Easter 4, Year C May 12, 2019

Title:Easter 4, Year C May 12, 2019

 Easter 4, May 12, 2019 (full size gallery)

One more Sunday rainy day. This one picked by the end of the service and was on the cool side considering we are close to the middle of May.

Today was both Mother’s Day and Good Shepherd Sunday from John 10 – “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” It colored the hymns, anthem and sermon:

From the sermon – “Many of us choose the way we should go through life in a sort of willy-nilly way. Listening for the shepherd’s voice is essential in choosing the right pathways through our lives… If we are listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and we are in his flock, then what we find following us is goodness and mercy instead of want, exhaustion, meaninglessness, and fear.

First Corinthians continued with the passage from Chapter 12 on the many members of the body and the unique gifts of all. Paul was trying to create unity in the house churches of Corinth

We celebrated Karen’s birthday, the Long 36th wedding anniversary and welcomed the most of the Long family to St. Peter’s. Laura came from California.

During the announcements Catherine highlighted the 183rd anniversary of the church this Wed and the Village Harvest that day. We have 3 cakes being made from the congregation.

Next Sat is Shred-It, the 8th year. The donations of $5+ a box help pay for the truck and also provide a donation to the outreach ministries.

Today’s readings explore the image of God as a caring Shepherd. In Acts, the apostles’ preaching and miracles bring many Gentiles to believe and follow. John, in his Revelation, describes a great multitude worshiping God, who plans to care for them tenderly for all eternity. In today’s gospel, Jesus pictures his relationship to the faithful as that of a shepherd who works for the life of the sheep.

Acts 9:36-43

One of the purposes of the book of Acts was to explain to Gentile converts how their new religion started within Judaism, but soon reached beyond its roots to embrace strangers. This passage gives details about the human passions and divine providence behind that change.

One of the most pressing questions in the early church was what to make of the break between Judaism and Christianity. The earliest Christians had seen Jesus as the fulfillment of their own ancient Jewish hopes. Why, then, were he and they rejected by mainstream Judaism? One could argue that Christians’ openness to the Gentiles was both cause and effect of their rupture with Judaism. That’s strongly suggested by today’s first reading. One of the purposes of Acts is to explain this to Gentile converts, and to explain to them the Jewish background of their new religion

In this section, which is devoted to how the Gospel is received and acted upon in Judea and Samaria, we have a collection of stories about Peter’s ministry in Palestine. There is a rationale for this collection presented in 9:31: “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the holy Spirit it grew in numbers.” There is also another purpose for Luke, and that is to show Peter as active in the same manner that Jesus was active.

Joppa is the present Jaifa, some 15 kilometres from Lydda, and the name ‘Dorcas’ is the Greek translation of ‘Tabitha’ and means ‘gazelle’. Had the disciples sent for Peter so he could join them in mourning Tabitha? Did they imagine Peter would be able to ‘do something’ for Tabitha

The story of Tabitha’s restoration to the community is reminiscent of the resuscitation of Jairus’s daughter by Jesus (Luke 8:49-56). Luke, the author of Acts, is demonstrating that the disciples now carry on the healing work of Jesus.

Peter repeats Jesus’ actions: responding to the request for help, sending the crowd out of the room and speaking to the dead woman. The only difference is that Peter pauses to kneel and pray, thereby illustrating that the authority to raise the dead is not his own like it was Jesus’, but is an extension of the presence of Christ.

When Peter arrives, the women are wearing the clothing Tabitha had given them while she was alive. She was always doing good and helping people who were poor and she is identified in the text as a disciple. Peter orders everyone out of the room, presumably because he does not want the miracle which is about to take place to be treated as a spectacle. ‘Tabitha, get up’, has echoes of what Jesus said to the young girl, ‘Talitha cum’ (Mark 5:41) and some scholars have wondered if this is the same story sometimes attributed to Jesus and sometimes to Peter.

In his commentary Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit, Justo L Gonzalez notes Luke often links a story about a man with a story about a woman. Gonzalez also points out Peter remained in Joppa with Simon, a tanner, an occupation considered unclean by many Jews because it involved working with the skin of dead animals and in the following chapter we learn of Peter’s extraordinary vision of unclean animals in Simon’s house (Acts 10: 9-23.

Psalm 23

This psalm is probably the most familiar and popular psalm of all. It celebrates God’s loving care for us under the guise of a good shepherd who provides food, security and protection from all dangers. God guides us on our journey through life so that we might “dwell in the house of the lord.”

It is a song of hope and strength in times of darkness and doubt, death and fear. We know that God provides for us and gives us strength and refuge in times of trouble. We know that with God, we are not alone, and even in death we have nothing to be afraid of, for God is right beside us. God will be with us throughout our lives. We recite this psalm at funerals and in times when we need reminders the most that we are not alone, even if we feel alone, we know that surely goodness and mercy will cover us. We know that we will dwell with God forever, even if we can’t feel it now.

Verses

1. The Lord is my shepherd: The prophets (Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ezekiel 34) use the image of Yahweh as the shepherd of his people.

In the ancient Near East, the king was seen as shepherd (vv. 1-4) and as host (vv. 5-6).

2-4: The singer uses the imagery of the shepherd’s care for his/her flock to describe Yahweh’s care for his flock.

