Summary: In our society, we are often known by our numbers. Jesus, the good shepherd, knows us by our name. What a difference

4th Sunday of Easter May 7, 2006 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son into our world, that we might come to know the truth and depth of your steadfast love and faithfulness. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts to the gift of your redeeming grace, that we might be strengthened in the faith of our baptism, and walk in the newness of life that you have bestowed upon us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Richard Jensen, in his book The Crucified Ruler (C.S.S. Publishing Co., Inc., 1987) began his commentary on our Gospel lesson for this morning with the following illustration. “Everyone, it seems, is interested in my numbers. I go to the grocery store to buy some groceries. After the checkout person rings up my bill, I pull out my checkbook and write out the check. She takes it from me, and looks at the information encoded on the check. Numbers tell her where I live. Numbers tell her how to reach me on the telephone. ‘Is this information correct?’ she asks.

‘Yes, it is,’ I reply. Then she asks to see my driver’s license. She looks at it, and writes down some more numbers on my check. Finally, I am approved. The numbers are all there. I can eat for another week.”

And to this, Jensen adds, “Each year we file our income taxes. Now that is the numbers game to end all numbers games. Pages and pages of numbers. When it is finally prepared, off it goes to the Internal Revenue Service. It would be nice to think that someone there knew you, someone who handled your returns personally every year. No such luck. They just send your numbers into the computer and the computer decides on the basis of these numbers and last year’s numbers, and the numbers they expect to see, whether we are honest or not. Even though it is a necessary process, one could wish it were a bit more human and personal.

So the IRS knows me by my tax numbers. My state knows me by my driver’s license number. My bank knows me by my account number. My employer knows me by my social security number. My insurance company knows me by my policy number. On and on it goes for you, for me, for everybody. Everybody knows my numbers. I’m not sure that anyone knows me!” End quote.

There are several shows on TV that Josie and I enjoy watching together. But there are also a few shows that Josie likes, but I just can’t get into, and vice versa. Even though we both enjoy watching the various C.S.I. programs, and enjoy seeing how modern criminal investigation can lead to the solving of various crimes, I just can’t relate to the program “Numbers.” I just can’t, or perhaps, more truthfully, don’t want to believe that our human personality can be plotted or boiled down to a mathematical formula.

I believe Jensen is correct in his assessment that identifying living human beings by numbers leads to a feeling of loneliness and isolation. I am old enough to remember when I didn’t need to show my driver’s license to cash a check, because the people behind the counter knew me by my name. I can remember ordering a whole semi-tractor load of insulation for my business without putting down a deposit or signing a contract, as I was trusted by the owner, because he knew me!

Of course, as our communities expanded, and as large malls and super stores have replaced the locally owned businesses, numbers became the means of identifying people. It is a part of the reality of modern life. We just don’t know people the way that we used to know them. And so we are asked for our numbers, those digits that have come to identify us in the market place of our economy.

But being known by our numbers can not satisfy the human longing to be known and respected and loved as a person. Isn’t each and every one of us more than what our numbers reveal? Do our numbers reveal what is in our heart – how we love and care for others, and long to be loved by them? Numbers are inanimate. Numbers may reveal facts and data about us, but they can not reveal the true, animate, emotional identity of a person.

On this forth Sunday of Easter, which has traditionally been known as “Shepherd Sunday,” we hear quite a different message. According to our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us, “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.”

What an important and timely message to hear from our crucified and risen Lord. We are known by the shepherd! We are known by God! And we are known intimately, not just by our numbers. Jesus knows us personally. He knows us by our character. He knows what is in our heart and soul. He knows us by our name.

Just a few verses before our text for this morning, Jesus says just that. According to John 10: 2-3, Jesus says, “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.

I would like to take a moment here and have you think about your baptism, to reflect upon that sacrament that you have witnessed many times during our worship. If it is a child being baptized, the parents say that they present their child for baptism by stating his or her name. And if a person chooses to be baptized as an adult, they acknowledge that they wish to be baptized by stating their own name.

Then, following the prayers and the vows and the statement of faith, the person receives the waters of baptism by the pastor stating their name and acknowledging that they are being baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The mentioning of the name of the person being baptized and the name of our Triune God, is significant. For it is personal. In this sacrament, God embraces us by name, as his own child, as we acknowledge the beginning of a new relationship with God, by addressing God by his name.

Of course, being in such an intimate relationship, where we are known by our name, known by our true identity and not just by our numbers, caries with it a responsibility to live our lives reflecting that relationship. As my father often told me when I left the house, especially when I began to go out on dates, “Remember who you are. You are a Harbaugh, and what you do reflects upon us all who bear that name.

When you are known personally and intimately by your name, you can’t hide behind your numbers. What you do and say is a witness to what is in your heart, and a reflection to the rest of those who bear your name. And if you are honest with yourself, there are a lot of times that we have failed to reflect a true witness, not only to our family name, but also have failed to reflect a true witness to the name of God, who has adopted us as his own, through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.

But according to our text for this morning, Jesus not only tells us that he knows us intimately by name, he also tells us that as the good shepherd, he lays down his life for his sheep. Here, we encounter the true message of Easter.

Here, we discover that we are not only personally know by God, with all of those positive qualities that make us true person, but known as well by our shortcomings and failures that we would rather hide in the obscurity of our numbers identity. But we are totally known by Jesus. There is nothing to hide – nothing we need to hide!

Three times in our text, Jesus tells us that as the good shepherd, he would lay down his life for his sheep – for you and for me, who have come to be personally known by him – with all of our strengths and faults, that we might know the forgiving grace of God.

Thus, we are not only personally known by God, even in the midst of a society in which we tend to be known only by our numbers. We are not only intimately known, with all of our faults and shortcomings, which would also tend to isolate us from one another. We are also loved and forgiven. The good shepherd has laid down his life for us, that we might know God’s redeeming grace.

Therefore, let us pray that God’s Spirit inspire us to strive to live our lives in witness to who we are as a child of God, and reflect his love to those around us.