Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Last week, I mentioned that two funerals in two weeks has put a note of sadness within our celebration of Easter.  Within 24 hours of that post, another member of the congregation died.  As a congregation, we are going through many emotions of joy, grief, thanksgiving, shock, and sadness as we gather on Sundays.  We mourn for those who are no longer physically present among us even as we proclaim that we are still connected to them through the Body of Christ.

This week is the so-called "Good Shepherd Sunday," the Sunday of each year that reads from John 10 as Jesus proclaims that he is the good shepherd.  There is much to say about the other readings as well.  If you would like to add to the conversation, use the comments below or comment on my Facebook post where I share this blog entry.

Thanks for reading!  I would love to hear your impressions and discuss your questions.

Acts 4:5 - 12

5The next day [the] rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is 
 ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
  it has become the cornerstone.’
12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4 is a continuation of the story from last week (Acts 3, where Peter heals a man in Jesus’ name and proclaims the Gospel among the people at the Temple who react to the miracle).  The religious leaders are offended that Peter and John are invoking Jesus’ name in connection with God, so they arrested them and are trying them within the Sanhedrin (Jewish religious leadership council).  The council would like to kill Peter and John for heresy, but they know that the people will turn against them if they do so.  The council warns Peter and John to not preach in Jesus’ name and then releases them.  Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples prayed for the strength to continue proclaiming the Gospel in the face of opposition.  In response, the Holy Spirit entered the room and strengthened them.

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, spoken by Peter)  This is the key claim from Peter’s speech.  We still wrestle with this particular claim: we may profess it with our lips, but in our hearts and minds, we wonder whether this is enough.  So we turn to charismatic leaders, who tell us to follow their teachings so that Jesus will love us enough to save us.  We listen to our inner voice which wants to feel like we did something to deserve salvation.  But salvation is not something we earn; it is a gift from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that we can only receive by the faith provided by the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 23

 1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Psalm 23 is one we hear at least once a year on Sundays.  We also hear it at 3 out of 4 funerals (2 out of the 3 I have presided over this month).  I always wonder whether we are so awash in sentimentality that we do not reflect on the claims within the psalm.  The Lord will lead us to all that we need (hence the green pastures and still waters).  We take comfort from the Lord’s rod and staff because they can be used to fend off attackers as well as gently guide us on our journeys.  The Lord welcomes us at the Lord’s banquet table.  We are currently dwelling with the Lord and we will continue to dwell with the Lord.  Each of these is a significant claim in its own right; together, they form an expansive vision of the Lord’s provision and blessing.  Do we miss this when we hear this psalm in worship because it is so familiar and we have memories attached to it?

1 John 3:16 - 24

16We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
  18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
  23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

When 1 John 3 talks about sin, does it mean all sin or does it mean failing to uphold the two great commandments: love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself?  Such love must be expressed in all forms including word, speech, truth, and action.

I can read this in such a way that we would take away from this passage a promise that the Lord will give us whatever we pray for if we are good enough or perfect.  I do not believe that is the point of the passage, but I can see how someone might walk away with that impression.

John 10:11 - 18

[Jesus said:] 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No 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.”

John 10 is the “Good Shepherd” chapter because Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd” multiple times.  In this part of the chapter, Jesus claims that he is the Good Shepherd because he is willing to die so that the sheep may have life; this is something that the hired hand is not willing to do because the hired hand cares more about the salary than the sheep.  Jesus will lay down his life for the sheep…and he will pick his life back up again.  In society, we praise those who risk their lives or give up their lives so that others may have life; the difference between them and Jesus is that Jesus was raised from the dead and that Jesus accomplished many things through his death and resurrection.

(Tying John 10 to 1 John 3) What does it look like for us love our neighbors enough to lay down our lives for the sake of someone else?  There are many stories and songs that depict this, but this is the one that came to my mind: Nickel Creek, "The Hand Song"

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