4th Sunday in Easter

First Reading:  Acts 9:36-43  

36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    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.

Second Reading:  Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
    and worship him day and night within his temple,
    and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
    the sun will not strike them,
    nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
   and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


GOSPEL:  John 10:22-30

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Share with the person next to you your favorite promise from the 23rd Psalm.

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

I read today’s texts and wondered how people in Ukraine hear Psalm 23.  As I watch my spouse struggle with Parkinson’s Disease, I ponder the implications of resurrection.  My grandson was just diagnosed with Autism and I grieve for the journey his parents are facing.  How do they hear these verses?  What does the Easter season and resurrection mean in our suffering world? It is during this Easter season when we delve into the truth that Jesus is alive. But like the Jews in the Gospel who gathered around Jesus at the Temple before all the events of Easter, a question jumped to their lips and possibly sometimes to ours, “How long will you keep us in suspense?”  If Jesus is the Messiah and if he is risen then how much longer must we suffer with evil?  We long for “happy ever after” but is that what resurrection means?  Some days the suspense is overwhelming!  The burdens are heavy.  The texts today remind us that resurrection is true not just because people at the time encountered Jesus but also because we see Jesus alive today.  We are his sheep!  If he is not alive, we have no shepherd!

“Jesus answered, ‘I have told you and you did not believe.’”

We do not grasp resurrection with our brain and reason but with our heart.  We must believe to understand Jesus is alive and with us today.  Resurrection is not a universal reality that is apparent to all like the sunrise.  We may disagree about the timing of the sunrise but we all look forward to a sunrise, even in the midst of the shortest days of winter in the North.  We know some day the light will creep over the horizon.  As Americans, though, we live in a world that worships diversity and tolerance.  “You drink your kool-aide, and I’ll drink mine.”  For many, being a good person is enough to merit acceptance by a distant God.  Of course, “good enough” is measured by that person’s standards.  It often means being nice to those whom I like or giving to a charity or to the beggar on the off-ramp.  Then for others there is the “circle of life” and the thought of dying, being buried and nourishing the budding of a flower – a fun thought.  How does Jesus speak into this common acceptance of tolerance?

         Jesus answered, “I have told you but you didn’t believe.” We hear his words but the choice to believe is ours.  Not all people believe.  G. K. Chesterton famously said,  “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”  So perhaps our first reflection today is to ask ourselves this morning, “Whose voice comes to my ears as I listen to this sermon?”  Do I look out on our world looking for a resurrected savior who is working things out or do I look out asking how much longer God is going to be defeated by evil?  Also, am I familiar enough with Jesus that I recognize his voice speaking to me?  Jesus says, “I have told you.” Are we listening?

          Jesus gives a second criteria for the resurrection.  Not only will we hear the truth of his words, we will see him working.

The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 

26 but you do not believe,

         If we listen we will hear Jesus speak and if we look, we can see the works of Jesus.  BUT… Events can always be debated.  For sure we hear the debates about reality as we listen to the news dissect January 6.  If we don’t like a diagnosis, we seek a second opinion.  Republicans and Democrats can’t agree and neither could Pharisees and Sadducees, nor the common person.  Jesus spoke the truth but we must believe.  Jesus’ works declared his identity but we have to believe.  He healed, he cast out demons, he calmed the storms, and he spoke life but people still debated and cried for his crucifixion.   The words and works of Jesus spoke truth but still doubts plagued those Jews who debated through the Gospels and doubt plague our world today as we cope with the evil that would defeat us.

Jesus went to the core of problem.  People are sheep.  He says, he has spoken and he has done works but we have not believed

 “…because you do not belong to my sheep.”

Those Jews heard his words and they saw his works but they were not his sheep.  Back in the day, I took a minibus from my town to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.  We were speeding through a village and I saw three sheep on the side of the road that were headed across the road right in-front of the bus.  I braced myself for a swerve and slam on the brakes.  The driver was going so fast he could not avoid a collision. He aimed the bus so that the sheep went under the bus between the wheels. I heard and felt the thunk, thunk, thunk and smelled their demise all the way to Nairobi.  He did not hesitate nor did he stop!!  I was shocked.  Those sheep did not have a shepherd!  Resurrection may mean we get to go to heaven because Jesus has paid for our sins, has opened the gates of mercy or led the way – however we understand the crucifixion – but it also means we have a shepherd NOW so we are not randomly struck by a speeding bus!  Resurrection is not just a promise about the future. It is a certainty about the present.

