Fourth Sunday of Easter Study

4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER   04-25-2021

EASTER is 50 days, including seven Sundays, in churches that follow a liturgical calendar. The Gospel readings on the first three Sundays each Easter Season focus on the resurrection stories about the empty tomb, the messages from angels, and appearances of the Risen Lord to his followers. On the last four Sundays of each Easter Season we look at Jesus’ farewell speeches and deeper meanings of his presence, his power, and his promises as the Lord of our lives. On the 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER we are always reminded of the image of the Risen Christ as our Good Shepherd who brings us life.

FIRST READING:  Acts 4:5-12

The book of Acts tells us about the spread of the gospel after the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven… after the promised Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus and created the Church and exploded into resurrection love and freedom.

In Acts 3:1-10 Peter and John happened upon a man who had always been lame… then Peter healed him, which caused quite a stir and drew a crowd. In response, Peter preached to the crowd (last Sunday we looked at part of his sermon), lifting up Jesus Christ – his death and resurrection – and calling for repentance. It got Peter and John arrested and jailed.

In today’s reading Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to speak courageously and boldly to a not-so-happy audience, one that wants to interrogate them, about the healing and salvation that come through the resurrected Christ. You’ll have to read Acts 4:13-31 to see how it turned out for Peter and John… and what effect this had on the Christian community of faith.

Christ calls us to speak and to be the truth like Peter, with courage and boldness, even if what we say and do is against society’s values, seems politically incorrect, or confronts the principalities and powers of this world.

When have you gotten into “good trouble” (Congressman John Lewis, non-violent activist and courageous advocate for social justice and human rights) for speaking and acting your Christian faith? If never, why not? 

If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be any evidence to convict you?

How has knowing and following Jesus transformed you so that people will notice that you have “been with Jesus”? 

It’s difficult enough to be challenged and confronted when we have done something wrong… and it’s even more difficult when you’ve done something right. It may seem impossible to speak out, to stand up for Christ and God’s love when you are facing persecution for doing so. But there is a reason that Jesus in the Beatitudes calls us blessed when we do.

Fill me up, Lord! Make me bold in my witness. 

PSALM:  Psalm 23

    How many people have heard these words and been comforted and encouraged? Like the psalmist, like biblical Israel, like many people of strong or even wavering faith, we too can take comfort in knowing that God is our Shepherd on our life journey, that we are guided, nurtured, protected, and promised.

Compare this familiar psalm to today’s Gospel reading. How do these images compare?

How blessed do you feel about God’s provision for your life? Do you believe that you have enough?

Let God guide your path, give you hope and strength, and walk with you, even through shadowed valleys of crisis, grief, suffering, and your own final breath! Trust in God. Keep trusting. Trust some more.

SECOND READING:  1 John 3:16-24

The writer of this letter designated as 1 John wants Christian faith to be expressed not only in words but in deeds as well. In 1 John 2:9-11 the author says a person cannot claim to “in the light” and still hate a brother or sister. Today’s reading has to do with being “of the truth” and how Christians can be sure that they are.

Christians can be confident that they are “of the truth” when their hearts do not condemn them (3:24). And hearts are not condemned when we are trying to love each other with the same spirit, the same depth, that Jesus loved us. Christ’s love for humanity was humble and sacrificial, without hesitation or limitation. And this becomes the model – and the measure – of our own love, which is “not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (3:18).

The author of 1 John believes that, when we are honestly trying to love one another as Christ has loved us, then “we abide in him, and he abides in us” (3:24). Sometimes, you have heard people talk about – perhaps even said so yourself – how difficult it is to understand the Bible, to understand the Christian faith, to follow all of God’s commandments, etc. But it’s not as confusing as we sometimes imagine. When our daughter was young, she once offered to preach for one of her clergy parents, anxiously trying to reflect and write in preparation for another Sunday morning. Her proposed sermon in its entirety was this:

“Love… love… it’s all about love. Amen.” 

It’s just that simple. If we can comprehend the kind of love that Jesus has given us and honestly and humbly try to LIVE THAT and to BE THAT and to DO THAT towards others (and mind that you don’t draw the circle of inclusion too small… Jesus reached out to the entire world!) , then we are “in the light” and “of the truth” and “abiding in him”. Let’s keep at it.

 

GOSPEL READING:  John 10:11-18

You might read the whole passage, John 10:1-18, where Jesus describes himself both as the shepherd who cares for his sheep and as the gate for the sheepfold providing both protection and passage.

In ancient days, long before the human life of Jesus on this earth, the shepherd was held in high esteem. There is a long Biblical heritage using the image of God as a shepherd and the people as his sheep. The early patriarchs of Israel, even before Israel was a mighty nation and a place, were shepherds by vocation. The kings of Israel were called to be the shepherds of the people. The priests and all who represented the religious community were commissioned to be the spiritual shepherds. But by Jesus’ day the shepherd was considered a lowly, stupid, uncultured, dishonest person engaged in a dirty and despised occupation. They were looked down upon, they were ridiculed, and they were scorned. So Jesus shocked them, shocks us, when he says “I am the GOOD shepherd.” Five times in today’s Gospel passage Jesus speaks of “laying his life down for the sheep.” Hired hands don’t … hired hands dis –associate from the responsibility… hired hands run away, make themselves scarce and safe. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says today, so committed to the well-being of the sheep that he is willing to lay down his life for them.

In a world of dark, shadowy valleys, you better have a good shepherd to guide, protect, comfort, and nourish you. And, if Christ is truly your Shepherd, then commit yourself to shepherd those who are lost, to heal and protect those who are injured, to lead the thirsty to living waters and the banqueting table of everlasting joy. It cost Jesus his life to deliver you from death. It’s our turn to pass the love. .. to embody a message of resurrection and new life for others. The love freely given us is a love we are commanded to offer others. 

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