"I Know Them" - May 12, 2019

John 10:22-30

            There are some aspects of the Bible that I confess I have trouble connecting with, and one of those is the whole business of God as a shepherd.  I am not running down the beauty and comfort of the Twenty-Third Psalm.  It’s one that I say when I really need to lean on the Lord.  I can certainly appreciate the parable of the shepherd who had one hundred sheep and, when he lost one of them, left the ninety-nine where they were to go and find the stray.  I get all of that.  I can extrapolate, too, from the way my dogs act.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” [John 10:27]

That’s not so different from what I find with the chihuahuas.  On Monday, I had a real problem with the oldest one.  He wouldn’t leave me alone.  Every time I opened my office door, he tried to slip out behind me, and he succeeded about four or five times.  It’s not that I don’t want him around, but when the Montessori students see him, they stop doing whatever it is that they are doing on the hallway floor – counting paper clips or fussing with their shoes or whatever – and all start going, “Oh!  Look!  So cute!” and he gets scared.

            I kind of wish I could be that kind of disciple, who wants to follow Jesus that closely.  I confess that I tend more to be the hound-dog type who looks up and says, “Oh, here he is again.  I wonder what he’s up to this time.  Where did I leave that biscuit?  Who keeps moving the sunny spot?” and falls asleep again.

            So how does Jesus deal with someone like me?

            This verse actually has two parts.  If I look at just the part that says, “they follow me”, I miss out on the reason why.  I miss out on the part that says, “I know them.”  What is it like to be known so well by somebody that they don’t even bother with the truly unimportant stuff?  Maybe I should ask, “Who in your life really knows how to speak your language and to cut through everything else enough to really get through to you?”

            Happy Mothers’ Day!  Here are the words to a song by Garrison Keillor that I’m not going to try to sing, but I think we’ll all get it.

One day a child came home from football,

Where he had fumbled, was jeered and booed,

His mother saw that his heart was breaking,

And so she made him his favorite food.


She did not make a garden salad,

She made no rolls nor beans,

It was a sandwich, on toasted white bread,

Of peanut butter creamy style.


The years went by and he was a loser,

He led a useless and wretched life,

And yet she never criticized him,

She smiled as she got out the knife.


She did not make a garden salad,

She made no rolls nor beans,

It was a sandwich, on toasted white bread,

Of peanut butter creamy style.


Then he decided on the basis,

Of a book that he read one fall,

That his problems had resulted,

From excessive cholesterol.


He had some bowls of garden salad,

He ate those rolls and beans,

He gave up sandwiches on toasted white bread,

With peanut butter creamy style.


That night his dog died, he smashed his pick-up,

His sweetheart left him, he lost his hair,

His house caught fire, he went to prison,

His dear old mother came to him there.


She did not bring a garden salad,

She brought no rolls nor beans,

She brought a sandwich on toasted white bread,

Of peanut butter creamy style,


It was a sandwich on toasted white bread,

Of peanut butter creamy style.

            That, my friends, is why we pay attention to Mothers’ Day in church.  In fact, it was a holiday that began with us.  A Methodist woman from West Virginia named Anna Jarvis pushed for a serious recognition of the rough ministry called motherhood, and she succeeded.  At the end of her life, though, she became disenchanted with the way it became (and still is) commercialized.  At one point she wrote,

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”[1]

Anna Jarvis must have been a force of nature.  She moved to Philadelphia and before World War I she became the first female advertising editor at Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance, down on Market St. right where the El goes underground, and was a partner in her brother’s business, the Quaker City Cab Company.  She died in West Chester and is buried at West Laurel Hill in Bala Cynwyd.

But I digress.  Let’s get back to the real point, which is that although not all mothers are saints (and some who are martyrs may be the least saintly of all), still, if you want to understand something about how the Lord both knows us and loves us, you don’t have to look very far.

Jesus spoke about himself as a shepherd protecting his sheep.  Listen to this passage, but instead of a shepherd speaking about sheep, hear it as a mother might speak if a child is put in jeopardy.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” [John 10:28-30]

Don’t get into an argument at a PTA meeting with that parent.

            And also hear this: you are a child of God.  You are the one who is known and understood, loved and corrected, protected and challenged, guided and sent, taught and instructed, heard and hugged.  You know the voice that speaks to you.  You know whose it is.  And you know whose you are.

            So, you be nice to your sisters and brothers.  You watch your language.  Don’t you forget to share, to say “please” and “thank you” and to clean up after yourself. 

And call home.  Jesus wants to hear from you, too.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Jarvis