4th Sunday in Easter

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47

42[The baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm: Psalm 23

1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
  and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25

19It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22“He committed no sin,
  and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23When 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. 24He 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. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Gospel: John 10:1-10

 [Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
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.”


         Let me share again another of my favorite tales, Little Red Riding Hood.  A little girl was called “Little Red Riding Hood” because she loved to wear a red cape her beloved grandmother had given her.  One day her mother sent her to her grandmother’s house with a fresh cake and a drink, as the grandmother was sick and weak.  On the way through the forest, she met an evil wolf that pretended to be her friend.  On hearing of her mission, he raced ahead of her to eat the grandmother and then dress up like her to wait for the little girl to arrive.  He would have two meals! 

         Little Red Riding Hood came to the door and knocked.  The wolf invited her in but the little girl had to rub her eyes. Something was wrong.  “Grandmother, what big eyes you have!” “Grandmother, what big ears you have!” “Grandmother, what big teeth you have!”  As the wolf jumped at the little girl, she screamed and a huntsman nearby came to help her.  Grandmother, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Huntsman enjoyed eating the cake and sharing the drink!

         Share – what alerts you that something is wrong?

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


         Easter morning we greeted each other, “The Lord is risen!”  And the other responded, “The Lord is risen indeed!”  Many sang, “Halleluiah, Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  For six weeks we are now in the Easter Season and bask in the realization that Christ walked through death for us and we focus on passages that support that he lives.  We believe Jesus is alive and active in our world today. People who were alive then saw him.  But also his teachings help us identify him today.  The truth is that we live with our hearts grounded in the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus ushered in but our bodies are still grounded in this Kingdom of this World and all the struggles that plague us.  We grow into the truth of the risen Lord.

           The second Sunday of Easter, we found some followers behind locked doors, scared of those outside and unsure of this resurrection news.  Jesus appeared and it became real.  The third Sunday we walked with two people on the road to Emmaus, leaving all the confusion and discussing all the events.  Jesus walked with them and opened their hearts by giving them a new understanding of God in Scripture and by breaking bread with them.  They returned to Jerusalem to rejoice with others who had “sighted” the risen Christ.

         A new understanding of Scripture and how God is working in our world is emerging during the Easter Season.  For many God is a distant being who may speak through prophets, through experiences of victory like Jericho, or through clouds and signs like leaving Egypt.  God can be found in his Temple or church and in the Scriptures but God is not necessarily a personally involved deity concerned about the common person’s life.

           Easter is a seismic earthquake that reconstructs our whole understanding of how we relate to God.  Like Little Red Riding Hood, we encounter today so many wolves that try to convince us they are grandmother.  They invite us to the good life but in fact their eyes are too big, their ears too big, and their teeth are too big.  They make empty promises.  Easter challenges us to recognize Jesus’ presence in our lives when we no longer have his physical presence with us.

           So today we return to the gospel of John chapter 10 and review our understanding of the Good Shepherd. Our God who created the universe and who incarnated in Jesus, true God and true man, and who rose on Easter Sunday is active and alive today.  This God is the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven. We stand at the door, the gate, to enter grandmother’s house and must decide who is the “real thing,” the “genuine article” calling to us.

“the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. “

         I’m guessing Little Red Riding Hood stood at the door and knocked.  I’m sure we have all seen that famous painting of Jesus standing at the door and knocking based on Rev. 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.”  It is often noted that the door has no knob because the person inside must let the visitor enter.  Today our text has Jesus standing at the door, the gate, and calling us out.  We are not looking inward at our fears and doubts but outward to Jesus who is alive.  Little Red Riding Hood enters and looks at the presence behind the voice calling her to enter.  She becomes confused.  Grandmother’s eyes are too big, ears too long, and teeth too sharp. Something is not quite right. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  How?

Grandmother, what big eyes you have!

         Little Red Riding Hood compares the eyes, the vision the voice is painting for her to the voice of truth.  Is the voice calling us to the “good life,” the life of comfort and a space where all our needs can be met by just believing and buying into its message?  All we have to do is have enough faith and pray.  It sounds to me like our commercials that are calling to us to invest in their product for the good life.  It sounds like our politics that call us to vote for their candidate to restore the past and provide a secure future.

         I would propose that the Gospel does not offer health, wealth and prosperity but offers God’s voice.  James 3 gives us clues for recognizing God’s wisdom calling to us:

            “16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above s first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

Is the voice you hear appealing to your own personal desires and ego or is it helping you to focus outward to God?

         But so often God seems silent.  During those times that we call “the dark night of the soul,” the body of Christ actively listens with us.  This is when God uses his voice through silence; it does not imply absence but focused listening.  As we speak and God listens, we clarify our thoughts, our wishes, and our petitions and find our own voice and identity.  God’s silent voice partners with us and with the community to draw us into voice.

         We listen to God’s voice through prayer, through Scripture and through community because the Good Shepherd knows our name.  For the Christian, there is a personal relationship. After the crucifixion, resurrection, there was no physical Jesus but followers had to learn to listen for his voice. God does not have big eyes to see us better because he knows us and knows us by name.  His voice will call us to look away from the problems that plague us here in the kingdom of this world and will call us to follow him to green pastures, still waters, and a banquet prepared in the unseen future we walk into.

Grandmother, what big ears you have?

         I have often talked about that little voice that sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ears.  Often the message is just plain crushing; telling me the things I fear to admit might be true about my life.  The evil voice focuses on fears and doubts and draws me away from God’s truth and God’s promises to care for us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Timothy is far more severe in his admonition to beware of the wolf with big ears that spreads gossip, rumors, jealousy and lies.  It is not the voice of the Good Shepherd.

         “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves  teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-3” 

         Let us ponder for a moment what we spend our time listening to during the week and why.  We need to be aware of events in our world and in our community but when by this information, we feel drawn away from God then we know we are in danger.  One of the big blessings of worshiping together is the music that focuses our minds on eternal truth of God’s love and presence.  Turn to your neighbor and share a word of encouragement.  May we be people this week that say words of encouragement and faith, sharing truth that focuses people on hope and God’s presence.

Grandmother, what big teeth you have!

         The truth comes out.  “All who came before me are thieves and bandits.”  False shepherds seek only to steal and devour.  They are thieves and bandits.  They steal joy, faith, hope and love, the fruits of the Spirit.  This Sunday we return to Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd because we, even today need to recognize the Shepherd’s voice.  We do not see Jesus as those first disciples did but we know that he speaks into our world today. 

         I like the story of Little Red Riding Hood because, just recognizing the wolf, the false voices that call to us and make all sorts of promises only to deceive and disappoint us, does not remove the little girl from harm.  The wolf springs on her and she screams.  It is the huntsman who comes to her rescue and kills the wolf.  The voice of the evil one can drive us to despair but as we call out to God, he saves us.  Perhaps our eyes fall on just the right scripture verse that encourages us.  Perhaps our ears hear just the right song that dispels despair. And then those large fangs shrink to manageable size as we realize Jesus is walking with us through the valley of fear and preparing a banquet at the other side.  I would like to think the grandmother, Little Red Riding Hood and the Huntsman sat down and enjoyed a feast together. 

         Having a living savior and shepherd does not mean there will not be dangers and challenges and dark nights of the soul but it does means God walks with us and speaks into our situations.  He is our gate.  The voice of God will lead us from inward turmoil and doubts to outward focus on his presence, from fear of the future to peace in his presence, and from the seen dangers to the unseen power of the resurrection.

The Lord is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN.”

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