Finding the Lessons

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easter 4A May 7, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Seeing that by Christ alone we have access to the Father, there are no true shepherds other than those
who come to Christ themselves and bring others there also, neither is any to be thought to be in the true sheepfold but those who are gathered to Christ." 

From John Calvin's work the Geneva Notes

"One lesson here is that sheep fare best together, not picked off one by one. Another is that there is promise of great pasturage, abundant life for all who follow Jesus' way. A third is that there is something public, open, honest, and even simple about how we live as God's people through Jesus."

Commentary, John 10:1-10, (Easter 4A), Sarah Henrich , Preaching This Week,, 2011. 

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


O God, whose goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, you have made Jesus, whom you raised from the dead, the gate through which we, the sheep of your flock, may enter the sheepfold of abundant life.  Pour forth upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that a midst the corruption of this age and over the voices of those intent on leading us astray, we may learn to recognize the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who came that we may have life, life in all its fullness.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 10:1-10
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The context within the Gospel text is the healing of the blind man. Jesus has healed the blind man, who was blind from birth. The authorities have not understood and have smarted a little (int he last verses of 9) regarding Jesus' words to them regarding their leadership. Jesus then begins the teaching in chapter 10.

The double amen leads off today's text, a repetition we are familiar throughout the Johannine text. Thieves and bandits, (literally street fighters or revolutionaries) climb in and steel sheep. They have to make their way over some kind of stone wall most likely and scramble through a next of thorny dried bushes. It takes some work and is a painful enterprise most likely; even for the most determined thief. Nevertheless, this is how bandits do it.

A shepherd enters the gate, gets the sheep. Calls them by name (pet names) and leads them out and they follow. Sometimes a helper brings up the rear...but the chief shepherd leads. The gatekeepers helps by getting the door (don't spend a lot of time on this image and difference between gatekeeper and shepherd as many scholars think this was a latter scribal adjustment to help people understand how the shepherd got out) and all march out by the sound of the shepherds voice. (Raymond E. Brown, John, Anchor Bible, textual notes, 386)

Sheep don't follow strangers. This seems logical, and I have heard and read a number of texts describing how shepherds and sheep know one another well. Sheep follow their shepherd's voice. Verse 5 gives us an inter textual understanding here: "They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

The disciples who are the audience (while it is conceivable that the audience is the same audience from before - the blind man who was worshiping Jesus and the leaders). So, they want to know what Jesus is saying and how these images have meaning in their current context. Jesus offers clearly his take: he is the gate:
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
I think the text should continue. There is an important part of the text which speaks directly to Jesus as the one who will lay down his life for the sheep and offers him as the much better alternative to the thieving and killing bandits.

We essentially have here the parable of the shepherd and sheep (1-5); the misunderstanding by the listeners (6), and the explanation (7-10).

Raymond Brown offers two interpretations to the meaning of Jesus as the gate. First, we cannot separate the comment of Jesus from the context and climate existing prior to Jesus' own time and stretching back through the intertestamental time period which embodies much of the Jesus movement understanding and that is the displeasure with the occupying authorities and some dissatisfaction with the religious rulers. In this interpretation we have something far from the idyllic pastoral seen and rather inherit here a frontal attack on all those who would use authority in an unjust manner. While Jesus is given all authority he is not that way. (393)

The second idea that Brown floats for us is the idea that the gate is the gate of salvation. (394) In the very earliest patristic sources we see Jesus as the gate by which people enter salvation. Here is just one of the many:
Christ. “For I am,” He says, “the door,” John x. 9. which we who desire to understand God must discover, that He may throw heaven’s gates wide open to us. For the gates of the Word being intellectual, are opened by the key of faith. No one knows God but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him. (Clement of Alexandria)
While Jesus is the giver of water, bread, and wine here we see him as the provider of pasture over an against the death promised by others. These two images then (gate of salvation and salvation's pasture) are important. This pasture is the fullness of life; fullness of life today and tomorrow.

