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.