Overview – Interfaith Connections
Focus Text: John 10:11-18
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
Scripture Commentary by Rev. David Amidon, St. Philip Lutheran, Raleigh , President, Interfaith Alliance of Wake Co.
“Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the most popular images of our Lord. We see depictions of the serene shepherd gently watching over the flock, a staff in his hand, often cradling a lamb in one arm. He is also portrayed as the one who has gone after the lost sheep and, after finding the wayward lamb, carries it back to the flock on his broad shoulders.”
Pastoral Reflection by Rev. David Amidon
“In 21st century North Carolina we have many and various ways to come into contact with “other sheep.” Will we stick to our own kind, work to create a Christian enclave where we feel safe and secure, free from any risk? Or, will we be the welcoming face, the open hands, the purposeful feet, and the compassionate voice of Christ in the world so that all may know the love of God?”
Personal Vignette by Mark Sills
Mohammed and I were talking about our mutual friend Joe. Joe is a very giving person who frequently goes out of his way to help someone in need. “Joe is the best Muslim I know,” said Mohammed, much to my surprise. “But Joe is a Catholic,” I replied. “The definition of a Muslim,” Mohammed said calmly, “is to be submissive to God, and I don’t know anyone more submissive to God than Joe.” The essence of interfaith work is to create such a level of mutual respect and trust that individuals can see the best aspects of their own faith tradition in the lives of their neighbors who are of other faith traditions. And then, they can learn from one another.
Some people argue that the Golden Rule is the most consistent, moral teaching throughout history. Known also as the Ethic of Reciprocity, the Golden Rule is found in most religions and cultures.
Focus Text – John 10:11-18
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
But wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho , and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and [God] allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for [God] and find [God]—though indeed [God] is not far from each one of us. For “In [God] we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are [God’s] offspring.”
Other Lectionary Texts
- Psalm 23
- Acts 4:5-12
- I John 3:16-24
Commentary on John 10:11-18
Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the most popular images of our Lord. We see depictions of the serene shepherd gently watching over the flock, a staff in his hand, often cradling a lamb in one arm. He is also portrayed as the one who has gone after the lost sheep and, after finding the wayward lamb, carries it back to the flock on his broad shoulders.
This image is a continuation of the shepherd figure leading the people of God in the generations before the birth of Jesus. The kings, particularly, are called shepherds, but then God takes on that title in Ezekiel 34. This pericope is part of a larger section, 10:1-21, often labeled the “Good Shepherd Discourse.” Our text starts with one of the “I Am” sayings: I am the good shepherd. These sayings make the link between Jesus and YHWH, as Moses encountered the Lord at the burning bush. Moses asked who was speaking to him. The response: God said to Moses, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).
Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd, is an obvious connection to the theme, as are the passages from Hebrews 13: 20 and 1 Peter 2:20 where Jesus is referred to as “the great shepherd of the sheep” and “the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” respectively. John 10:16 introduces a curious thought. As Jesus confronts the Pharisees, he makes it clear he will not be bound by their standards. He says, “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.” No more is said about these “other sheep”, and the commentaries seem to agree that Jesus is letting it be known that he is intentionally reaching out to the gentiles. No one offers any elaboration on the motivation for this warning, or any ideas about whom Jesus might have intended by the phrase “other sheep.”
In the next verse, he states that he is ready to lay down his life for the one flock. He is alluding to his own impending death, but more than that, he is articulating the level of commitment he has for this flock that includes even the “other sheep” of verse 16. This can be seen as a demonstration of what was laid out earlier in John 3:16, Jesus being sent for the whole world as an expression of the love of God.
By Rev. David Amidon, St. Philip Lutheran, Raleigh, President, Interfaith Alliance of Wake Co.
Pastoral Reflection on John 10:11-18
In churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the Fourth Sunday after Easter is often cited as Good Shepherd Sunday. Readings, hymns, anthems, sermon illustrations, banners, Sunday School crafts, and other activities lift up sheep, lambs, flocks, and shepherds of all sorts. As we deal with the struggles of life, and the uncertainty of the times, as our freedoms erode in response to our fear, and injustice runs rampant in our land of “liberty and justice for all,” it is comforting to know we have a Good Shepherd to guide and support us. This shepherd is willing to lay down his life for us, his sheep.
