The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2018

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
I John 3:16-24
St. John 10:11-18

Background: Cornerstones

In ancient times it was more than just the stone itself that was of symbolic importance. There was the implicit support that the stone gave to the building itself, but beyond that there were spiritual aspects that accompanied it. Often there were offerings of oil, wine, or grain, an indication of the prosperity of the community or organization that was raising the building. Following in those sacrificial traditions, however, sometimes it was the sacrifice of an animal, or even of a human being that added to the spiritual support of the building. In Egypt, pits were dug at points under temples where ceremonial objects such as scarabs, amulets, or miniature tools were deposited, symbolizing the support that was needed to keep the temple or building in repair. The practice of building over a human being was not limited to pagan cultures. In the 15th Century the walls of Holsworthy Church were built over a living human being.

First Reading: Acts 4:5-12

The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let 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. This Jesus is

`the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.'

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

The cup which Jesus drank, and now that stood in front of the apostles is quickly experienced by Peter. His act of kindness in the healing of the lame man is not thought of well by the Sanhedrin. It is a question of authority that bothers them. “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Peter is often quick to answer but here his speech is different for he is now filled with the Holy Spirit. The name and the power are quickly identified by Peter – namely Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He goes on to explain and to connect them to the name as well, and to the power of God. “Whom you crucified, whom God raised.” What follows is a quotation from Psalm 118:22. In doing this, Peter not only connects them to the person of Jesus, and his name, but also connects their history to Jesus and his history among them. This is the Peter who just a short time ago said, “I know not the man.” Now he calls upon others who would also deny to know the man whom God has raised.

Breaking open Acts:
  1. Who has authority in your life?
  2. What kind of authority do you enjoy?
  3. What power do you willfully give to others?

Psalm 23 Dominus regit me

     The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2      He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3      He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4      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.
5      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.
6      Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Why is there such great comfort taken in this psalm? It might be good for those who have read and proclaimed it often to sit down and meditate on its meaning, especially on this Good Shepherd Sunday. Perhaps it is comforting in that we are invited to be led, to not have to make decisions. The shepherd leads to an environment of safety and prosperity, into life itself (He revives my soul – literally ‘brings me back to life’), provides for justice, walks me past death, anoints me and provides a bountiful table. That these things are given to us are celebrated in this psalm. One wonders if the hidden intent is not just to rejoice in these provisions, and to give thanks for them, but to also see the need for these things in our neighbor’s plight and condition.

Breaking open Psalm 23:
  1. What are the difficult parts of this psalm for you?
  2. What is your valley of the shadow of death?
  3. Whom have you anointed with healing?

Second Reading: I John 3:16-24

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How 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?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And 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. All 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.

If the psalmist demonstrates God’s love for us in the protections that God offers to us, then the author of First John provides a complimentary message of Love. The agendum is quite clear in the opening line of the pericope, “How 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?” It is indeed a question that can be properly addressed to our time. All of this flows from the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us – and now we need to lay down something in return. The author sees two aspects to life in Christ, 1) that we should believe in the name of Jesus, and 2) that we should love one another. The language that we hear from many Christians today seems to ignore the second half, only finding fault with brother, sister, neighbor, and fellow believer. The world is deserving of an example – so much so that we need to examine ourselves to see what it is that we are truly offering the world in the name of Christ Jesus.

Breaking open I John:
  1. What do you understand by the word “love”?
  2. How is love related to your faith?
  3. What has love compelled you to do?

The Gospel; St. John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “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.”

In the chapter that precedes this pericope, John uses the contrasts of being blind and seeing, along with faith and disbelief to set the stage for the healing of the man born blind, and in this pericope understanding Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Both of these incidents involve authority and acceptance. Jesus knows that the religious authorities of his time have rejected him, so here he uses the story of the Good Shepherd as a way of demonstrating how hear and to follow God’s will. This is a part of the Festival of Dedication series. It will be helpful if you read the entire pericope, namely verses 10:1-6.

In hearing Jesus’ talk, we are meant to wonder, “Who is the shepherd?” “Who are the sheep?” The original hearers wondered as well, “They did not realize what he was trying to tell them.” So, our pericope is Jesus’ response to their difficulty. Here Jesus pronounces his fourth “I am” statement – “I am the good shepherd.” However, it is what the shepherd does that begins to grant meaning and understanding to Jesus’ statement – “The good shepherd lays down is life for the sheep.” What a costly pronouncement. Cannot more sheep be acquired should one or all be lost? But the shepherd has only one life. So here the lesson is one of self-sacrificial love. The lesson is for those who would lead, for those who would form a new a different type of religious authority, in place of what had been. The “hired hand” does not meet the standard that Jesus announces.

Finally, in these sayings, we begin to see the mystical relationship that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has with the sheep. There is an intimacy in the statement “I know my own and my own know me” that fails us in English. We are intimately known of God – all of us – all that we would hide. And yet the shepherd determines to lay down his life for us in spite of that knowledge. There is an ecumenical dimension to all of this as well. There is the one flock and the one shepherd, as well as the “other sheep” who are held in the same esteem. Where do our lives intersect with these others known of God?

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How are your religious leaders shepherds?
  2. Why do you follow them?
  3. What questions do you have for them?

Question: What transcends the supposed sweetness of the Good Shepherd, to tell us of God’s real intent?

Possibility 1 – How are the cross and the cornerstone linked? How is Jesus the sacrifice made to keep the building whole?

Possibility 2 – What does the psalm reveal about the needful ministry we need to have with others?

Possibility 3 – What might love really entail?

Possibility 4 – What are the difficulties to face if we are to lead, and if we are to follow?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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