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By This We Will Know: The Dance of Love”

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Blanketed in Love

Our lectionary readings this morning, unlike some Sundays, have a common theme related to shepherd, sheep, and self-sacrifice. Underlying all that is love, God’s everlasting love. From Psalm 23 v.6 in the Message, the psalmist says to God: “Your Beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.” God blankets us with love. It reminds me of the way we swaddle  newborns in blankets. They are wrapped in such a way that they feel like they are back in the womb—a place of safety and comfort for them. Palm 23 makes us feel like we are blanketed in God’s love; we are safe and secure.

We Christians immediately jump to the image of Jesus the Christ as the good shepherd when we read the 23rd Psalm. However, this was written long before”..the Word was made flesh and lived among us…”(John 1:14) We must not forget that the Hebrew Bible uses a multitude of images of a shepherding God.

From 1John 3:16-18, 23-24, we are reminded again of divine love and self-emptying. “We know love by this, that he laid down hi life for us— we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (vv. 16-18). Jesus’ death is the ultimate example of love.

Finally in John 10:11-18, Jesus proclaims that he is the good shepherd. In this metaphor Jesus is the shepherd who has willingly laid down his life for his sheep. This develops the theme moving from the Hebrew Bible imagery to the Gospel where Jesus returns to us and never lets us go. Divine love continues to blanket us and lead us in the dance.

There is one verse in our reading that’s a zinger. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus puts a challenge before us. He always asks his followers to go the extra distance. Knowing Jesus and being known by him shapes us as a faith community. In the UCC we assert that “in essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity, that all may be one.” God’s knowing changes into “love” that blankets us. This belonging is not about a personal relationship with Jesus but that of a community of followers who are watched over by God, like a shepherd watches over her sheep. I was struck by the fact that there is no singular form of sheep. I had never thought about that.

What then do we do about the other sheep that do not belong to the fold? How do we make room in the fold of divine love? It seems simple. We just need to move over and let God’s love blanket everyone. But that doesn’t come easy to us. It is difficult not to think who’s in and who’s out—to make judgements. Furthermore, we then equate that thinking to who is loved the most by God. Here is the clincher—it is not up to us to decide who’s in and who’s out! Jesus has other sheep and he intends to enfold them as well. There are always others who know his voice and enter the fold. God will welcome them and blanket them in love as well.

Our interpretation of hospitality is challenged. It is more than a warm welcome, an invitation to break bread together, and drink a cup of coffee after worship. Don’t mis understand me. Those things are wonderful and necessary, but we are called to a deeper understanding of hospitality. Like the Good Samaritan we are to cross the street and tend to those who are in need of experiencing the love of God. We are called to love the stranger.

Who is the stranger? Immigrants. Homeless. Differently-abled. Poor. Bullied. Those discriminated against because of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation. Anyone different from us.

We belong to a fold that has an open end—no gate—no lock. How does knowing the voice of the shepherd Jesus and our Still-speaking God shape our lives and our life as a church, guide us keep us together, and sustain us? How are they teaching us the steps to the dance? How often do we fail to recognize or worse yet ignore the voice of God? How is the Still-speaking God calling our church especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the destruction it has left in its wake. Pandemics of job loss, economic loss, fear, unrest, violence, and death. Whom is God calling us to blanket with love as we begin to open up the church and dance?

In the greatest go hope may we ponder these questions seriously.