1st Scripture Reading: Acts 4:1-22
This story is powerful witness to the divine nature of Jesus as the Christ. Peter and John, who by the way did not actually see Jesus rise from the dead, nevertheless were irretrievably changed – transformed – by their experience of the risen Christ.
Dragged before the highest religious authority in the land, they refused to be intimidated. They were arrested for proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection of the dead, and held overnight. Really, they were arrested for inciting the masses of ordinary people to believe in someone not sanctioned by the Jewish Council.
Intimidation, coercion, torture, loss of liberty; these are the weapons of the powerful who wish to maintain the status quo. But Peter and John were not intimidated. Their exposure to the risen Christ, of meeting Jesus in the midst of them, was such a mind-blowing experience that they had been literally changed – their minds had been changed about what was in fact the nature of the reality that confronted them. They were like a herd of horses driven into a blind canyon – there was no where else for them to go but to acknowledge and celebrate the very presence of God, the Divine, among them. And having done that, their primary allegiance had made a cosmic shift.
This little group of horses (disciples) had obtained a new perspective – they had new knowledge - they could no longer go back to being ordinary Jewish citizens, oppressed by both the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders. They were no longer the obedient subjects of the Jewish authority; for being asked to choose between the reality of the risen Christ, and obedience to the Council had become a no-brainer. “For we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard,” they said. Forced to choose between acquiescing to the Council’s threats, or obeying the will of God, it had become very clear to them what they must do. And they were not afraid. They were energized. They were renewed. They were fearless. They were filled with the Holy Spirit – the strength and power of being aligned with God’s will.
This is what is meant by new life in Christ, my friends. This is the transformative power of the resurrection. If Jesus Christ hasn’t changed your life – maybe it’s because you haven’t let him in.
Hymn: Psalm 23 “The Lord’s My Shepherd”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 John 3:16-24, & John 10:11-18
“I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In this passage from the gospel of John, Jesus lays out a very different style of leadership than we have previously seen today, in the Jewish Council for example. He is not talking about threats or intimidation. There is no hint of coercion or punishment in his voice. Yet he is clearly the leader – the one to follow – the one who knows the way and will keep the flock safe. He is the one who will sacrifice his life to save the sheep from danger. This thought is echo’d in the first letter of John to the early church: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?”
Jesus has probably been the greatest teacher about unconditional love the world has ever known. His love is extended to the whole flock, and, he says, even to those who are are not members of this particular group. His love transcends time and place, as he abides in those who follow his teachings and obey his commandments, to also love as he has loved each of us.
He is not talking about the love of a man for his wife, or a family that fiercely loves all members but no one else. He is not referring to those who love their nation better than all other nations. Nor is he talking about those who love the Canucks but hate the Habs!
He is teaching us something about the nature of God’s love for all of us. I am not loved by God any more than you are loved by God. God does not prefer any of God’s people more than the others. God grieves those who refuse to acknowledge God, and like the good shepherd, seeks to bring them back into the fold.
It is past time for us to realize that the One God, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, is the source of all life. Jesus, God’s Messiah, the Annointed One, Jesus, came to teach us this single, all-important truth: that we must learn to love one another as he has loved us. Only in this great love can the direction of our planet be changed. Only in this great love will we stop killing one another. Only in this great love will we begin to consider what our environmental practices are doing to other life forms and to our own future generations.
The salvation of the human species depends on our learning this lesson: that the love of God through Jesus is indeed our saving grace, and that we know that great love not through word or speech, but in truth and action. We must do what we can, knowing that by the strength of the Holy Spirit we will receive everything we need to achieve our goals, when those goals are aligned with God’s will for us.
As we look around our world today, we can see how desperately needed is this great Love of God. We are called, children of God, to shine the light and love of God and the risen Christ on a world sorely in need of that healing balm.
Hymn # 333 VU “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”