May 12, 2019: "You're In Good Hands"

May 12, 2019                                                                                   Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN 

You’re in Good Hands 
John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 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.”

______

It was a moment of sheer brilliance—one of countless brilliant moments in my growing-up years. I must have been about nine years old—my older brother was playing football at the local high school. My parents and I went to watch him play one night. Can you think of anything more boring for a nine-year-old girl? My parents trusted me enough, for some reason, to let me walk around the stadium and entertain myself. So, for lack of anything more entertaining to do, I decided to sit at the railing over the concrete where the players run out. I sat there for a little bit, my arms hanging over the metal railing, my legs dangling over the concrete some 25 feet below. Well that wasn’t very entertaining, so I decided to up the ante. For some reason (which eludes me now), I thought it would be fun to do some pull ups on that metal railing, so I grabbed the rail and dropped my derrière off the stands so that I could practice my pull ups. The only problem was, I couldn’t do a pull up. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t pull myself back up. So there I was, dangling 25 feet above a pad of concrete, my hands growing weary, about to give way to my certain death. I was terrified! Just hanging around. Dangling to my doom. 

Have you ever felt like that—like you’re just dangling at the edge of destruction? Life throws all kinds of things at us that can leave us feeling that way . .  . most of the time it’s just the way things go instead of stupidity causing the situation, like in my case. Like one grandmother said, “God never gives us more than we can handle. I just wish God didn’t have such faith in me.”[1] All kinds of trials find their way into our lives, leaving us hanging on for dear life, void of the strength to pull ourselves up without help, almost ready to quit, to let go, to give up. 

Into that space, there in the valley of the shadow of death, we hear the voice of the good shepherd reminding us that nothing—nothing can snatch us out of his hand.

The shepherd metaphor might have meant more in the agrarian culture of Jesus’ day than in our own. Sheep were in constant danger from predators and thieves. The main job of the shepherd was to protect the sheep from harm. Jesus likens himself to a Good Shepherd. His followers, you and me, we’re the sheep. To suggest that nothing will be able to snatch us from the Good Hands of the Good Shepherd was powerful imagery to his early followers and it is powerful imagery for us as well. 

In this passage, Jesus suggests two requirements for being a part of his flock: 1) hearing his voice and 2) following him. “The challenge for most [of us] is not following Jesus. We've been taught pretty well about that. The challenge for us is recognizing Jesus’ voice.”[2] 

I was teaching this scripture passage years ago to a group of teenagers. I suggested that the voice of Jesus is often hard to distinguish amidst the many competing voices clamoring for our attention. To illustrate this point, I sent one kid out of the room to be blindfolded. The other kids would make a human obstacle course. Another kid would be the “voice of Jesus,” instructing the blindfolded kid how to navigate the obstacle course. When the blindfolded kid came in, I said, “A human obstacle course has been created. You will hear a voice—representing the voice of Jesus—instructing you through the obstacles. Your goal is to touch the hand of the one instructing you.” So the “voice” would instruct, “Walk three steps forward. Now bend down, and take two steps. Now take a large step like you were walking over a hurdle.” You get the picture. This was no big challenge. The kid made it through no problem.

I sent the blindfolded kid back out of the room. I instructed the other kids to form another obstacle course, but this time I instructed all of them to pretend to be the “voice of Jesus,” inviting some of them to give misleading instructions. These kids would represent the voices that compete with the Lord’s voice. I would bring the blindfolded kid back in, and give him the same instructions, “A human obstacle course has been created. You will hear a voice—representing the voice of Jesus—instructing you through the obstacles. Your goal is to touch the hand of the one instructing you.” When I said “Begin!” every kid barked orders at the blindfolded teen, with many different instructions. The blindfolded kid stood there frustrated, unable to move forward, stymied by the competing voices. Finally, he threw his hands up in the air, saying, “I don’t know what to do!”

So many voices compete for our attention. Think of media, and how inundated we are, constantly, from TV, radio, print, social media and the internet. Which voices speak truth? Which are “fake news?” Have any of you fallen victim to “fake news?” I have. I’d say most of us have. I know some of you have after I checked out your stories on Snopes.com. No judgment—we’ve all fallen victim to deceit in this (mis)information age.

