Devotional Message: The Fourth Sunday of Easter; Year C (5/12/2019)

REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY TEXTS

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
St. John 10:22-30

Prayer of the Day

O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep. By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

St. John 21:22-30, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: “Tell Us Plainly”

“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” These words are addressed to Jesus by fellow Jews who are gathered in the Temple for the Feast of the Dedication. This feast commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in 164 b.c. after it had been defiled by Antiochus IV (see 1 Maccabees 1:54-61). Today this feast is called Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, because it features the lighting of lamps.

This takes place well into the public ministry of Jesus. For months he has been preaching and teaching and healing and performing wonders, yet there is still disagreement as to who he is, and whether or not God is at work in him. Jesus has just used the metaphor of a sheepfold to remind his listeners that thieves, bandits and legitimate shepherds all seek access to the sheep who are gathered there in safety. Jesus asserts that he is the good shepherd, genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the sheep, and willing to lay down his life for them, which leads to this response:

Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” [St. John 10:19-21, NRSV]

So those who gather around Jesus ask for clarification. Some consider him to have a demon. Some see him as a miracle worker from God. All, together, plead with him: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” It is a noble request, and one that we might well make today. It would be nice if all Christians could rally around the “plain truth” of who Jesus is and what he wants for us. (Participants in the ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod’s 2019 Assembly, and devotees of Father Richard Rohr, will rightly discern the danger here of binary thinking…) One thinks of the recent bumper sticker: “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.”

But the plain truth is that there isn’t a “plain” truth. For centuries, Christian interpreters have disagreed vigorously with one another about what God is accomplishing in Christ. Contrast Orthodox faith with what is taught at the neighborhood non-denominational fellowship. Contrast the teaching of Joel Osteen with that of Martin Luther King Jr. Contrast Martin Luther himself with Johann Maier von Eck. If there was a plain truth about Jesus which determined who is right and who is wrong — who is in and who is out — it long ago would have been adopted by Christians, and there wouldn’t be between (depending on how you calculate it) 33,000 and 51,000 Christian denominations, or affiliations of congregations, in existence today.

Perhaps we should remember how Jesus responds: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” Then our quest might no longer be a seeking for plain truth to believe, but a striving for Christ-like living. Then our desire might no longer be a search for what is right (by implication, identifying those who are wrong…), but to live in a way that our works testify to the faith that is within us.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why are there so many divergent responses to Jesus in the New Testament?

  2. What does this longing for plain truth (and the response of Jesus) teach us about faith?

  3. Who, in the New Testament, seems eventually to live into the values and ideals promoted by Jesus?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When has being right seemed more important to me than being Christ-like?

  2. What inspires me about the way Jesus lived?

  3. How might striving to live like Jesus lead me to a deeper experience of God?