Thieves and bandits

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Watching for the Morning of May 3, 2020

Year A

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)

It’s not hard to look at the leadership of our country, whether in politics or business, and see thieves and bandits.  Large corporations scooping up huge swaths of the federal Paycheck Protection Program’s forgivable loans is only the latest evidence that, too often, profit trumps decency.  Profiteering from personal protection equipment, profiteering from inside information of the pending collapse of the stock market, profiteering from friends in high places hawking your unproven medication, manipulation of public opinion for personal gain…thieves and bandits.  Only Jesus isn’t looking at Judea’s Roman overlords he is looking at synagogue leaders who insist the man born blind was conceived in utter sin and that his healer, too, is an obvious sinner.

The sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd, says Jesus.  The true shepherd is the one who doesn’t need to sneak into the sheepfold or come to plunder; the true shepherd enters through the gate and leads them to goodness.  The sheep follow him.  They know his voice.  He knows their names.

The fourth Sunday of Easter every year takes us to John 10 and Psalm 23.  It evokes songs and prayers about Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Pictures rise in our minds of lambs around the shoulders of Jesus, still waters, green meadows, and peace.  But Jesus is in a struggle with the leadership of the nation.  The grace and mercy of the Good Shepherd is true, but the text before us is more pointed.  Jesus is the gate – the door – to rich pastures; Jesus is the path to wholeness.  Jesus is the bringer of an overflowing life.  But all this is asserted in response to pharisees who claim to see, but see nothing.  All this is asserted when leaders have no love for the sheep, when leaders take life rather than lay it down for others.  When the man who now sees is cast out, Jesus is the open door to life.

Sunday we will hear about the life that follows in the train of Jesus as the book of Acts describes the community gathered around word and table, living in faithfulness to one another.  We will recite Psalm 23 with its portrait of the bountiful faithfulness of God even amidst the ruthless scheming of the royal court.  We will hear 1 Peter reminds us “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” and we will ponder again the mystery of the true shepherd who is also the gate to a life awash in mercy, faithfulness, and joy.

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The Prayer for May 3, 2020

Gracious God,
guardian and shepherd of our souls,
keep us in your Word
that, hearing and following your voice,
we may know your abundant life;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for May 3, 2020

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Luke presents one of his summary descriptions of the early Christian community, an ever-expanding community manifesting God’s faithfulness and love.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – a song of trust born of reflection upon God’s gracious care and providence through the challenges and trials of life.  In the midst of the dangerous intrigues of the royal court, God is the true shepherd who has guarded and guided the poet’s way.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” –
this portion of 1 Peter is presumably appointed for Good Shepherd Sunday for its line: “you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls,” but this section of the homily speaks to the pattern of enduring suffering given by Jesus.

Gospel: John 10:1-10
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” – Several metaphors from the world of shepherding are taken up as parables of the access to ‘Life’ found in Jesus.

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Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sch%C3%A4ferei083.jpg Rainer Halama / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:S_Buckingham_Glass_1.JPG  Mjbhoney / Public domain

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Watching for the Morning of April 26, 2020

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

Jesus won’t stay.  He sits down for the breaking of the bread with the disciples at Emmaus, but then he is off.  There are others who need to see him.

That sense of mission persists in the resurrection narratives.  The work is not over.  There is a world in need of healing, a world in need of peace, a world that needs to be met by the risen Christ.  Sunday we will hear Peter finish his message to the crowds on Pentecost and they will ask to be washed in the Spirit of God.  From there they will gather around the broken bread and preached word.  The poet of the psalm will cry out to God for deliverance from a deadly disease.  Healed, he lifts up “the cup of salvation” and proclaims they mercy of God.  The letter of 1 Peter will speak of how they have been born anew “through the living and enduring word of God.”

Jesus has spent hours rooting his followers in the scriptures and explaining how his life, death, and resurrection embody the whole witness of scripture to a God who calls us forth into life and delivers us again and again when the future seems lost.  It is not just a few passages about a suffering servant and a promised Messiah that his followers must learn, but the message of a God who calls forth a good and beautiful world from the primal chaos, who protects our first parents when they have betrayed God and lost the garden, who delivers the creation at the time of Noah and blesses it anew, who gives Abraham and Sarah a child when the promise of blessing to the world seems hopeless, who delivers a people from bondage and leads them through the wilderness despite their faithlessness, who remains faithful even when Jerusalem and its temple falls.  When all hope fails, God is there to lead us back to God’s will and way.  Deserts bloom and a highway opens in the wilderness.  The stone is rolled away and the emptiness of the grave is seen.

In the word and the breaking of the bread Christ is present.  But then he is away.  There is a world to heal, a new creation to dawn.

The Prayer for April 26, 2020

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen

The Texts for April 26, 2020

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-42 (appointed, 2:14a, 36-41)
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.  Many respond and are baptized, joining the community around the word and breaking of the bread.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-14 (appointed: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19)
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” – a prayer of thanksgiving for healing.  The poet is delivered from death and feasts in the Lord’s presence.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

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I apologize to those who follow this blog for my absence during the last several months.  My time was taken up with daily devotions for Lent at our Holy Seasons site.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Road_to_Emmaus_-_WGA06821.jpg  Duccio di Buoninsegna / Public domain