God faithfully provides for his sheep, and constantly cares for them. He revives our very lives (“soul”, v. 3), and guides us in godly ways (“right paths”). Even when beset by evil (“darkest valley”, v. 4), we have nothing to fear. God’s “rod” (a defense against wolves and lions) protects us; his “staff” (v. 4, for rescuing sheep from thickets) guides us.

5. The singer describes his acceptance in the Temple, where he is fed with heavenly food and drink, and anointed with holy oil.The feast (v. 5) is even more impressive, for it is in the presence of his foes. Kings were plenteously anointed with oil (a symbol of power and dedication to a holy purpose).

6. Yahweh’s care and protection will continue throughout the life of the singer. He will dwell in the Temple.May God’s “goodness and mercy” (v. 6, steadfast love) follow (or pursue) him (as do his enemies) throughout his life. He will continue to worship (“dwell …”) in the Temple as long as he lives.

Revelation 7:9-17

Before the opening of the seventh seal, John sees a vision of the assured victory of God and God’s people. The innumerability and ethnic diversity of “the great multitude,” in contrast to the 144,000 from the 12 Jewish tribes, suggests the catholicity of the Church. The white robes of the redeemed are a sign of purity and righteousness, recalling the white robe put on the newly baptized.

Those who have “come out of the great ordeal” have survived the test of conflicting loyalties. The destiny of the redeemed weaves together a skein of images from the Old Testament: unending worship of God, shelter in God’s presence, the satisfaction of hunger and thirst, protection, the provision of water, God as shepherd and the end of all sorrow.

John 10:22-30

Not for the first time a dispute had broken out between Jesus and the religious authorities. At first it centers on the healing of a blind man, but soon the debate is about which of them has the authority to speak and act for God.

The Sadducees controlled the temple with its God-given feasts, ceremonies and rituals, while Pharisees controlled the synagogues, where attention was focused on obedience to the law and keeping the commandments.

If Sadducees and Pharisees both felt they had legitimate claims to be the shepherd of God’s people and speak for God, evidently both resented the upstart from Galilee with His claim to be THE good shepherd of God’s way, God’s truth and God’s life.

The incident in the Gospel takes place in the portico of Solomon, on the east side of the temple – shielded from the cold prevailing winds. The Festival of Dedication takes place in December, which we know as Hanukkah, a remembrance of the relighting of the temple lights following the defeat of the Seleucid kings and the rededication of the Temple to the exclusive worship of God. Such a setting would put the reader in mind of an earlier messiah – namely the Maccabees, who saved the Jews from the cruelties of the Hellenistic overlords.

Thus the question comes up, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus evades the implications of their question (cf. John 8:25) and is concerned with their having a correct view of who and what he was. He replies quite frankly that he has told them and they don’t believe.

Although Jesus has given many hints about his identity he has only explicitly revealed himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman (4:26) and to the man born blind (9:37). To the rest, he provides evidence and waits for them to draw their own faith conclusions.

Jesus seeks to have them know his true purpose. In a few short sentences, Jesus describes our relationship to him and his relationship to his Father. We’re united with Jesus because we heed his word, as he is united with the Father because he does the Father’s will.

Earlier in his Good Shepherd discourse, Jesus focused on the role of the door and of the shepherd; now he develops the role of the sheep. In John 10:22-30, Jesus refers to those who know him as his sheep (at the beginning of chapter 10 he refers to himself as the Good Shepherd). The sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Each shepherd has a distinctive call that his own sheep recognize, and that makes possible the separation of herds after a night of sharing a common sheepfold.

Those that follow God follow the Shepherd, for God and the Shepherd are one (vs. 30). It is all about relationship (my sheep hear my voice – I give them eternal life.) Jesus as a shepherd caring for his own flock provides more than green pasture and still waters

The sheep trust the shepherd. We who follow Jesus trust Jesus. We trust his voice, and we believe because we trust. It’s less a question of doubts verses faith as it is a question of trust verses mistrust. We may have doubts and questions about faith, but if we trust in Jesus, we still have faith. It is when we do not trust that we have lost. Trust leads to faith, and what Jesus calls us to do is to know his voice.

Our Good Shepherd guides us through the heights and depths of life, even during the most difficult times when we feel we are alone and abandoned, even when we feel the absence of God. This is the voice we trust in life and in death, through the valley of darkness and the shadow, when it seems there is no hope, we know Jesus’ voice. We trust the words of Jesus, who leads us into new life, everlasting life, that begins now.

Some people are unresponsive, not because Jesus has not done the works of a shepherd, but because they are not of the flock; they are willfully blind. The statement made about Jesus in verse 28 is then made in verse 29 about the Father: their sheep are safe.

Jesus sums up by affirming that he and his Father are one. John describes their unity in actions, in teaching and in knowledge. Jesus’ unity with the Father also lies in the essence of his divine identity, which John makes clear, particularly through the “I am” statements (6:20; 8:24; 8:28, 58; 13:19; 18:5) that echo the sacred name of God from Exodus 3:14.

The final comment, “The Father and I are one” is the last straw. In the verse following our passage, the Jews pick up stones with which to stone him. The symbols in this passage are telling: Light, Rededication, Protection, Revelation, The Shepherd and the Sheep, and Unity.