Tsukuba Gakuen Church, UCCJ

Worship Service on February 3, 2019

Gist of Sermon

- I Am the Good Shepherd -

By Reverend Sumio Fukushima

1.1 Today I asked you to read Verses 10 to 18 of Chapter 10 in The Gospel According to John. The word 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ' in Verse 11 was the motto of Ishikawa Kindergarten attached to Kooriyama Church where I used to take care of the congregation of it. Ishikawa Kindergarten is located in Iwaki Ishikawa Machi a little far away from Kooriyama City. I fondly remember the children at the kindergarten reciting that phrase in loud voices every time they had the worship service.
1.2 The word 'I am the good shepherd' that Jesus said is recorded in only this gospel according to John. The well-known parable of the shepherd's going out to look for his lost sheep, and which can be found in the gospels according to Luke (Luke 15:1~7) and according to Matthew (Matthew 18:12~14). Verse 34 of Chapter 6 Mark says that Jesus had compassion on a large crowd, 'because they were like sheep without a shepherd.' Like this, Jesus might have talked by comparing himself to a shepherd.
1.3 Now what makes us think first is why the author of the gospel John put this word of Jesus's here. Verse 10 talks about jhya thief who steals, kills and destroys. And Verse 12 talks about the hired hand who is not the shepherd and who abandons the sheep and runs away when he sees the wolf coming. When it comes to who these things refer to concretely, judging from the context, they refer to people called the Pharisees. Verse 6 of Chapter 10 says, 'Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.' Chapter 9 described how a heated argument took place between Pharisees and Jesus because he healed a man born blind on a Sabbath. Verse 21 of Chapter 10 says, 'Again the Jews picked up stones to stone them.' Judging from the aforementioned context, the thief in today's word and the bad shepherd who is nothing but a hired hand clearly refer to Pharisees.

2.1 As we have been told very often, John is believed to have written this gospel, because he wanted mainly Jewish people living in Asia Minor in A.D. about 100 to believe that Jesus is the Savior, in today's word, the good shepherd. That is, the shepherd was the religious leader of Jewish society in those days, who was actually Pharisees. The controversy and argument between Jesus and Pharisees which are described in Chapters 9 and 10 are said to depict what took place between Christians and Pharisees in Asia Minor in A.D. about 100. While depicting such a controversy, John asks people 'Which is the true shepherd, Pharisees or Jesus?' and 'Which is the good shepherd who nurtures us?' I think.
2.2 In January, a new book entitled Jewish people and Judaism was published as a shinsho-size edition of Iwanami Publishing Company. Soon I bought it and read it. At the beginning of the book, the author Ichikawa Hiroshi, a professor at the University of Tokyo, wrote like this: ' The battle that took place in A.D. 70 ended up in bringing about a lot of people's death, the collapse of the Temple, the devastation of their land and the fall of their capital. It was at this time that rabbis were given birth to in Jewish society. They are not clergymen but scholars in law who have professional knowledge about God's teaching. They were wise men who showed a new way of living to Jewish people who had lost their homeland. Rabbis' job specifications are varied depending on the age during which they live but to this day they have kept an important position as leaders in Jewish society. Jewish people have depended upon rabbis for the solution of a problem that their parents or brothers or sisters or friends cannot solve and have solved the problem by sometimes accompanying rabbis and by asking them to teach them. '(p. 12) All through his book, Dr. Ichikawa highly esteems scholars in law called 'rabbis ,' and it is rabbis given birth to in the midst of the collapse of Jerusalem that were Pharisees who appeared in Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 today. It was they that were the shepherds who took care of Jewish society in AD about 100 after the fall of Jerusalem. Taking this situation well into consideration, still John could not help asking people the following question, I think. : 'Which on earth is the true shepherd, Jesus or they?'

3.1 John regarded shepherds of Pharisees as bad shepherds who steal sheep and destroy them and also such shepherds as hired hands who abandon sheep as soon as they see the wolf coming. But judging from the aforementioned Dr. Ichikawa's passage, John's way of thinking is a too one-sided viewpoint, right? If they, who are specialists in law, did not have an aspect as a proper shepherd, they would not have obtained their present position as shepherds who take care of Jewish people who have roamed the whole world as sojourners and have suffered. Nevertheless, John could not help calling Pharisees bad shepherds like thieves, right? The very concrete evidence for that was what happened to the woman caught in adultery in Chapter 8 and what happened to the man born blind in Chapter 9, right?
3.2 When it comes to a shepherd, we are reminded of Psalm 23 in the Old Testament as follows right away, right? There the poet sings, 'The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.' The person who appeared in Chapter 9 was the one who was born blind and who was disowned as their son by their parents because of that and who had nothing but to live as a beggar. He was the very sheep that had to be led to green pastures, guided to still waters and had to restore his soul by the shepherd, right? Contrary to our expectations, how did the Pharisees deal with this sheep? They said to him, 'You were steeped in sin at birth.' Likewise, Jesus' disciples asked Jesus, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ' The Pharisees thought in just the same way as Jesus' disciples. They thought that 'To be steeped in sin at birth leads to a disability in being born blind .' When they get down to it, to them God is the person who accuses us of our sin, gets infuriated and punishes us for it.
3.3 As we were told repeatedly, a disability in being born blind symbolizes illness or a disability that we human beings can never get rid of. Everyone of us suffers from such a negative thing some day. Pharisees' faith is the one where they have nothing to do but regard it as God's wrath, accusation or punishment against us. If God is really such a person, there is no way for us, who are burdened with such an illness or suffering, to escape from it. For us, who are burdened with such a negative thing that we cannot get rid of at all, green pastures or water or the restoration of our soul are indispensable. A guide when we cross the valley of death or the very table before suffering is indispensable. Were the Pharisees described in Chapter 9 able to provide the person who was born blind with such food and water? No, never. Rather, they deprived him of food. They labeled him as an'unforgivable sinner,' and destroyed him. He fell prey to the wolf. The wolf is an existence that deprives us of our wish to live or our joy.

