Summary: Jesus speaks of drawing other sheep into his fold, thus calling us to be an inclusive, welcoming church.
Sermon for 4 Easter Yr B, 11/04/2003
Based on Jn 10:16
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“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.”
Sylvia works as a personal fitness trainer at a bank. One day, shortly after she had shown some of the employees how to stretch their hamstring muscles by leaning against the bank’s wall, the police rushed in, guns drawn. A passerby had called 911 thinking she was robbing the bank. 1
This incident is a good illustration of how we humans misunderstand the intentions, motives and behaviours of others. Sylvia was helping those bank employees to keep healthy, but someone else interpreted her behaviour very negatively, as an attempt to rob the bank. Is this also not the case for us Christians too? How often in the history of the church have people’s intentions, motives and behaviours been misunderstood? How often has the church been divided and drawn into some very harmful, destructive conflicts because of misunderstandings?
In today’s gospel, Jesus, our good shepherd addresses an issue, which the churches must deal with. The following words of Jesus: “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;” address the churches today (although some would interpret “other sheep” as referring to other non-Christian religions and/or all of humankind) and cause us to ask: “How united and inclusive are the churches?”
One of the questions that seem to crop up repeatedly is: “If there is only one Jesus Christ, then why are there so many different Christian denominations?” First and foremost, we must confess that the power of sin is alive and well, and working in the Christian churches to keep us divided. Never underestimate the power of sin. It works within us all to keep us divided; to keep us self-centred; to prevent us from doing God’s will. Our sinful nature is a sickness that places many limitations upon us—causing us to think of and care for only ourselves at the expense of everyone else.
Secondly, we can understand why there are so many different Christian denominations in a more positive way if we take a close look at people. People are different; different people have different experiences, histories, and ideas. If we all said the same thing and behaved in the same way; life would be deadly boring! In a sense, not one church has all of the truth; just as you or I do not have the complete truth. Each Christian church has a portion of the truth; but not the complete truth. Each Christian church has a special emphasis and a special theology, which it teaches, preaches and practices. If we listen to one another and accept one another, we can grow and mature in our faith. But listening to and accepting one another DOES NOT MEAN that we have to change our teaching, preaching and practices and be converted to another denomination! True ecumenical fellowship (brotherhood/sisterhood) does not try to convert Lutherans to Roman Catholics, Anglicans to Pentecostals, or vice-a-versa. True ecumenical fellowship acknowledges, respects and learns from our differences.
It also seeks to share common ground, whereby the churches can work together in such organisations as the World Council of Churches and Ten Days for Global Justice; for peace, justice and a deeper journey towards the manifestation of unity among the churches. The fact that there is one flock does not mean that there can be only one denomination; one tradition of worshipping; one form of ecclesiastical organisation; one theology. However, it does mean that all the churches ARE UNITED BY A COMMON LOYALTY TO JESUS CHRIST. That’s why we can have so much diversity among the churches around the globe. This diversity does not have to divide us further. Rather, it can help us to understand and accept each other more—just as our Lord Jesus, the good shepherd understands and accepts us.
If churches today are genuinely concerned about the “other sheep that do not belong to this fold;” then, by God’s grace, they will strive to be a more inclusive church. They will not discriminate against others on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age and class. The churches will seek to defend minority groups and protect the rights of the underdog or the outsider, following Christ’s example. The united and inclusive church will find an important place for all people—because each person has a special contribution to make and is someone for whom Christ suffered, died and was raised from the dead.
Watching a symphony orchestra perform can help us understand the need for accepting our place in life and doing our best with it. The violinist may fiddle furiously throughout an entire selection, the cymbals crash only once or twice, the soft woodwinds are barely heard, while the brasses blare out from time to time, yet all form part of a beautiful whole. If the cymbals dominated the entire piece, it would be horrible noise. If it were all violins, it would be unbalanced. All must fit together, playing their parts. For the skinny little piccolo to envy the big fat tuba or for the bass viol to covet the violin’s part would not be useful. Harmony comes only with the blending of a variety of gifts—if all are playing in the same key and playing the same piece. 2