This reflection, however will take a different approach to the John 10 text. We will focus on verse 16 and the “other sheep” of which our Lord speaks. In the original context, Jesus mentioning that he has come for those outside the chosen people of God would be outlandish enough in itself. Beyond that, as the Word of God for all the ages, it is worth some time to consider what doors this reference opens for us in 21st century North Carolina.
In stating that he has ‘other sheep that are not of this fold’, Jesus makes it clear that in his view, the normal boundaries of acceptable human contact no longer apply. He demonstrates this throughout the gospels by his choice of disciples; by his public conversations with women, some of them known to have a sinful reputation, even women of foreign origins; by his contact with lepers and the blind; by inviting children to take part in public gatherings. Now, some two millennia later, this text invites us to consider how far the reach of this good shepherd extends. Who are the “other sheep” in today’s world? With the phenomenal developments in communications, transportation, and cultures, what does it mean for us to see them as part of the same flock as ourselves?
As a good friend of mine likes to remind us, the body of Christ is not a metaphor. We, the Christian community, are truly the hands, feet, face, and voice of Christ in the world. As the ones bringing the message of the Good Shepherd for all to hear, we are responsible for lifting up his message of love, care, mercy, and forgiveness. We are not called to make all of the sheep the same color, or walk the same way, or even make the same sounds. Our task is to provide for the needs and protection of the flock. Often that means doing what we can to make available food, clothing, shelter, medicine, comfort, support, and hope.
Exclusiveness is seductive. As followers of Jesus, we need to be ready to examine our own attitudes and motivations. When exclusivity rises to the surface, it is time to take a look at where it comes from and how we can best react. Is our own faith so insecure that it is threatened by learning about the faiths of our neighbors? How will our neighbors of other faiths come to know the love, grace, and mercy of Christ if the followers of Jesus refuse any contact with them?
There are plenty of “preachers” broadcasting message of hate and fear of other religions. They tend to create barriers of misunderstanding and false stereotypes. They sow seeds of mistrust and suspicion. The approach Jesus models is one of openness, face-to-face communication, and acceptance of the person in spite of his/her labels or race or religion or culture or family situation. Jesus has good news to share with all who will receive it.
A fear exists among some Christians that knowledge of other religions will somehow endanger or weaken their own faith. Contact with non-Christians will render their own belief somehow less pure. The medical image is that one risks becoming infected with a foreign virus through contact with its carrier. By contrast, the model that Jesus presents is exactly the opposite. Rather than withdraw from the “other sheep,” he seeks them out. Instead of fearing an infection through contact with those unlike himself, he offers them a cure. That cure, of course, is the forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that God alone can offer.
In 21st century North Carolina we have many and various ways to come into contact with “other sheep.” Will we stick to our own kind, work to create a Christian enclave where we feel safe and secure, free from any risk? Or, will we be the welcoming face, the open hands, the purposeful feet, and the compassionate voice of Christ in the world so that all may know the love of God?
I have had the good fortune to be associated with The Interfaith Alliance of Wake County for about seven years. During that time I have made a wide variety of friends from different faiths and cultures. I have come to understand how their faith forms their lives. I have discovered many areas where my beliefs coincide with theirs, as well as many ideas that are completely foreign to me. In my view, I am more faithful to my religion and my view of God when I am interacting with these friends than if I would deliberately refuse to have any contact with anyone but other Christians. It is my place as a follower of Christ to live my faith in the world, to do so with anyone with whom I come in contact, to reach across boundaries and work to build bridges of understanding and appreciation for the other. I see Jesus doing that regularly in the gospels, and good things follow as a result. I strive to emulate him in my own life and give opportunity for good things to follow. I do not think we can do any less.
By Rev. David Amidon, St. Philip Lutheran, Raleigh , President, Interfaith Alliance of Wake Co.
Worship Aids for John 10:11-18
Call to Worship
God is the creator of all things and will weld them together at the end of time. Worship God who takes on all forms, who becomes Becoming.
Worship the God who dwells in our own thoughts, the One God, hidden in all creatures, the Inner Self of all Beings.
In this Great God the finite and the infinite meet, and all opposites are reconciled. All peoples will come to see their kinship.
