By what power or name

Come to life!

  • Acts 4:5-12 Peter filled with HS speaks to the council
  • Psalm 23 Jesus is my shepherd
  • 1 John 3:16-24 “We know love by this, [Jesus] laid down life for us”
  • John 10: 11-18 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd”

Saved by a Shepherd!

The drama in worship each Sunday is of three disciples coming to terms with the reality and revelation that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Today Mary, John and Peter – thanks to Vanessa, Brian and Dylan who are Mary, John and Peter for our Easter worship services – are remembering a resurrection encounter with Jesus at the end of John’s gospel – chapter 21 – where three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” When Peter insists that he loves Jesus, Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

In the gospel we heard read, Jesus takes us back to an earlier teaching with his disciples in which he said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10: 11).

Let me ask you:
    When was the last time that you found yourself in trouble
    and immediately looked around for a shepherd to save you?
    Or how readily do you resonate with being called sheep?

Here in the heart of the Easter season we are given the image of the Good Shepherd as our guide and salvation. It is not an easy one. At least I don’t find sheep to be one I readily identify with or Jesus as a shepherd. It isn’t very glamorous is it?

We know so well that that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, shepherds were the first to know and come and see the new baby. But the shepherds never come off as saviors or royalty. They are the marginalized and Jesus is a baby born under empire. Yet here at the other end of Jesus’ life on earth, he is raised from the dead and we are given the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Peter Preaches to the Council

Not so long after Jesus’ resurrection and after Jesus was no longer on earth, this emerging band of Christ-followers called Christian, were in trouble. Christians are always in trouble, the question is who we are in trouble with and why.

Already in the first days of the early church, Peter and John were in trouble. They were arrested and brought before religious leaders who were “much annoyed because they were teaching that in Jesus there is resurrection…” (Acts 4:2). But many believed, at least five thousand (Acts 4:4). Peter and John were ordered to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. They are hauled before religious leaders who demand to know,

“By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7).

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…
     “….by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified,
    whom God raised from the dead.” (Acts 4:8, 10).

Peter’s words to the rulers and what is happening in the early church are the equivalent of where we are today. The question that confronts us is, “By what power or by what name [do we do what we do]?” (Acts 4:7).

It is a powerful Easter question: In whose name we are and act? Again our question:
        When was the last time you answered, “In the name of a shepherd”?

The other scriptures for this fourth Easter Sunday help us answer that question today. And the image and name we are given is a shepherd.

Yesterday I met with Mary, Marian, Cheryl and Juli as they reviewed the year in Children’s ministry and prepared for the climax for our Pentecost Sunday worship on June 4. The new Sunday School curriculum they have introduced this year is called the Good Shepherd catechism. The whole year for the children has been to learn how Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

John 10: 11-18

John’s first letter is a beautiful portrayal of God’s love. We will listen to power and the beauty of John’s letter next Sunday. Today I want to connect Jesus in John’s gospel with David’s best-known Psalm. [Read John 10:11]

Psalm 23 is so familiar and frequent that it seems to need little reflection or commentary. I didn’t expect to this Sunday. But the shepherd imagery of John 10 and Psalm 23 kept blocking my path this week so I finally gave in and listened.

Psalm 23

In the Old Testament and especially in the Psalms, Lord is a common name for God. While the twenty-third Psalm begins with the familiar claim: “The Lord is my shepherd” I want to use the name God and hear the Psalm again. I am going to line it out all the way through and invite you to repeat each line after me as we speak and listen to it this way.

God is my shepherd, I shall not want.
God makes me lie down in green pastures;
God leads me beside still waters.
God restores my soul.
God leads me in right paths for [God’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 Jesus my whole life long.

The best-known and most powerful biblical word on God as our shepherd is told here in this beautiful 23 rd Psalm we know so well. But even if it is familiar, let us look and listen to what it really says to and for us. This Psalm gives us a word and places us in relationship to God like few other scriptures.

We begin by naming God: “God is my shepherd.”
Then we acknowledge that if that is true all our needs are covered: “I shall not want.”

Next we name four reasons why or how we trust that God is our shepherd and knows and supplies for our needs:
     God makes me lie down in green pastures;
     God leads me beside still waters.
     God restores my soul.
     God leads me in right paths for his [Jesus’] name’s sake.

God provides a place of rest and food – lying down in green pastures.
God provides water for life – leading us beside still waters.
God provides respite for weary bodies – restoring our soul.
God is our true guide – leading us on the right path.

Then there is a middle transitional reality check. We know and see far too much suffering and people in need to think that life is all roses if only we claim God as our shepherd. We are not among those that believe that God’s plan for us is to drive an SUV and have everything we want.

The heart of the Psalm acknowledges that “Life is hard” – suffering is all too real.
         Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;

We continue on with another litany of four reasons for our confidence in God as our shepherd:
       For you are with me; — Nothing can separate us from God, as Romans 8 says.
      Your rod and your staff – they comfort me – A rod and staff are not to beat the sheep but to
            intervene with the enemy.
     You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; — This is a Eucharistic image of breaking
           bread with the enemy, communing with enemies.
      You anoint my head with oil; — Our heads and bodies receive oil of healing.

After naming God as our shepherd and confirming it four times then recognizing that life isn’t always bliss yet we are blessed in four ways, then we close our Psalm with confidence claiming that:
           My cup overflows;
           Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

Finally we conclude with a confident commitment:
           I shall dwell in the house of God forever — my whole life long.

One of the most remarkable and hardest revelations in this Psalm – and in Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd – is how we are sheep. But what makes it most remarkable and hard for us to accept is not that we hate to be called sheep. It is that God does it all. We are in God’s hands.

In contrast to all the calls for repentance – we heard it loudly at the beginning of Jesus’ life through Jesus and John the Baptist. We heard it last Sunday from Jesus in his final words to his disciples in Luke’s gospel:

This is what I told you while I was still with you….that the Messiah would [be killed] and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sin is to be proclaimed in my name to all generations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things” (Luke 24:46-47).

In contrast to all the biblical words calling for repentance – to turn around and follow Jesus — the shepherd and sheep imagery does not depend on the action of the sheep.

Remember Jesus’ parable about the lost sheep. The shepherd never scolds, “I will take you back if you find your own way back, say your sorry and promise never to run away again.” The shepherd goes out and finds the lost sheep. The shepherd cares for the sheep. The sheep don’t do it the shepherd does.

In the face of these scriptures we hold that image and truth of God in the risen Jesus Christ today. It is not the only biblical word or image for God and Jesus and ourselves. But it is a real and powerful one.

I’d like to close with the Psalm again, this time with Jesus as the shepherd as together we listen prayerfully in quiet reflection.

Jesus is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Jesus makes me lie down in green pastures;
Jesus leads me beside still waters.
Jesus restores my soul.
Jesus leads me in right paths for [Jesus’] 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 Jesus my whole life long.

When you are asked, even under duress, “By whose power and in whose name do you live and move and have your being?” you know the answer: “In the God of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.”

Or in the Latin words that John Howard Yoder closes his book, The Politics of Jesus :
        Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamer.
        Our Lamb has conquered, him let us follow.

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