Fourth Sunday After Easter – The Psalms Passage: Following the Good Shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalms 23:1)

I am stopped after/by the first verse. What a simple truth the psalmist has penned. If the Lord is our shepherd, then we have all that we needed. It ignores the smaller truth that not everyone has what they need, the necessities for living. But it does embrace the larger truth, that the Lord God has provided us with what our soul needs to live well. The psalmist goes on to list some of the smaller truths, as they would be framed by the metaphor of being sheep belonging to the Great Shepherd.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 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.”

Do you have somewhere safe to rest and rejuvenate yourself, beloved reader? Then you are blessed.

Do you have food and drink, beloved reader? Then you are blessed.

The Lord God offered up Jesus Christ in order that we may be reconciled to the Divine. So we are blessed.

Jesus Christ walked the earth so that we might know how to be in relationship with creation. And so we are blessed.

Nothing can separate us from the Divine. And because of this all creation is blessed.

Yes, we have “small” needs that to the truly needy are large needs. And we grieve with those who do not have the necessities of life. And in our grief we gave and try to make life more bearable for others. As we read yesterday, we can minister to others through being small letter “s” shepherds to others. In this we are blessed also, as we are a blessing to others. The Lord is our Shepherd, and if our wants and needs are filled, then we owe thanks to the Lord. And praise that are deepest and most profound needs are met. Petition and intercession on behalf of others whose needs in this life are not met. And finally, confession when we have strayed from the path the Good Shepherd has set out for us.

Beloved reader, may all of your wants be met in the Lord God! Selah!

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Fourth Sunday After Easter – The Gospel Passage: The Lord God Jesus Christ is working for us; will you “work” for the Lord?

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” ( John 10:11)

There is two ways to take this passage, beloved reader. The first to read it as a commendation of how Jesus takes care of us – that is, takes care of humanity. The second and more innovative way (and I love being innovative with scripture) is to take this passage as instructions as to how to care for others.

“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.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Now admittedly the phrase “does not own the sheep” may rule out this type of care for our fellow member of humanity, as we do not see ourselves (or should not see ourselves) owning another person. But from my readings of commentaries, it becomes clear that ownership means having regard and concern for the sheep as opposed to only being interested in earning money for easy labor. In fact, in reading the commentaries I find my interpretation is NOT innovative, but is one that commentators have also done.

“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.” (Verses 14 – 15)

If then it is not a “new” interpretation, then we must assume that we are to care for each other, and that we are to have concern for one another, assuring each other’s good. It draws into question all that might be assumed about the division between “then” and “us” that allows one human being to ignore or disregard another. If not an admonition is this verse, then surely from the next.

“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.” (Verses 16)

The commentators switch their definition of “fold”, “flock” and “shepherd” now placing them under Divine leadership. One church, unity amongst all Christians, and Jesus Christ as the Shepherd. Do not think, beloved reader, this loosens our responsibilities, one to another. What it does mean is that our common concern for each others is confirmed by Jesus Christ considering all of humanity as one unit. What you say? Only espoused believers are to be gathered under this “oneness” and mutual concern? We do not know who has or who will listen to the Divine’s voice. Can we afford to make that judgment? Is it really wise, do you think, to say I will not risk my life and my love on someone who may not believe in the Lord God at this moment? Let me tell you, if Jesus risked his life for the untold millions who would come after him, then we should have concern for our fellow member of the creation (and I do not use that corporate universal term “creation” lightly!)

“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.” (Verses 17 – 18)

We all have the power to lay down our life for another. And it need not be a laying down that means death. Some are asked for this ultimate gift. Most are not. But when we give our lives to Jesus Christ, they are held in trust by the Divine, and to be used as the Divine sees fit. We have the power and the free will to lay down our lives. And our lives are not given in vain. What we might lose in this life is gained and more in the life to come. And in return for our lives is a lifetime of love, and beyond, from the Lord. Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Easter – The Epistles Passage: Working for others, and working for God

Tonight, thus far, has been a busy evening. And it is not over yet. I have several tasks to do yet before I can crawl into bed and ready myself with sleep for tomorrow. I know not to complain too much for there are people in the world who have more tasks and cares than I do. Some of the tasks were to prepare for work tomorrow where I support people in a supported living program. Other tasks I have to do are for my family who I love and care about. And most pertinently to you, beloved reader, one of the tasks was writing this post.

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?” (1 John 3:16 -17)

In doing these tasks, then, I am following in our Lord God Jesus Christ’s footsteps in tending to other. It is good to know, in my own way, I am working for the care and support of other. I do not often tout my own self, but the writer of I John puts emphasis on that, and I want to be clear that I advocate and follow that advice.