In the days to come, the Temple of Yahweh will be put on top of the Mountains. The peoples will stream to it. They will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.
Love will be our law. Compassion will be the standard of holiness.
(From Svetasvatara Upanishad 6:5, Micah 4, arranged by Denise Cumbee Long)
Affirmation of Community
We believe that all people are God’s people, that every child is holy, that every person is a part of the sacred family.
We believe that God’s love embraces all, and that to exclude any person would be contrary to the message of Jesus.
We proclaim that this community of faith, [name of your congregation], will strive to be as open as the radical realm of God, and as liberating as the love of Christ.
And so we journey into our hopeful future with joy, pledging to offer each other welcome, compassion and care.
May God grant us wisdom, grace, and guidance in our life together.
(by Douglas S. Long, weekly affirmation used at North Raleigh United Church of Christ, Raleigh)
Everyone Who Is Called By God’s Name
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God . And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
For all the nations?
For all the nations.
Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Everyone who thirsts come to the waters.
Everyone who thirsts?
Everyone who thirsts.
Thus says God, “I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up,’ and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name.”
Everyone who is called by God’s name?
Everyone who is called by God’s name.
(from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, www.e-alliance.ch/wad_resources.jsp)
A Litany of Commitment
In the light of our reflections on Christian discipleship, we can discern ways to approach the challenges of our multi-religious society.
We will serve faithfully, meeting others with open hearts and minds.
All relationship begins with meeting. In our everyday lives, we will meet and form relationships with men and women of other religious traditions. At times these may be difficult relationships, based on bitter memories.
However, we have been created for loving community and will not disengage from trying to build bridges of understanding and cooperation throughout the human family.
True relationship respects the other’s identity. We encounter the image of God in the particularity of another person’s life.
We will meet others as they are, in their particular hopes, ideas, struggles and joys. These are articulated through their own traditions, practices and world-views.
True relationship is based on integrity. If we meet others as they are, then we must accept their right to determine and define their own identity. We also must remain faithful to who we are; only as Christians can we be present with integrity.
We will not ask others to betray their religious commitments, nor will we betray our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
True relationship offers an opportunity to serve. Jesus comes among us as a servant. We too are given the opportunity to serve others, in response to God’s love for us.
We will join with those of other religious traditions to serve the whole of God’s creation. Through advocacy, education, direct services and community development, we respond to the realities of a world in need. Our joining with others in such service can be an eloquent proclamation of what it means to be in Christ.
(Adapted from a liturgy by Margaret Orr Thomas, www.ncccusa.org/interfaith/ifrliturgy.html)
Suggested Hymns for Interfaith Connections
In Christ There Is No East or West
United Methodist Hymnal 548
New Century Hymnal 394
Baptist Hymnal 385
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 687
Presbyterian Hymnal 439
The Hymnal (1982) 529
Many Gifts, One Spirit
United Methodist Hymnal 114
New Century Hymnal 177
O For a World
New Century Hymnal 575
O God of Vision
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 288
Shadow and Substance
New Century Hymnal 398
Quotes about Interfaith Connections
Something happens in the course of understanding another’s truth that irradiates and lights up one’s own tradition and on rare occasions may even give a hint of a truth that embraces both, a hint of a hidden convergence.
Douglas Steere, Mutual Irradiation
If dialogue is to succeed as a practical reality, it must take place between persons of different faith perspectives, not between faith systems and their official representatives, a subtle but important distinction. That is to say, dialogue must be a living experience of women and men, who though they encounter each other out of the framework of their own theological positions, nevertheless meet, not as entrenched defenders of particular systems, but as people of faiths that are constantly developing.
H. H. Hoehler, Christian Responses to the World’s Faiths
Every tree is to be known by its fruits: not by its dead wood or thorns or parasites, but by the fruit of its own inner life and nature. The flowers of unselfish living may be found growing in other people’s gardens, and… rich fruits of the Spirit may be tasted from other people’s trees.
Marjorie Sykes, Sharing our Quaker Faith
Some Hindus have an elephant to show. No one here has ever seen an elephant. They bring it at night to a dark room. One by one, we go in the dark and come out saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk. “A water-pipe kind of creature.” Another, the ear, “A very strong, always moving back and forth, fan-animal. ”Another, the leg. “I find it still, like a column on a temple.”