This week I am thinking about a conversation that I had recently with a group of clergy about preaching and teaching. The idea we explored was about the nature of community as defined over and against other communities; and as a community engaged in the world.

The context of Jesus' ministry as described in this Gospel message is very much one in which the movement itself is distinguishing the nature of its mission from those around it (government, religious sects, and power). John's community was developing and growing. Perhaps a network of house churches connected to a larger community in which diversity and growth are pressing on the fundamental quality of who the community is; who does the community reflect.

There are seven "I am" statements in John. These I am statements help define both Jesus, Jesus' community, and John's community. In Richard Burridge's John commentary he has a great line: "So Jesus has to spell it out, 'I am the door of the sheep'; he is the way to safety and salvation. Unlike the thieves and robbers, and the false leaders, he will not cast out, but save and protect all those who hear his voice and respond." (133)

As we listen and respond to the image Jesus gives us I would ask how are we doing? Jesus is the door, the gate, he is the way of safety and salvation. How are our communities self-differentiating themselves within their neighborhood and city in which we life as a community of safety and salvation? Are we the ones who are perceived as thieves and robbers? Are we the ones who are thought of as false leaders? If so how do we correct that vision of us? When people come to us, or encounter us at work in the world, do they feel cast out or brought in, saved and protected, condemned and put in jeopardy?

This is quite the challenge if we are today to continue in the apostles understanding and teaching; if in fact we are to be the continuing community of Jesus in the world around us today.

"We must also see Jesus' death in the light of his life; otherwise we will have no idea what this life is for which he died and think it some kind of promise of escape to bliss." 

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Easter 4, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia. 

"Though Peter is intent on teaching his readers about what is good and right to believe about the love of God the Father, the suffering of the Son, and the sustaining work of the Spirit, he balances all of this with an emphasis on anastrophe, the adoption of a way of life distinctive to the Christian faith." 

Commentary, 1 Peter 2:19-25, (Easter 4A), Daniel G. Deffenbaugh , Preaching This Week,, 2011.

We continue with another reading from the first letter attributed to Peter.  It goes well with the image of sheep and shepherd found in John's Gospel.
For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
What becomes clear as we make our way through this pastoral letter is that the author is intent on offering clarity around what is expected of a person who chooses to follow the risen Lord Jesus.  A number of scholars point out that this is part of the traditional and cultural household code. Here is the problem we must face...this passage begins with an address to slaves. The passage we read is meant for slaves. It is not meant for women, householder, or children. So, the passage presents a number of problems.

So how will you preach it? Will you own the fact that it is meant for the household slaves and then interpret anyway? Will you simply adapt it? The passage has a different meaning in a context where perhaps there is the persecution of Christians and a completely different thing in a context where the Christian is the persecutor.  Also, one must be careful not to suggest that people should simply have their place and go along to get along - as the saying goes.  With these troubling thoughts at the forefront of our mind let us wade into the actual text a bit and see what we might come up with.

First, I think you should tell everyone where this passage comes from (the ancient household code) and that it was addressed in this letter to household slaves. Tell them that this is troubling but with that in mind it might offer us a vision of how we might follow this Jesus - for we have been lost and God has found us in the Good Shepherd.

I want to say that the author recognizes that people are treated unjustly. It is the unjust part which Peter is focused upon.  God is present with you in your suffering. We mentioned this last week. And here in the suffering unjustly God is with you as well - God's approval. Approval is translated here from a word that is better offered as "favor." God is with you, God is ever more present, ever more concerned, and God weeps with you in your unjust suffering - God favors you.

When you suffer silently you mimic Christ. Okay so here is the tough part. I don't think that I can preach that God intends for you to suffer silently - but rather that your silence - like Christ's - might have a purpose.  
When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
The purpose of Christ are redemption, reconciliation, the cross, the coming of the Kingdom of God. He did not suffer for sufferings sake.  Christ suffered in order that we might be free.  So the question is...did Peter mean get along and suffer quietly? If so...abandon that train of thought now. It might not be worth the sermon.  However, if the suffering was to bring about transformation in the householder, the one who unjustly acted against you, to create an opportunity for freedom then by all means move forward with it.