“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.” (Verses 18 – 22)

Every Christian who lives his/her life faithfully and accountably lives out their lives in truth and action. Now granted, the writer of I John is writing from the perspective of the early church where the members of the church supported each other in both material and emotional ways. So for them, it was a matter of simple daily living. Maybe then were modern Christians need to be a little more attentive to our actions. Love is a verb though, and not a just a noun. When we show care, even in small ways, it is the truth and action that the writer of I John is talking about.

“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.” (Verses 23 – 24)

When I am driving by myself in my vehicle I listen to a Christian radio station that plays contemporary Christian music. A good many times advertisers on the radio station make a point of saying their business are run on Christian principles, and I am not here to dispute that. My point is that some of them are mortgage lenders, some in plumbing and heating, some in debt management, some in health care, and some in automotive repair. Regular ordinary people in regular ordinary jobs who do it in such a way that their faith beliefs come through. You do not have to be in regular mainstream ministry to minister to people, and love them in “truth and action.” If we believe in Jesus Christ and the Divine who sent him, and love one another as the Messiah shows us, then our lives will give evidence of that. And whatever work we do, we will be working for others and for the Lord. Selah!

Fourth Sunday After Easter – The Substituted Acts Passage: Change of subject

The next day their 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?” (Acts 4:5 – 7)

Do you know the limit of your abilities? Do you know what you are and are not able to do? Sometimes people think they have unlimited power and/or influence. They see themselves and leaders and world-shakers. Many times that is the way the Pharisee, Sadducees, Jewish leaders, priests and scribe are presented – thinking they have power and influence But with all their authority and power, they could not do what Peter and his fellow disciples did. And the “high-priestly family” wanted to know how they did it, or who helped them!

“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.” (Verses 8 – 12)

Now, there is a distinct difference between what Annas asked and what Peter answered. Annas wanted to know who/what healed the crippled man. Peter is talking about being saved, which is not quite the same thing. At least to our modern perspective. Maybe being crippled in that society was such a terrible occurrence that being healed is a salvation of sorts. Or that this healing is but a portent of a greater healing and salvation that is possible.

It occurs to me that Peter is taking this opportunity of a physical healing to open up the larger conversation of spiritual healing and salvation. And again, I am not sure that is what Annas and his family were inquiring about. The “high-priestly family” had the agenda of power and authority that is based in this world. Peter was talking about power and authority that was based on the world to come. That is the same sort of divide that Jesus and the high priests had. So it should come as no surprise that the disciples were entering into the same sort of struggle that Jesus had. And, they were probably glad and honored by it.

The agenda of this world and the world to come are at times dissimilar and sometimes at direct odds. We need to be prepared for that as Christians. It is hard when we are at odds with the community and society around us. We would do well to remember the example of Peter, and be aware of opportunities to “change the subject” to what is more aligned to our faith life. May you have the courage and inspiration to do so. Selah!

Third Sunday After Easter – The Psalms Passage: For my own reasons, this one is personal

Answer me when I call, O God of my right! You gave me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4:1)

This has the feeling of a very personal psalm or prayer. If in this case the psalmist was King David, one could imagine many points in his life when he might have written this. Or maybe it was a prayer he prayed often. I can imagine praying something like this first verse, and I probably have many times over the years. The second verse is one that I do not identify with quite as much; or more precisely do not want to remember how often I might have felt like this.

“How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah” (Verse 2)

As I said, it is a very heartrending personal prayer, borne from deep in the psyche. And the prayer of someone who sets great importance and derives self-esteem from the opinion of others. That is not really the way I am put together. But occasionally I like to be esteemed in the eyes of others, so I can understand how the psalmist might feel. The next verses tells me the psalmist has balance in his life too.

“But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” (Verses 3 – 5)

What I take from the above collections of verses is that Lord is attentive to those who are attentive to the Lord. Now, that does not mean that those who do not follow the Divine are outside of the Divine’s mercy and care. It simply means that you can feel the Lord God’s blessing upon. When you are in distress, don’t let it lead you to do something foolish, or worse. Think deeply and take time to consider what is best to be done. And then do what is the right and righteous thing.

“There are many who say, “O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!” You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.” (Verses 6 – 7)

I am not sure if the psalmist is meaning that it is good to ask the Lord that they may see pleasant things, and to have the favor of the Lord God on them. It depends, I guess, whether they have followed the Lord God faithfully, or simply believe that they are entitled through mere existence to have the Lord’s favor. I think, beloved reader, you can tell which is the better frame of mind to have. I am pretty sure the psalmist does. And that correct frame of brings a sense of contentment and assurance in the Lord.