Another touches the curved back. “A leathery throne.” Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk. “A rounded sword made of porcelain.” He is proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place and understands the whole in that way. The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant. If each of us held a candle there, and if we went in together, we could see it.
Barks, The Essential Rumi
Vignette about Interfaith Connections
Seeing That Of Christ
“Mohammed and I were talking about our mutual friend Joe. Joe is a very giving person who frequently goes out of his way to help someone in need. ‘Joe is the best Muslim I know,’ said Mohammed, much to my surprise. ‘But Joe is a Catholic,’ I replied. ‘The definition of a Muslim,’ Mohammed said calmly, ‘is to be submissive to God, and I don’t know anyone more submissive to God than Joe.’ The essence of interfaith work is to create such a level of mutual respect and trust that individuals can see the best aspects of their own faith tradition in the lives of their neighbors who are of other faith traditions. And then, they can learn from one another.
I know that I am a much better disciple of Jesus because of my many years of involvement with Jews, Baha’is, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and other faithful people. Many times, I have been encouraged to revisit my own beliefs in order to reach a deeper and more meaningful understanding because of something I’ve heard or observed in the lives of my friends and neighbors from other religious traditions. Muslims have taught me much about obedience and submission. Buddhists have taught me much about the importance of silence and ‘emptiness’ in prayer, so I can listen to God and not just talk to God each day. Baha’is have taught me about the power of inclusiveness and multicultural community. Jews have taught me much about the foundations of my own tradition which cannot be fully understood apart from that tradition in which it was born. Over and over again, my capacity for worship and praise has been strengthened by the time I have spent in synagogues, mosques, temples and gurudwaras.
There are some who fear exposure to other faith traditions. Such fear is rooted not so much in a lack of respect for others as it is in a lack of true faith in one’s own tradition. Because I have absolute faith in the way of Jesus, I not only do not fear exposure to other religions but go into such encounters in the knowledge that my own faith will be enriched by such experiences. Because I follow Jesus, I do hope that some devout Muslim will see something of Islam in me, and perhaps a Buddhist will recognize that of Buddhism in me as well. Indeed, because I follow Jesus, I believe that I can be at home in any house of worship, and can be in true fellowship with any person of faith. And when I see a Gandhi, or a Thich Nat Han, or even a Dr. Seuss, I not only see a deeply devout Hindu or Buddhist or Jew, but also that of Christ. ”
By Rev. Dr. Mark Sills, Executive Director, FaithAction, Greensboro
Contacts and Resources for Interfaith Connections
While Christian unity is modeled and promoted through all of the Council’s work, the Christian Unity Committee is the one entity whose primary responsibility is to further Christian unity or wholeness. This includes bringing people together across lines of denomination to realize that we are more alike than different and that we can be enriched by many of our differences.
FaithAction International in Greensboro offers assistance to immigrants, cultural awareness training, and interfaith programs and resources.
Triangle Interfaith Alliance hosts lectures on world religions, interfaith prayer services, music and art festivals while offering resources to faith groups.
My Neighbour’s Faith and Mine: Theological Discoveries Through Interfaith Dialogue is a thoughtful study guide published by the World Council of Churches
Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue contains messages to other faiths from the Vatican .
The Interfaith Alliance is a national non-partisan advocacy group promoting democratic values, defending religious liberty, challenging hatred and religious bigotry and reinvigorating informed civic participation.
The World Congress of Faiths publishes the journal Interreligious Insight.
The Pluralism Project has the mission to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research and outreach. It has North Carolina-specific articles.
Scarboro Missions is a Canadian Catholic Society with the excellent resource, Principles and Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue.
Key Facts about Interfaith Connections
1. Some people argue that the Golden Rule is the most consistent, moral teaching throughout history. Known also as the Ethic of Reciprocity, the Golden Rule is found in most religions and cultures. It can also be found in many ethical systems, indigenous cultures, secular philosophies and even in the physical sciences (the golden mean). Its omnipresence throughout history gives it tremendous moral authority. To see the Golden Rule in 13 different religions, click here.
2. According to David Barrett et al, editors of the World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions – AD 30 to 2200, there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones.