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of”).
In this Easter season, we are called to focus on just what a risky business it is to do that which God has commanded us: to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, and how risky it is to do what Jesus commanded us: to love one another as he loved us. And believe me, living as the Risen Lord calls us to live is very risky indeed .
Start with being called. We all know what it means to be called, don’t we? To be called by name?
Because someone is calling us all the time.
Every day of our lives, we hear the siren song that beguiles us, that beckons us …
To get ahead.
To leave others behind.
To spend, spend, spend … buy, buy, buy!
Every single day, someone out there tells us that we need this new thing or that new thing, that our lives will be incomplete unless we forsake all else to get that particular thing of the day. Do we buy an iPhone 4 or wait for the iPhone 5? Do we get the iPad 2? Or the latest Xbox?
Every single day, someone out there tells us that if we would just do this one little thing – fudge a little on our taxes (“no one will know”) … ignore pleas for help from strangers (“someone else will help her”) … beg off caring for a friend (“she’ll be all right”) – if we would just do that, we will get ahead in the world.
Every single day, we hear the message that if we just work harder, or do this one extra task, or this one little favor, or get this one more promotion, or defeat this one other enemy, we will be able to rest secure.
So we know what it means to be called … because someone is always calling us to stray from the paths of righteousness that the Risen Lord asks us to tread.
Turn your back on all of that, plug your ears so you can’t hear or don’t pay attention to those calls, and listen instead to what the Risen Lord has to say, and trust me, the world will tell you you’re wrong. You’re crazy. You’re a loser. You’re just like one of those people who thinks the Rapture really is going to happen next Saturday, and that the end of the world is coming in October.
In this world today, in which something like 20 percent of us have more than enough … way more than enough … and 80 percent have nowhere near enough in their lives … enough water, enough food, enough medicine, enough education, enough work, enough money, enough security … it is risky to lead lives of love, instead of hate; to help instead of harm; to share instead of hoard; to give instead of take.
In our society, we aren’t supposed to love wildly, radically, inexplicably and eternally. Far too much of our society is focused on hating someone, on not trusting anyone, on labeling people (Unpatriotic? Un-American? Liberal? Conservative? Left? Right?), on dividing people.
But the Risen Lord, who died for us – for each of us – and who was raised for all of us – didn’t teach us to live like that. He taught us to love. Wildly. Radically. Inexplicably. Eternally.
Society tells us not to live, not to love, like this. But the Risen Lord is calling us, beckoning us, leading us into exactly this kind of life.
This is the Easter season, my friends, when we focus on the fact that God loves us so much that he destroyed death – he demolished death! – so that we can have abundant life! So that we can have lives so much better than anything we ever dreamed of!
Our lives are not supposed to be focused on how much stuff we have, on how many things we can buy, or who has the most toys when they die!
Abundant life isn’t about stuff!
It’s about loving.
It’s about giving.
It’s about caring.
Think about it: What would our world look like if we dared to follow the voice of the Risen Lord, each and every day of our lives?
If we were to focus not on ourselves, but on each other?
Even if those others are people whom we do not know, do not see, have never met and probably never will meet.
• • •
I have been reading a lot lately about how the Church needs to change – not just to adapt to changes in society, but to change how it goes about its business. We are a Church that came into its glory through the Roman Empire, which once despised Christianity and then catapulted it to the religion of the Empire. Our vestments, our hierarchy, the way we do business – far too much of it has been based on the glory days of old.
Now, many voices are crying for us to make straight the crooked paths in the wilderness so that we can bring about this new way of life, a life focused on loving each other as Jesus loved us.
This new life means that we are going to have to do exactly what Jesus did: Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, cure the sick, proclaim the Good News that God indeed does love us, the Good News that sets us free from the fetters of a society that doesn’t care enough, that doesn’t love enough.
We are being called out of the tombs of our lives so that we can have this new, abundant life right here, right now!
I know, I know … it is much safer for us to stay home. To do things the way we’ve always done them. To listen to the siren song of society.
But there is another voice out there, another song being sung for us, a song that calls each of us. By name. Right now:
Come. Follow me.
Love one another as I have loved you.
This other song is being sung by the Risen Lord, who seeks to shepherd our lives along paths of righteousness, so that we do not simply survive what life throws at us but thrive in the goodness of the Lord. When we listen to that song, when we allow the Risen Lord to be our shepherd, we find new meaning in our lives. We thrive. We have purpose. We find fulfillment. We know, and we are known. We accept, and we are accepted. We love, and we are loved.
I don’t know about you, but I can tell you that I’m willing to take the risk of following the Risen Lord on the paths of righteousness if it means I will thrive … be fulfilled … be known … be accepted … and most of all, be loved.
That’s a risk I am more than willing to take.
Anyone else want to engage in some risky business?
Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2011, Year A, at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Montpelier, Va.
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message (NavPress Publishing Group, 1993), John 1:10.
 Paraphrased from Sarah Dylan Breuer, Dylan’s Lectionary Blog: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A, on www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2005/04/fourth_sunday_o.html, 12 April 2005.
 Paraphrase of Professor David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., Abundant Life, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=475, 8 May 2011.