Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Fisherman's Net for the Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Good Shepherd

This Sunday's Readings:
Breaking Open the Word:

The Acts of the Apostles:
This happens after Saul's conversion experience. As the persecutor was attempting to make amends for his previous life and people were getting to know him as Paul, Peter had traveled to Lydda, and while there he had healed a man named Aeneas by calling again on the name of Jesus. The man, paralyzed for 8 years and bed ridden, rose-whole and healed. Word of that healing got to Joppa, a nearby community in which a righteous woman named Tabitha (Dorcas, in Greek) had died. "Come quickly," was the only message.

Tabitha's body had been laid out in an upper room, a private place in a home where casual guests were seldom given entrance. The women in her community had washed her and were mourning her death. When Peter entered, they showed her garments that Dorcas had made...having been a person who used her skill to make thing in service to the poor. Was he expected to join in mourning her death? To give affirmation of her righteousness? To lend greater cache' to her funeral? To DO something in the name of Jesus, as he had in other places? Could that have articulated any of that clearly enough, and would it have made a difference?

Peter heard her name, I am sure...and he knew of another tale of a dead woman in an upper room, a young girl to whom the Master had been summoned. What had he said to her? "Talitha cum," meaning in Aramaic, "Little girl, wake!" Hoping, he knelt and prayed, and then, "Tabitha cum." 

Wake up!

How often we ask God for help, hoping for a solution to the grief and dilemmas of our lives. We live in a world in which death comes to all, the righteous and the unrighteous alike. Dorcas' companions mourned her death and offered Peter witness to her righteousness, her deserving nature, in the work of her hands; but those hands were cold now. 

Was it merit on her part? I don't think so.

Peter's memory of that other healing? Perhaps.

Peter's awareness and connection to a grace-filled healing power in Christ's name that overcomes even death itself? Certainly.

The Revelation to John:
John's struggles in Patmos, the place of his exile, are laid out at the beginning of his missive to the Churches describing the experience of his apocalyptic visions. He knows the sorrow of the broken hearts of the Churches. He grieves those who have died because of persecutions, being robbed of the grace of Christ's imminent return. He laments those whose bodies have succumbed to the vagaries of mortality, who have been lost to death. He knows the promise of resurrection, but he is also bound in the grief of knowing that this is a moment some will not see in this lifetime.

In that, he is like us, if we are willing to take it on: a vision of the Church that was before us and which will continue on past us once we are gone. Now, this time, is not the be-all/end-all of the Church...it is merely a moment occupied as it journeys on with God through time and space.

But, what does that look like from God's perspective? That vision is one that is radically different from our (and his) current perspective. That vision is of a great multitude: those who have "been through it." All those who have lived, who live, who will live are in the midst of that host. All who have known joy, or pain; have seen blessings and know loss, they are all there.

God does not lose sight of a single one, and not one tear, one person is lacking comfort or consolation. We forget that is the real promise of the One who proclaims that they are "the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End."

The Gospel of John:
Do you want it now? We all do. The people wanted Jesus to "tell them plainly" that he was the Messiah. To do so, though, would also accomplish something else: Jesus proclaiming that Truth then leaves the crowd to project what they think the truth about the Messiah ought to be! Jesus challenges them to embrace the reality that while we may want to know things plainly, things even then are not in our control. Following Jesus as the Messiah means taking on the call to serve and not to control. It means being someone who proclaims and does the action of the Kingdom, over and against someone who has control over the manifesto that is distributed to the media. The Gospel is its own message and our task is to put it to use, as Peter did in Joppa at the bedside of Tabitha.

Psalm 23:
After all the times this Psalm has been needle-pointed into samplers and hung on a wall, after all the times it has been printed on mass cards, or set in print against verdant backdrops from nature, we should give the author of this profound piece of music his due....this is the song of a shepherd who knows his losses and his victories. He knows his strengths and his shortcomings....not in the abstract, but in the realized. His losses? Sheep lost to rivers, weather, predators and thieves. His victories? Tragedies staved off. His knowledge....that his whole being is God's: God is the author of all victories; and God is the consolation in every defeat. Why does this Psalm mean to much to so many through the ages? It's truth. It's the realization that honest hope and deep sorrow are siblings who walk side by side in our lives. God is with us through all of it.

How It All Links Up:
It's the hardest lesson to learn....that the life of the Kingdom is not all about us; but God's love is all for us. With that overarching truth in us, God can accomplish anything with us.

Taking Meaning:
So much of life is about performing and measuring up....and we stake ourselves on the commitment to strive forward into being "able." Gods doesn't ask us to be able...God asks only that we be willing.

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