Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

We like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, capable, secure people. For the most part, we've had good access to education, healthcare, jobs, transportation, food and clean water. We can supplement what we have with an adequate income. We have clothes and shoes and a very solid roof over our heads. And we like to think that we are in control of our circumstances.

But we have both had experiences that left us breathlessly aware of how little control we really have. We've found ourselves in the kind and caring arms of virtual strangers in times of crisis. We have gone to sleep desperately whispering prayers for support and love and guidance and safety.

Looking back on scary times, it's hard to fathom the arms that caught us and lifted us from the mire, the arms that fed us and nurtured us back from the edge, the arms that helped us learn to stand again.

And somehow, that experience renders us more able to offer that kind of lifeline love and support to others - others we sometimes barely know.

Why is it that in strong times, we stand so solidly upon our own two feet? What if we were always leaning somehow on others?

This week's readings remind us that we are not called to be "in control." We are called instead to love one another and to allow ourselves to be loved.

The reading from Acts continues to follow the actions of the apostles in the earliest days of their movement after Jesus' death and resurrection. Peter and John have been arrested; their position is precarious. Leadership in Jerusalem is skeptical of this motley crew. Peter and John are asked by what power they have performed miracles. Note that Peter's response is by the power of the Holy Spirit, not his own. And these men really don't claim credit for the healing that they have done. Healing has happened "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth." If you read on, you'll find that Peter and John are instructed by the council to discontinue their healing and teaching ministry in Jerusalem. But Peter and John cannot keep from doing what itis that God has them doing.

Psalm 23 is probably the best known verses of the Bible. It praises the comfort that God provides. Using the image of a shepherd, the Psalmist frames God as a caregiver, a safeguard and a comfort.

In the First Letter of John, the community is reminded that they have been called by God, in the example and teachings of Jesus to love one another. The author reminds the community that words and speech are not enough -- we are called to love in truth and action. During Lent, we were struck by how abundant and extravagant Jesus' love was through his actions. It is a little overwhelming to think of ourselves to love in that same way. But that's exactly what the author is calling the reader to do.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is teaching the Pharisees in a style that is close to a parable, comparing a familiar thing with one less familiar, about who he is and what he is called to do. Jesus claims that he is the good shepherd -- good being the operative term. He's the shepherd who knows each of his sheep, and whose sheep know him. Here's where it gets interesting - the Father loves Jesus because he will lay down his life for the one flock. No one will take Jesus' life from him, he has the power to lay down his life, and this is a command that he has received from God. So...the shepherd has shepherd, of sorts.

In strong times, we tend to want to be the shepherd and tend to be less able to be shepherded. But there are arms to catch us and people to love us ALL the time.

How do you let people love you?
How do you extend love to people in unexpected ways?

All the chisels I've dulled carving idols of stone
That have crumbled like sand 'neath the waves.
I've recklessly built all my dreams in the sand just to watch, them all wash away.

Through another day, another trial, another chance to reconcile
To one who sees past all I see.
And reaching out my weary hand I pray that you'd understand
You're the only one who's faithful to me.

All the pennies I've wasted in my wishing well
I have thrown like stones to the sea.
I have cast my lots, dropped my guard, searched aimlessly for a faith
To be faithful to me.

Through another day, another trial, another chance to reconcile
To one who sees past all I see.
And reaching out my weary hand I pray that you'd understand
You're the only one who's faithful to me.
You're the only one who's faithful to me.

Faithful to Me by Jennifer Knapp

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