It’s often so difficult for us to discern that still, small voice of God, the voice of the Good Shepherd, leading us in the way we should go. But God isn’t in the business of playing hide-and-seek. Matthew puts it like this in Matthew 7:7-8:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

When we live our lives over the course of years consistently asking, seeking, and knocking, we become consistently able to both hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd.

What does this look in our lives? Here’s how Oswald Chambers describes the culmination of a life of consistently hearing and following the voice of the Good Shepherd:

. . . real friendship with God as compared with occasional feelings of His presence in prayer.  To be so much in contact with God that you never need to ask Him to show you His will, is to be nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of freedom and liberty and delight, you are God’s will, and all your common-sense decisions are His will for you unless He checks. You decide things in perfect delightful friendship with God, knowing that if your decisions are wrong He will always check; when he checks, stop at once.[3]

This is what it’s like to hold God’s hand—some of you have been holding God’s hand so long you hardly notice it anymore. You’re so in sync—so simpatico—it’s so natural and comfortable to hold God’s hand, like a mother with a young child happily walking together.

As a mother, sometimes I still get to hold my 5-year-old’s hand when he’s happy. Sometimes I hold his hand when he’s scared, like when we were riding something a little daunting for him at LEGOLAND last weekend. These are the occasions he actually wants to hold my hand. But sometimes he’s not so thrilled when I hold his hand, like when I hold his hand to correct his behavior, if his hand has done something to hurt someone else. Sometimes I’ll grab his hand against his will to keep him safe while crossing a street. Even though he squirms and tries to wriggle away, I’ve got the death grip on his little hand. And every now and then, I’ll hold his hand while he’s sleeping (I really like him when he’s sleeping!).

To be a child of God is to be in God’s hands at all times, whether we recognize it or not. Sometimes we enjoy it. Other times doubt or disillusionment prompts us to resist the idea. It doesn’t matter. God still has us there, loving us, guiding us, and correcting us when we go astray. The Good Shepherd loves us despite our imperfections, our hesitations, and our protestations—and twice in this passage, as if for emphasis, he says that nothing—no one can snatch us out of his hands. Not even death itself can steal us from the death grip of the Lord, as Easter Sunday reminded us a few weeks ago. 

This week I was gripped by an image that went viral. A man climbed over the railing of a North London bridge and was about to jump when passersby saw him and grabbed him, refusing to let him fall. Some held onto his neck. Others held him by the belt. Another grabbed him around the knees. Still others tied rope around him. Strangers held onto this man for two hours as they waited for authorities to arrive. When firefighters showed up, they used a hydraulic lift to lower the man to safety and took him to the nearest mental health facility.[4]

I seriously doubt any of those passersby woke up that morning thinking, “I’m going to be a hero today.” But they became heroes when they became the tangible expression of God’s care, God’s comfort, and God’s healing in the midst of this man’s worst day. Those who held him there . . . their hands were the hands of God. Thanks be to God for these everyday heroes. 

Now, back to hanging around at a high school football stadium. So there I was, dangling over a slab of concrete 25 feet below. Unable to pull myself up, hands growing weaker by the second, so scared I couldn’t even scream for help. Then out of nowhere, arms reached under me, lifting me to safety. I looked to see who helped me. It wasn’t my mother. It wasn’t my father. It was a man I’d never seen—a mystery man in a sea of people. That man saved my life, or at least spared me some broken bones. You might say those hands were the hands of a strong but gentle do-gooder. I’d have to agree. But I say those hands—the hands that lifted me from fear—even possible death, those were also the hands of God. The same hands hold me to this day. The same hands hold you. Through joy, through pain, through doubt, through fear, through all that life throws at you. The hands of God hold you—and they’ll never, ever let you go. 

He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands!

[1] Karyn Wiseman, “Commentary on John 10:22-30,” Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1620 (accessed 6 May 2019).

[2] David Eward, “John 10:22-30,” Holy Textures, https://www.holytextures.com/2010/03/john-10-22-30-year-c-easter-4-sermon.html (accessed 6 May 2019).

[3] Oswald Chambers, “Friendship With God—March 20” in My Utmost for His Highest.

[4] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4456800/Police-stop-man-jumping-North-Circular-bridge.html

Shari Maxwell