4.1 It is shown anew that this kind of Pharisees are never unrelated to us. To be sure, there are no such people as Pharisees literally in front of us, but in each of us there is such an existence as Pharisees, I think.
4.2 Now we are learning Chapter 56 and the following of the Book of Isaiah at the Bible Study Prayer Meeting. A common view says that Chapters 40 to 55 in the Book of Isaiah were told to Israelites in the Babylonian captivity, and Chapters 56 to 66 dealt with what happened after they were allowed to return to their hometown by Cyrus of Persia in 538 BC. After they returned home, some people who became shepherds of Israeli people such as Ezra and Nehemia turned into Pharisees and rabbis or scholars in law later. In rebuilding the faith community which turned into a mountain of rubble, there was a certain principle. It was the principle of eliminating the Gentiles who got married after the Babylonian captivity. Also there were some people who were forced to be 'castrated' in order to serve the harem of the Babylonian Palace during the Babylonian Captivity and they were called eunuchs. These people were excluded as being dirty people. The original phrase of the Phariseeism means separation or exclusion. With regard to the way of rebuilding this way, God declared, 'The Gentiles who gathered under the Lord, do not say, 'The Lord distinguishes between me and his people (faris.) ' ,' and also 'Eunuchs, I am a dead tree ' (Isaiah 56:3). Although God does not distinguish or eliminate us, we human beings distinguish or eliminate other people by saying that it is God's will. We try to exclude a blind person by saying that it was so because he was born in sin. We exclude such negative things.
4.3 We have this kind of Phariseeism within ourselves, right? A bad shepherd who is a thief and nothing but a hired hand to sheep is really ourselves. I abandon myself carrying a heavy handicap or a negative thing which is symbolized by illness that causes us to be blind at birth. The other day I watched a program that had been recorded on the video and which explained the contents of the two books entitled A Complete History of Sapiens and Homodieus. The author of them is a Jew who lives in Israel, Yuval Noah Harari. He says that human beings (Homo) are trying to be Deus, or God. He goes on to say that AI, the human brain and AI will be connected directly, and that in a sense human beings will get immortality and omnipotence. But what we do as a shepherd who has become a god is, if we get down to it, exclusion and isolation, right? We go on eliminating disgusting weaknesses, defects and diseases for ourselves, for example, by manipulating genes. But such a shepherd can only destroy his sheep. He cannot protect his sheep from the wolf. He is a shepherd who can never give himself green grass or water who is placed in the shadow of Death Valley.

5.1 Just because of that, John tells us that it is Jesus who throws away his life for his sheep that is the good shepherd. Verse 16 says that only when the sheep are kept by this person, 'there shall be one flock.' Jesus also says,'I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.' Through what I was taught earlier, I was able to understand the meaning of this word of Jesus'. The fact that Jesus abandoned his life for the sheep does not indicate that just a shepherd abandoning his life for the sheep is a good shepherd just simply because he sacrificed his life for the sheep. It does not mean so but Jesus is a good shepherd in that only the shepherd Jesus accepted the cross --- which ordinary people would eliminate and separate from them as a matter of course. As Jesus himself went on the shadow of Death Valley, he found green grass, water and the restoration of his soul from God. We can see that there is a dining table that God gives us right before the crucifixion of the cross. We must keep in mind that he is the good shepherd with that very figure. Jesus shows us that suffering and death are precious steps for us that we should not separate or eliminate from our lives. A sheep that is not in the sheep pen means what we have eliminated as a bad shepherd. Jesus is trying to integrate this as part of the life that is indispensable. The word'and there shall be one flock and one shepherd' means that what we have separated and eliminated will finally become one thanks to Jesus. We are not trying to part with our life at all. When such people as us become our own shepherd, we, who are sheep, fall prey to the wolf. And we will be killed by the thief. When Jesus, who was able to part with his life, becomes our shepherd, we are protected.
(Translated by Akihiko MOCHIZUKI, Ph. D. from the gist prepared in Japanese)

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Scripture for the day

The Gospel According to John 10:10-18

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me? 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father ?and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life ?only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.
(New International Version)


Sermon 2018

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