I am reminded here of a great article written regarding the meaning of Martin Luther King Jr. for Black America. You can read it here by Hamden Rice.  Rice points out that MLK did not make white people nicer, instead he taught black people that they could stand up. Here is a quote from that article that I was reminded of when struggling about this text.
It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of "assault," which could be anything from rape to not taking off one's hat, to "reckless eyeballing."

This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father's memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people. The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.
...The question is, how did Dr. King do this—and of course, he didn't do it alone.

(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of nonviolent resistance, and taught the practices of nonviolent resistance.)
So what did they do?
They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.
If we do it all together, we'll be okay.
 They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn't that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.
Rice points out that what followed was largely the end of terrorism on black people that was rampant in the country. Rosa Parks didn't make a big deal - she just didn't move to the back of the bus. The people beaten in the nonviolent protests went about it peacefully singing We Shall Overcome. Those thrown in jail unjustly in order to try and maintain white control were visited there by God.  God knows what we did and God strengthened his people to withstand the onslaught of such suffering.  If you can take 1 Peter and help us teach people how to use peaceful means to combat injustice I want to encourage you to go all out.

Now...while that version of dealing with the text takes it and twists it a next thought is that as a preacher you could tell people that when they oppress and treat people unjustly then they should know that God is watching and taking note - according to this passage. God knows - no matter how quiet or how loud the wailing is - who is responsible. God also will not favor or be found with such acts. God also does not take kindly to people who use God to abuse others, to beat others, to imprison others falsely, or to kill others.  It is wrong and God knows it.  It is wrong and we know it.  

God in the end is on the side of those treated much so that he comes into the world to unbind those shackled by the law and to free them to live life anew responding to grace and mercy and love and forgiveness.  One might even ask in the are we who follow Jesus to be the gate to justice, freedom, and peace for God's people.  And we might ask ourselves, "What are we willing to stand up and suffer in order to offer peace in this world to those who have no peace?"
Some Thoughts on Acts 2:42-47

We continue to read through Luke’s Acts of the Apostles as it describes the first days of Jesus’ resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the sending out of the disciples. Every disciple who is called by Jesus is made an apostle and sent out by the Holy Spirit to undertake the work of God.

As we move from the chiastic center of Luke’s Gospel and Acts, we find a narrative of stories of apostolic mission. This lesson chosen for this Sunday is the first of those stories.

We see that as predicted there are in fact going to be many signs of the Gospel in the actual lives of those who follow Jesus. What are the themes we pick up about the early life of the church in this passage?

We are told that the early followers share what they have. This is echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews – sharing is a sacrifice pleasing to God as is the fruit of lips that honor him. Some have read this passage to mean everything held equally for the good of all. But the text seems merely to imply that everyone shares what they have with others. Some goods are even sold because of the importance to the community to ensure that everyone has what they need. This is an important piece of early Christian community. They understood that all people needed a living wage, food, shelter, and the basics of life. They would do what they had to do in order to raise the livelihood of people in their community – even if it meant selling possessions in order to hold the reserves in common for the use of the community in this ministry. We see that in one way they send people to take care of the least of their community like widows and orphans. It is very clear in the New Testament that there were people of many different classes in the first communities. What is also clear is that the first communities understood it was their responsibility to make sure all had the ability to live. Raising people out of poverty and death has always been a Christian value.

We see that they continue as part of their religious community though they clearly see that following Jesus is a departure from the sacrificial aspect and exchange systems of their religion. This will become a strain in the relationship for both the religious leaders (as we will soon see) and those who are disciples of Jesus. They are also eating together. (We know that there were many forms and rituals for the first meals these apostles and their disciples shared so don’t get too hung up in some idea of a perfected Eucharistic rite that has been handed down from the earliest practices.) We know that the apostles are adding disciples to their number and that they are also being sent. So there is some biblical and historical evidence here for the increase of numbers.

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