What do we mean when we say ‘God’?

Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday, 3rd after Easter, Year B, 2021

1 John 3

John 10

‘What do we mean when we say ‘God’’?

The Sundays between Easter and Pentecost are properly taken up with a struggle – struggling to come to terms with the resurrection. ‘Christ is Risen!’ we loudly, perhaps even joyfully proclaim. Perhaps like Thomas we doubt. And that is not wrong, for if Christ is Risen, then what? If Christ is Risen from the dead, then how we look at and understand the world is seriously wrong, and if the way we understand the world is wrong then the way we live in the world is wrong . . .

What’s more if as we pondered last week, Jesus the True Human is bodily raised from the dead – if having passed through death he walks and talks and eats fish – then what does it mean to be Human?

And as we considered a couple of weeks ago, if Jesus in his Deity is crucified, what does that mean about what we mean when we say ‘God’? What does the revelation that God is not some Image of perfection humanly speaking? If God is happy, joyful even to reveal himself as wounded for our sake? Such that Thomas can say not merely ‘you are Lord, you are God’, but ‘you are the Lord of me, you are the God of me’? If there is a self recognition of God in the wounds, if by the eye of faith, we are sharing in something with God?

So Jesus offers his wounds to Thomas – in utter vulnerability. Not healed over wounds, but gaping wounds . . . . How we try and pretend that they are anything else but a gash in his side, and great holes in his hands . . . Jesus says  – do not be afraid. I am utterly vulnerable before you, as on the cross, naked before the gaze of the whole world. Do not be afraid. The door is as open as this wound in my side. Come enter into my life.

Jesus’ wounds are not there for identifying him, they are there for identifying with Him, seeing ourself in Him, Knowing ourself in Him, and so as we read today, The Sheep know their Shepherd and the Shepherd knows His sheep.

This Knowing is so close, it is the knowing we find so difficult if not impossible with one another. The closest we come to it humanly speaking is in the ideal of marriage, where the bride and groom declare to one another of their own free ‘All I am I give to you, All I have I share with you’. I lay down my life for you . . . I give you my life.

And so today we move to ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ – and those familiar words of the 23rd Psalm should take deep root in us. ‘The LORD is my shepherd . . .’

Yet like the vulnerability of the wounds, we seek to cover this over as well. I wonder how many of us will be thinking – yes, the Shepherd, the King! Which do you want? A Shepherd who is defined by kingship, or a King who is revealed as a Shepherd?

In the same way that we might actually be terrified by Jesus weakness and vulnerability in his humanity, so much want ‘The Leader’ – The Strong King . . . Perhaps this is why we end up seeing the cross as some mere transaction, a price that has to be paid, because in so doing this preserves for us the Ideal we want for God – Strong, Powerful . . .

The Resurrection of Jesus puts us on the point of a dilemma here . . .

The is God on the Cross, or it is not . . . It is God at our feet washing them, or it is not . . .

So much Christian talk about the Cross, effectively sees it as God popping out of heaven on a rescue mission – a mission which then mysteriously has to wait for us to die before we can share life with him, rather than on a mission to share life with us, here and now. We who fled from him, he has come out to live amongst us . . .

God is the one who wishes above all to share his very existence with us. That’s why we are created . . . This goes way way beyond what we call ‘having a relationship with’, such words are inadequate. This is a mutual indwelling. This is the heart of the Christian Genius, which sets it apart from any human religion.

In Bhuddism, there is no God; In Hinduism there are many gods and all sorts of stories are told about them, rather like the Greek myths; in Islam the idea that God could share in human existence is impossible. God is utterly unapproachable. The version of Christianity which says that humans cannot ‘go to heaven’ unless Jesus dies to seal a deal with the otherwise unapproachable God, not only seems to ignore the God who sits down at table with sinners, but also sounds suspiciously like a form of Islam . . .

No. The death and Ressurrection of the Man-God Jesus of Nazareth reveals a God who is far from remote. We fail to see him, not because he is too far away, but because as St Augustine reminds us, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves, such is his identifying with us. When the shepherd brings us home to himself, he brings us home to ourself . . . Salvation is the Good Shepherd bringing us home.

But, as many Christians ask – how can we know? This is simple. As St John says, because in the same way that the Life of God flows out of Jesus, it also flows out from you.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

If by faith in Jesus, God dwells in you, then God’s life will flow from you – to pick up on a phrase in the verse previous to our reading – they have eternal Life dwelling in them

We pass from death to Life – we enter the Kingdom and feed with Him at His table – we are filled thus with His Life and Love one another as he has loved us, without reservation, in mutual sharing of all we have and all we are, and so with Thomas proclaim his to be Our Lord, Our God.

Amen

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