Jesus the Paradox
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

April 17, 2016
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

So Jesus is walking in the Temple, and people are coming up to him and saying, “How long are you gonna keep us in suspense?!? Are you the Messiah or not?!”

And Jesus answers with another cryptic answer: I’ve told you, but you don’t believe me; I have shown you, but you haven’t paid attention, because you are not one of my sheep. My sheep know who their shepherd is.

So if we were following you we would know whether or not we should follow you? Thanks, Jesus. Clear as mud, huh?

But is this not the way it is trying to follow Jesus? We surely do not know all that is involved. There is no chart, no map, no spreadsheet, that lists all that we will need to know or do when we start the journey. And following Jesus does not mean we have got Jesus all figured out and just walk in clearly marked footsteps. In fact, times of darkness, times of feeling lost, times of wondering, are a part of the journey.

Not unlike marriage, or parenthood, or a demanding career, or anything of deep worth, if we knew all that would be required of us, would we have ever signed up to begin with?

So if Jesus has told them (and perhaps us) but they (and perhaps we) do not believe him, maybe it is because his answers don’t fit their (or our) questions. As we reviewed last week Jesus says,

“I am the bread of life…”
“I am the light of the world…”
“I am the door of the sheep…”
“I am the good shepherd…”
“I am the resurrection, and the life…”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
“I am the true vine…”

And they (and perhaps we) say,

  • Yes, but are you the one who will free us from Rome?
  • Yes, but are you the one who will heal my son’s addiction, or my mother’s cancer, or help me pay all my bills, or get my spouse to listen to me?
  • Yes, but are you the one who will take my pain and anxiety and fear away so that I can get some sleep at night?

Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead and feeds the multitudes and preaches a love that saves, and the disciples still argue over who is the better disciple and churches still argue over which kind of baptism is the one true baptism.

And we see people who follow Jesus, not just spouting what Jesus said, not just trying to co-opt the Gospel for political or economic or social agendas, but doing what he did: healing, feeding, lifting up, blessing, anointing, praying, fasting, loving.

In case we missed it, Luke makes it pretty obvious in Acts. When Jesus was called to a young girl who had died, he says, “Talitha, cum;” meaning “Little girl, rise,” and he raises her up. Here, the followers of Jesus, who had been present at that moment of healing, are called to a young woman named Tabitha. And Peter says, “Tabitha, rise.”

Is Jesus the one we should follow? This was the question of John’s disciples. “Are you the one we is to come, or should we wait for another?”

Jesus does not say “yes” or “no.” He says, “Go tell John: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”

My translation of this last line is “If this is what you are looking for, you have your answer…”

One of their problems, and definitely ours, is we try and collect Jesus into one box, we try and label and name who he is and what he is, but he keeps defying our categories. When conservatives say, “by his blood shed upon the cross we are saved,” and that is the sum total of what is important about him, the box is too small. What he said and did before and after the cross matter as well.

When progressives say, “we are the only hands and feet Jesus has in this world,” the box is too small. God’s work is not limited to our strength and understanding.

When the church wants to make Jesus Lord and speak only of the victories of Easter, the box is too small. We cannot bypass the suffering of Jesus that knows all about our suffering.

On the one hand, we have amazing witnesses to who Jesus is and what he did and does, in our scripture, in our history, in the life of our church. On the other hand, the moment we try and pin him down to only this or that, try to put our agenda into his words, he defies our categories.

There is an amazing hymn and anthem called Christus Paradox by Sylvia Dunstan.

You, Lord, are both lamb and shepherd.
You, Lord are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and swordbringer
of the way you took and gave.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, whom we both scorn and crave.

Clothed in light upon the mountain,
stripped of might upon the cross,
shining in eternal glory,
beggard by a soldier’s toss.
You, the everlasting instant;
you who are both gift and cost.

You, who walk each day beside us,
sit in power at God’s side.
You, who preach a way that’s narrow,
have a love that reaches wide.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, who are our pilgrim guide.

Worthy is our earthly Jesus!
Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and victory.
Worthy still your peace and strife.
You, the everlasting instant;
you, who are our death and life.

Thanks be to God.