27 My sheep hear my voice.

Jesus is with his people in Ukraine, in the Middle East, in Asia and Africa and here in the ole USA.  He is with the doctors, the soldiers and generals.  He is with my husband and my son’s family.  He is active with you.  He knows about the stock market.  He cares about Biden and Trump!  He speaks to you and me and we must listen.  Yes he speaks through churches and radios and podcasts but he also speaks through friends, through nature and so many other ways.  Just like we can tune in to AM or FM, we can tune in to God 24-7.  He does not force us to listen, though.  The choice is ours.  The Holy Spirit does not work only on Sundays!  God does not change reality to make my life wonderful, he speaks to me to make my life bless others.  It is not just about me but also about me listening to him to bless others.

         Our text continues and is our focus today because it speaks to the meaning of the Easter season.

27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

A friend brought over the DVD, “Iron Will,” about the dog sled race from Canada to Minneapolis.  We enjoyed snow vicariously!  The dogs responded to a whistle, the tune, the boy played on his father’s whistle.  He lost the whistle and the dogs wouldn’t move.  Then he puckered up and  whistled the tune himself.  The dogs jump into action.  We are like those dogs.  We are like sheep that have learned to know the voice, the tune, of our master.  Words of hatred, vengeance, and jealousy don’t sound right to us.  We must learn to listen to his voice and not the voice of the evil one on our shoulder or the voice of our own selfish heart.  “My sheep hear my voice.”

         Jesus continues, “I know them.”  We are known, not known about.  We are not a name on a voter’s registration list.  We don’t have to pull out our identity documents before we pray.  He knows us, warts and all.  He knows our past with its failures cause he was there.  He loves us as we are.  Unimaginable.  He did not appear to his followers after the resurrection because the followers had their act together.  They were huddled behind locked doors in fear.  He did not appear to the two on the road to Emmaus because they really understood all that had happened.  They had to have the Scriptures explained to them.  He knew those people at Easter time and knew they needed him and like a good Shepherd, he went to them.  He is our good shepherd today and walks with us in our weaknesses.  The Psalmist writes, “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.”

         Jesus further explains, “they (his sheep) follow me.”  Houston we may have a problem.  The first two descriptions point to God’s initiative, he speaks and he knows, but this one challenges us because we know how often we disobey or fail to obey.  Spiritual truth is not like scientific truth. Even in my imperfection, though, Jesus walks with me because I am his sheep and he is my shepherd.

         The kingdom of God does not work like the kingdom of this world.  I suspect that the rubbing point of the resurrection is right here.  People talk the talk but walking the walk is a much more challenging task.  We will sign up for “shall not want,” “green pastures,” “still waters,” and “restoring our soul,” and we even want “tables prepared for us.”  But, the Psalmist says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  How did the enemies get into this picture? 

         Resurrection life grows in the presence of enemies, not just because God zaps and eliminates them.  We choose to listen.  We choose to look.  And we choose to believe in the midst of the chaos of evil in this world, not because we are living our happy-ever-after dream but because we trust our Shepherd.  Christianity is not about health, wealth and prosperity.  It is about following a Shepherd that leads us through the tough places of life.  We follow a risen savior who speaks and we learn to hear his voice.  He acts and we learn to recognize his presence.  He knows us and loves us even when we stray and misbehave. We can turn to him and are forgiven.  We use the word “faith” to describe being the sheep of his pasture.      Jesus goes on to say in the Gospel, “ 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  The Shepherd leads us to eternal life.  He guards us from the enemies that would destroy us.  “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.”

         The resurrection means that Jesus is alive and speaking today – are we listening?  The resurrection means that Jesus is acting today – are we watching? The resurrection means that we are known inside and out, past and present – can we embrace that?  The resurrection challenges us to follow a living Shepard.  Why you might still ask.  Because, “30 The Father and I are one.”  Nothing can snatch us out of his hands.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”


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