The Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019
The Rev. Anna C. Shine
Readings: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strong rock and our redeemer.
Our story in Acts tells us about a woman named Tabitha, a disciple known for her devotion to good works and acts of charity.
She becomes ill and dies, and after other disciples have prepared her body, they send for Peter, who was in a town nearby. Peter comes, and mirroring the stories of Elijah resurrecting the widow’s son and Jesus resurrecting Jairus’ daughter, he prays and commands her to come back to life. Through this act many are brought to belief in Jesus.
Turning to our Gospel passage for today, remember that it predates the passage from Acts. Jesus has not yet died and risen. He has just stated that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. The Jews, and remember that Jesus is a Jew, ask Jesus to tell them whether or not he is the Messiah, to which Jesus responds, 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. It is important to note that Jesus is not saying that Jews, as a whole, do not belong to Jesus’ fold. It is important to note this because of the way in which the Gospel of John has been used to foment anti-Semitism and create a mindset that allows atrocities like the Holocaust to occur. A much more life-giving interpretation would recognize the flip side of what Jesus is saying! Up until this point the people of Israel are understood as the people of God. God’s people are limited to one people. Jesus has just stated in the verses before our passage for today that he has other sheep that do not belong to this fold and that he must bring them also! Who are the sheep that belong to Jesus? Jesus’ sheep hear [his] voice! They follow him! This is not a statement saying Jews are not a part of God’s people anymore. This is a statement that all people are God’s people! Those who listen to Jesus and follow him are the sheep that Jesus shepherds. And how do people follow Jesus? Through good works and acts of charity, as Tabitha has shown us in her life dedicated as a disciple of the risen Christ.
In last week’s Gospel passage, Peter was called to tend/feed Jesus’ sheep/lambs. We see him today resurrecting one of Jesus’ disciples, in the process creating more believers and followers of the Way of Jesus. Tabitha, in rising again, can continue her good works, being a beloved child of the community of Jesus’ followers. I love that Peter raises a woman back to life. Women were less valued in society at that time, and so the fact that other disciples mourn the loss of this woman so much that they call on Peter is a testament to her faith and discipleship. We see Jesus’ mission continue through Peter, healing those and feeding those and meeting with those who are not seen as worthy. This is clear in the last sentence of the passage, where Peter goes to stay with a tanner, someone who touches animal hides, which makes him defiled in the custom of the Law. It is the continuation of the message that allare welcome to be part of the fold of Christ. And that message is delivered by the voice of Jesus that is liberating rather than oppressing. That is loving rather than hating. That is inclusive rather than exclusive.
How are we listening to Jesus’ voice today? And how might we better follow him? We have shown ourselves at Holy Cross that we care deeply for others and especially for this community here. We are a community that certainly feeds each other – literally, through parish breakfasts, 5th Tuesday dinners, coffee hour, foyer groups, summer food programs; intellectually, through adult Christian education, porch and deck conversations, Seeker’s and Bookies; emotionally, through visiting each other, caring for one another, writing cards to others, singing in choir and making music; and spiritually, through yoga and walking, through the prayer ministries of individuals and the Daughters, worship on Wednesdays and Sundays, contemplative Tuesday services, and the servant nature of the ECW and MOC. If I’ve left a group out, please forgive me because that means that we have so many ways of feeding each other that I can’t name them all! There is already much that we do in the way of Christian discipleship. As life is a journey, though, there are always more ways that we can grow and push ourselves into a deeper relationship with God. One such way is to practice prayer as an opportunity to listen to God’s voice. If the sheep are the people who listen to Jesus’ voice, then it is important that we all make it a habit and a practice to take time to really listen and hear. If listening through meditation is not one of the ways that you experience God’s voice, another way to practice is to take passages of Scripture and sit with those words, trying to hear God’s voice beyond the words themselves. Psalms can often be a good starting place for this practice.
Our psalm for today, Psalm 23, is often quoted at funeral services. It is a psalm that has brought many comfort. One of the disadvantages of passages of Scripture that are used frequently is that it can sometimes lose its meaning when it becomes too familiar. When we take the time to reflect deeply on it, however, we can be surprised by the different meanings we can find and sometimes can hear something new in the process. I invite you to do that with Psalm 23 this week. Reflect on it. We already know that God is our shepherd, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. But we have seen that Peter becomes a shepherd as well. What does it mean for us as disciples to become the ones who are leading the sheep? What if it is through our good works and acts of charity that the comfort of God as our shepherd is experienced by others? And how might that change our perception of this psalm? I invite you to explore these thoughts this coming week, praying the psalm and trying to hear the words anew:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.