“I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.” (Verse 8)

I am taking a very personal stance and perspective on today’s passage. I suspect I would have regardless of what the passage was. You see, today is my birthday. And while I do not want the focus on me, I did want to consider if the passage for today might have relevance to me. I was not sure if it would, and so wanted to explore that possibility. It has been my experience for many years that when writing these posts, there is very little that is coincidental. As I sit down to write very often (not always mind) I feel like I am entering holy space. And I respect and attend to that.

May you, beloved reader, consider for yourself what the psalm means in your life. I would encourage you to have that stance with all scripture. The Divine speaks to us in many ways; it is our task and pleasure to listen. Selah!

Third Sunday After Easter – The Gospel Passage: Some final lessons from the Risen Jesus Christ

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:36b-37)

I had remarked previously that one of the gifts and blessing the Messiah gave to his disciples is that he did not leave them wondering for long where he went to if he was no longer in the tomb. When it came right down to it, Jesus always tried to level and tell his disciples directly what was going on. Their was not guile or deceit in Jesus.

“He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.” (Verses 38 – 40)

Now there were the parables that he used as teaching tools, and his statements “those who have eyes, let them see”, and his dismissal of those who would not accept his teaching. But for the most part Jesus was direct and upfront.

“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.” (Verses 41 – 43)

Furthermore, do you really think that Jesus in his resurrected body was really hungry? No, I think that was to reassure his disciples that he was there in the flesh and accessible to them. Or maybe he was hungry. I prefer to think he wanted to show them he was real, and that he was not “set apart” from them.

“Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Verses 44 – 48)

Then came the crux of things, teaching them those things they would need to know if they were to continue the ministry that Jesus had started in them. Think about what he taught them in these few minutes he was with them.

  1. Be present to those you are ministering to. Be real to them and relate to them.
  2. Do not mislead those you minister to, or set yourself up as better or different then them.
  3. Do not scare them or make them afraid of you.
  4. Accept what hospitality that those you minister can give.
  5. Help those you minister to understand what you are saying. Tell them of the good news in simple and understandable terms. And tell them only those things that are true, good, and enriching.
  6. Encourage and commission those you minister to tell others, in the same way you ministered to them.

Keep these simple things in mind. And I hope and pray that Jesus Christ who came to earth to initiate the ministry of the Lord God will bless you for the ministry that you are called to. Selah!

Third Sunday After Easter – The Epistle Passage: Being children of God, and sinning anyway

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (I John 3:1)

As I started to ponder this verse, the first thought that came to my mind was that when I was interviewing most recently (ie last year) the people I was interviewing with really did not know me. I mean they did not what kind of a person I was, what my work experience was, or what my commitment level to any job was. It is hard to get to know a person in just a 30 minute interview. Even harder to get to know them from a resume or job application. So I can see why the writer of I John would say the world does not know Christians when the world does not know the Lord God.

But even that is hinged on the God that is known by society. It used to be that the Lord God had a general identity that most people could agree on. I do not think that is true anymore. And maybe that is why it is hard to know what Christians are like, because there is no universal consensus of who the Lord God is. And, may that is why Christians are misunderstood. Which, actually goes back to the writer of I John’s premise.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (Verses 2 – 3)

It is interesting how the writer of I John characterizes the Lord – chaste and blameless (to use several of the synonyms from the concordance). And that by implication that is how we should be – chaste and blameless. In other words innocent and without sin. Now Christians and Christianity have sort of morphed and changed in recent times; that is, Christians now seem to be self-empowered or assumed to have the authority to judge the behavior of others. But as you can read, it was not always that way. And really, it should not be that way. From the beginning, Christians were to model their behavior after Jesus’ and not critic the behavior of others.

“Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (Verses 3 – 7)

Now, the writer of I John is a little optimistic and a little dogmatic. It is sort of an either/or that the writer of this epistle has set up. Either you know Jesus, so you do not sin. Or you sin because you do not know Jesus. There does not seem to be an option of sinning even if you know Jesus. And maybe that is where “modern” Christianity gets judgmental. People in general (as viewed/judged by some Christians) sin, so it is assumed they do not know Jesus and so are lawless. But there is being a “leap” taken that should not be. Just because you think you know what sin and sinning is, does not mean you can judge others and name what they do as sin. Really, it is not supported by scripture.

Okay, I am going to get off my soap box before I dig myself into a hole. I do hope you know what I mean. And I hope and suspect that after reading this you may know me a little better. Selah!