Meanderings

Two Way Street

At my dentist’s office this past week the hygienist complained about the common Sunday morning ritual of greeting everybody.  She was especially appalled at the possibility of rapidly transferring germs to so many, so quickly.  As a pastor of course I was asked about this practice.  I noted that historically this was really the ritual of passing the peace of Christ … something with great significance.  I went on to explain that the best method of passing this peace was to look another eye to eye and say "the peace of Christ is yours this day" and make sure every person heard this at least once.  She thought this a fine idea until I reminded her that scipturally this was accompanied by a full kiss on the lips (Paul repeatedly says "greet one another with a holy kiss."  See Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26. Also see Peter’s commending us to "greet one another with a kiss of love.  See 1 Peter 5:14.) … suddenly shaking hands seemed like a far better idea!

Perhaps you have joined me in the
Psalmist’s prayer for the “peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6)
over the past few weeks, months, years …

The Western Wall, or as it is often
called – the Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem is a place that peoples
throughout the centuries have marked as a sacred space.  It was here
that Israel’s Defense Force won a victory in 1967 over Jordan that
allowed Jews free access to the wall for the first time in over 1,800
years.  The Western Wall of the Temple mount (Ha Kotel Ha Ma’aravi
in Hebrew) is said to be located near the holy of holies in the
Temple and is said to be directly beneath the gate of heaven.  This
is why it is also a place of fervent prayer (see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall).

As some of you know, the tradition of
placing written prayers among the chinks of the Western Wall is now a
tradition.  This tradition of fervent prayer has also led to fervent
capitalism.  There are paid services that are set up to help you get
your prayer to the wall … you can fax or email your request while
you watch a webcast of the Wall (see http://www.writingtogod.com/
and http://www.aish.com/wallcam/Window_on_the_Wall.asp).

Fortunately, we believe in a God who
does not need us to be in a particular place at a specified time in
order for our prayers to be answered.  Do you remember how John says
it in one of his letters?  “This is the boldness we have in [God],
that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if
we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have
obtained the requests made of him” (1 John 5:14-14).

Jesus promises us in John’s gospel
that he came into the world so that we could experience the abundant
life.  Let’s listen to how Jesus describes the relationship that we
can have with him:

"Very truly,
I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but
climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters
by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the
gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep
by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he
goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his
voice.
  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from
him because they do not know the voice of strangers."  Jesus
used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand
what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus
said to them,
"Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the
sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep
did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will
be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
  The
thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they
may have life, and have it abundantly.

“I am the good
shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The
hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees
the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf
snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a
hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I
know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I
know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
  I have
other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also,
and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one
shepherd (John 10:1-16).

So how do I listen to God?  How can I know that I am hearing Jesus call my name?

NOTE:  This is sermon five in a six part sermon series using a theme "No One Is an Island" from John Donne.