Sermon – May 12, 2019 – Fourth Sunday after Easter


The Good Shepherd and the Snatchers

I recently had my family DNA evaluated and, not surprisingly, it came back heavy on the Norwegian roots, some Eastern Scandinavia flavored with Russia that reflects my Finnish heritage, and then there was a smattering of genetic markers from all along the Viking raiding routes clear to the Iberian Peninsula. I think the only explanation for that, or at least a plausible one, is that somewhere along my family tree, Viking Raiders visited these places and along with the booty that they plundered, they took some women.  I’ve read that for a variety of reasons girls were less likely to survive and so for a time there was a shortage of Norwegian women. So, the remedy was to go get some.  There is some speculation, especially with genetic backgrounds of the Icelandic Norwegians, that similar genetic profiles as mine show up.

Although some modern historians are trying to tidy up the Viking’s reputation, suggesting that they were less maraudersthan they were colonists and traders, there’s a great deal of evidence that the Vikings were snatchers.  Their raiding parties would arrive in their long, fast boats on the seacoast along the Baltic or North Sea and North Atlantic and on inland riverbanks and mercilessly raid and plunder communities.   Apparently, they were especially fond of monasteries because they were defenseless and contained a lot of treasureAnd woe to the local monks and clergy who are often lifted up as sacrifices to the pagan war gods of the Vikings. I can’t even detail for you some of the violence that is alleged against these Vikings. Some of it is just nasty.  Small communities along their path fared about the same.  So, it appears that they would take your religion, your wealth, and your family with little conscience.

They were snatchers.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tells us today that we are his sheep and that “no one with snatch” us from his hands.  I’m pretty sure that what Jesus had in mind was not Viking Raiders or even the occupying Roman forces, but the things that snatch our loyalty our faith and our consciences. The things that draw us away from, well, the way. Jesus shares these words, first of all with the Pharisees. As you just heard, they come to him insisting that he tell them in a satisfactory way whether he is the Messiah. Essentially, he says since you are not my sheep you are unable to understand. I’d like to come back to that little later. But along these lines, what was it that was snatching the Pharisees? What was preventing them from seeing that which Jesus was revealing? Well, pride, maybe, some fear and a good dose of the vanity of their own positions played into their deafness. People and nations had been snatching from the Judeans for centuries, their land, their religion and even their very lives and I suppose it could make one careful about whom they would follow. But Jesus expresses no small amount of frustration with these guys for their inability to integrate his message.

What is it out there that Jesus is defending and protecting us from by his remarks that no one will snatch us from his hands? I think we can round up the usual suspects here. Jesus, in short order, will confront the chief snatcher of them all – death – defeat that rascal and promise to all who believe that death will never again have the last word. Certainly, that was on his mind

The attendant grief of loss can numb us, leave us empty and turn us either from the faithfulness to the promises of God or to those things which will numb our pain. The assurance of the good Shepherd is that he has known such loss and pain and he knows ours.. He knows this turf and will attend to us in the midst of it. Grief will not snatch you from my hand.

Anger and hatred orient us away from one another and draws us near to groups and ideas and practices that are destructive of relationships and communities. They cloud our vision and darken our hearts. Jesus stood steadfast against such things so that through him we might preserve our vision, our communities and our integrity.  Let me show you the way so that this hatred and tribalism and division will not snatch you from my hand.

The lure of material wealth and security is a prominent snatcher. If we can be convinced that money or stuff fulfills us than we are vulnerable to every peddler of false dreams that comes along. This undermines our ethics, again our relationships and transforms our communities to acquisitive competitive and predatory tangles of self-interest.    this snatcher will cause us to turn our backs on our neighbors and elevate ourselves above others. As we do so, we turn from Christ.. And, it will make an idol of the things that cannot ultimately protect or defend us.

Power is a notorious and predatory force. It gives us a false sense of control and the satisfaction of having others serve us. The lie of power is that we are always in service to it no matter how highly affiliated with it we become. Christ is revealed as the very power of God to which all things defer.  Remember the words of St. Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans as he declares the primacy and power of Christ’s love, Christ’s chief currency, “for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” . Nothing will snatch you from his hand.

You can add to your own list of snatchers and predatory powers. This is by no means exclusive.

So, to be a sheep is to be vulnerable to these snatchers, but it chiefly it is to be the beneficiary of his fierce, protective love.  As sheep, we need to get over ourselves, because often Pogo’s adage applies, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”. .  A couple of things. First it is the prerogative of the shepherd proclaim us sheep and Christ has claimed their prerogative. We do not choose a shepherd. The shepherd chooses us. Secondly as sheep, we are uniquely unequipped for dealing with the snatchers. Let’s remember that sheep are essentially without defensive assets. Their sheep teeth are flat and blunt and are no threat to anything but grass. They have small hooves and no claws.  Their wool protects them from cold and nothing else and for it they are sheared, fleeced, you might say.   Frankly, among the constellation of animals, they are not the brightest star. What I mean to say is that, left to our own devices, we are toast.  Thus, the need for the Good Shepherd.

So, let’s go back to the Pharisees because there haven’t a pretty rough day. I have to wonder if our failures to follow, our inability to hear or even our outright rejection of the shepherd is a permanent state. These Pharisees seem to be left behind, maybe even getting what they earned. But I think that is a shortsighted reading of the gospel. This gospel begins with the promise and the affirmation that God loved this world so much that he gave to us his only son, the good Shepherd, so that all who believed in him but not perish but have eternal life…… That chief promise of the shepherd. The reason behind this gracious and amazing gift is the very love of God made real and manifest among us in the person of Jesus. Our Lord ends this conversation with the Pharisees for now with the words, the Father and I are one, if that is so, then Jesus is reflecting the nature of the Father who never gives up on the sheep. This is the very word that the Pharisees, themselves called shephereds, were charged with stewarding. The God that continually returned to the people of Israel in their disobedience in their misunderstanding, to bring them back again and again and again. This is the God who said as far as the east is from the west so far do I remove your sins from you..  This is the God who said I will be your God will be my people, and God does not retract God’s promises.  Jesus is the incarnation of this God, this relentless loving God, who will never give up on you no matter where you’ve been, no matter what other gods you have chosen along the path, no matter how egregious your failure to control your universe is.

The gospel is nothing if it is not power and consolation and call in the midst of our darkest times. If that were not the case, Jesus would’ve chosen some other avenue besides death to demonstrate the completeness of his power and commitment to us, his sheep.

In this Easter season, as we acclaim that Christ is risen, we affirm the integrity of the fierce love of God so committed to the sheep that nothing will ever separate us. So, to those Pharisees we say, eventually, welcome home. And to each of us who have lost our way, tuned into another crazy frequency, abandoned our promises, or been preyed upon by the snatcher of any sort, for us the promises is the same. Jesus will have the last word. Jesus has the last word. Jesus is the last word. We recognize it like the sheep, like Lazarus called from the tomb, like Mary Magdalene in the garden we recognize this last word by the calling of our Name.

Today, the Good Shepherd calls our name.. In this worship, in these prayers, in this silence. Do you recognize it?  Do you hear it?. Keep listening.. He’s calling to you.

Thanks be to God. Amen