Reading Ramblings – April 26, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2015

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

Context: We continue this Easter season to consider the impact of the resurrected Christ on his followers 2000 years ago and the implications for you and I today. The readings today focus on loving our neighbors in Christ, which is not always easy nor welcome. A theme throughout the readings today is the willingness at times for personal sacrifice for the name of Jesus.

Acts 4:1-12 – This reading continues on from last week’s, and consists of the official response to Peter’s sermon on the Temple grounds, exhorting the crowd to repent and receive the forgiveness of God through faith in his resurrected Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Five thousand men heard Peter’s sermon. Peter was willing to risk arrest in order to proclaim the forgiveness available in Jesus.

Peter, who had been so fearful on the night of Jesus’ arrest, and in the days between his execution and resurrection, has been empowered with such boldness that now he speaks to those who have arrested him, and who he knows full well could arrange to have him tried and imprisoned at the very least. Peter’s ultimate concern is not for his safety or his personal vindication – he has already seen that in the resurrected Christ! Rather, his concern is that these men realize that it is through Jesus that salvation comes. His concern is that they would receive this truth as well, and be saved through repentance in Jesus’ name. He resorts to a Roman proclamation, normally associated with the name of whomever happened to be emperor at the time. But instead of the emperor, Peter insists that it is only through Jesus that we are saved.

Psalm 23 – This is the traditional psalm of comfort in times of struggle or in the presence of death. It is beautiful in that it sums up all of the Christian life as a life under the care of a shepherd. That shepherd does not change and does not desert us regardless of our condition, whether hungry or thirsty, whether in need of peace or wandering in sinful ways, even into the mouth of death itself. Our shepherd is with us and goes before us to lead us and prepare the way before us. Our shepherd has already laid down his life for us, so that we can be assured that nothing can prevent him from being with us in our times of greatest need.

1 John 3:16-24 – John exhorts us to follow our Lord’s example. But unlike the typical exhortations to moral living that we hear today, John states our obedience and emulation of our Lord in terms of laying down our lives for one another. Self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice made possible by knowing that our very selves are bound up in and with Christ. Our openness to our neighbor should be dramatic and real, and our responses should be unmeasured. In our baptism we have died and risen again in Christ – our lives are not our own, and our lives are to be recognized as such. Self-preservation or self-advancement is secondary to genuinely loving our neighbor as ourselves regardless of the potential cost.

However most of us do not do this very well, or very consistently. This might form a devastating self-assessment – our hearts may well convict us that we are not loving enough. However we must remember that the measurement of love is ultimately Christ, not myself. Of course I will not love enough – were I capable of that Christ would be unnecessary! God knows our failures and shortcomings in love more deeply and intimately than we ourselves do. Therefore, we should have confidence in the forgiveness and grace, the love of God, rather than our own love.

John 10:11-18 – The good shepherd is not the one who knows he can kill the wolf, but the one who knows that unless he tries, the sheep will certainly die. Jesus understands what it means to lay down his life for his flock. This is the goal that he moves towards with resoluteness during his ministry. He contrasts this with others who simply see in the sheep an opportunity for personal profit and reward.

This requires that we see ourselves bound to one another in Christ. We must recognize that we are in relationship with one another – not just for the span of a few weeks or years or decades, but – by the grace of God! – for eternity! We suffer, we die, because our Lord was willing to suffer and die. We live by his example, never desiring these things in and of themselves, but never willingly fleeing from them by refusing to love our neighbor.

Jesus’ entire earthly experience was one of sacrifice, of setting aside himself for others. His crucifixion is the pinnacle of these experiences, but it certainly isn’t in isolation. So with us, who need to see in each day the necessity of suffering and laying down our lives for others if that is what is required, in ways large and small, by the continual dying to self so that Christ may live in us and through us.

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