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Living Beyond Lyrics and Speeches

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For April 25, 2021:

Chris KeatingLiving Beyond Lyrics and Speeches
by Chris Keating
1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

There are some Sundays where it takes Herculean effort to draw even the faintest connections between the lectionary texts. But never on the fourth Sunday of Easter — a.k.a., “Good Shepherd Sunday,” when the readings are replete with pastoral images of wooly sheep and a devoted shepherd.

Between the Psalm and the Gospel readings, the connections won’t be missed by even the most casual visitor. But there’s a larger question that must be addressed, especially when headlines are filled with violence, threats of war, and blood-soaked city streets. The larger question to be addressed this Sunday is helping a congregation wrestle with the complex and demanding view of discipleship envisioned by both the Gospel and Epistle readings.

Jesus’ actions as the Good Shepherd show us the way of God’s love. 1 John plays on the imagery of the shepherd in John 10. Discipleship is not just a matter of whistling for sheep to come and be fed. It involves actions like responding to siblings in need by offering ourselves.

Certified sheep handler Stephany Wilkes, PhD offers a bit of wisdom that may be usefully applied to both pasture and parish. “Sheep handling can be tough for the unskilled,” she writes. “At the risk of sounding mystical, I’d contend that human demeanor matters a great bit in sheep handling.”

In other words, you must be willing to put yourself on the line. Or, as the epistle reading for this Good Shepherd Sunday puts it, “Let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Our demeanor must meet our actions.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, spend some time exploring the calls to discipleship described in 1 John and John 10. Imaginatively enter the sheepfold with your congregation, and point out how Christ’s loving-actions were mirrored in the lives of two of the most unlikely sheep to ever graze the same homiletical pasture: rapper DMX and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, both of whom died last week.

In the News
This week’s exhortation from 1 John seems would seem to be a particularly timely text for Good Shepherd Sunday: “Little children,” John writes, “let us love…”

Afterall, it has been violence and not love that has been in the air recently. Last weekend, cross-country murders were among the latest in the epidemic of murders infecting the nation. A shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis that killed eight people on Friday was followed by an additional nine deaths in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Nebraska, and Louisiana. Not all of these incidents were technically mass shootings, but they were reminders of the nation’s ongoing problems with gun violence.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis braces for the jury to return a verdict in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin who is accused of killing George Floyd in 2020. The verdict may only come days after the death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year old shot by police during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Protests erupted following Wright’s death, and now National Guard soldiers have been posted in Minneapolis as the city so often characterized by “Minnesota nice” awaits the Chauvin verdict.  

Yes, little children, let us live in love. Of course, the text does not end there. This is not some sort of disembodied love. John’s punchline drives home a deeper connection between faith and discipleship: “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” The situation changes, and everything becomes more complicated. As Lyn-Manuel Miranda imagines General Washington whispering to Alexander Hamilton, “Dying is easy. Living is harder.”

Just how harder that can be is seen in the lives of rapper DMX, who was born Earl Simmons, and Prince Philip. Both men died on April 9, which is likely the only thing they had in common. There’s no comparing the two, except to say they both knew something of the hardships involved in loving with truth and action. One was an elderly privileged prince who was a living anachronism. The other was younger by half a century, a Black man from Yonkers, New York with a history of addiction.

The differences are stark, of course. The intent here is to not smooth over the coarser aspects of either one’s life. Both were complex individuals with nothing else in common.

Indeed, when actor Kerry Washington took to Twitter to imagine a conversation between the Prince and DMX at the pearly gates, her attempt at offering condolences prompted scathing criticism. It ignited a maelstrom of comments, including indications that her words of sympathy were overlooking Prince Philip’s lengthy history of racially insensitive comments.

There’s no overlooking or excusing Prince Philip’s many inappropriate and blatantly racist remarks. His critics have ample room to name him as a bigoted snob, and his family as the embodiment of all the negatives associated with colonialism and oppression of native persons.

But he was also the longest serving British consort and remained steadfastly dedicated to his wife — an issue that has plagued this family for years. After his death, many lauded his long service to the Queen and his faithfulness in performing royal duties. At the time of his retirement, Philip had represented the Crown by himself more than 22,191 times, made 637 overseas engagements, and offered 5,500 speeches. One royal biographer noted many saw Philip as among the last of the greatest generation.

Biographer Ingrid Seward said many saw Philip as one of the last “who served with distinction aboard Royal Navy battleships during World War II, whose politically incorrect utterances maybe sound refreshing, in our new woke society, like your grandfather, who said what he wanted to say — and didn’t give a toss.”

He wasn’t a romantic, but when it came to love he loved with more than carefully scripted speeches. For Philip, life was filled with comforts befitting a prince, but was nonetheless a journey of embodied commitment.

Earl Simmons offers a very different example of discipleship. Simmons’ music was testimony to the difficulties he faced in life. His music reflected the rough contours of his life, including his long addiction to drugs.

“I learned that I had to deal with the things that hurt me,” Simmons said in November. “I didn’t really have anybody to talk to … talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness when actually it’s one of the bravest things you can do. One of the bravest things you can do is put it on the table, chop it up, and just let it out.”

DMX — which stood for “Dark Man X” — was known for his robust faith. His music included theological and spiritual references. In 2012, he was ordained as a deacon at his church in Arizona and had recently indicated he would pursue a call to ministry.

One theologian said that DMX music had “spoken to me more than all the systematic theology I learned in seminary.” She praised his candor in speaking about his frailties, and for combining the secular and the sacred in his music.

Sojourners magazine quoted lyrics from his song “Who We Be:”

What we seeing is: The streets, the cops, the system, harassment. The options, get shot, go to jail, or getcha ass kicked. The silence, the dark, the mind, so fragile. The wish, that the streets, would have took you, when they had you. The days, the months, the years, despair. One night on my knees, here it comes, the prayer.

Loving in truth and in action brings us into a broad, diverse and often contentious community. A hip-hop saint from Yonkers offering biblically-sized laments? A stiff-lipped, royal known for off-the cuff inappropriate remarks? In all of their complex humanity, both of them seem to embody the spirit of what 1 John offers us this Good Shepherd Sunday—a life of loving that goes beyond speeches and lyrics.

In the Scriptures
This week’s pericope begins the final movement of 1 John’s main theological argument. If the Gospel of John is considered the gospel of love, then this later epistle is a commentary on how love is to be exhibited by a new generation of believers. It’s repeated references to love are the delight of seminarians struggling to learn Greek — but also a thesis on what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.

The commandment is grounded in Jesus’ own actions. The parallel between 1 John 3:16 and John 10 are evident in the references to Jesus’ laying down his life. Love is not defined as a philosophical concept but instead embodied in a concrete action. The verses flow like a sermon, notes Lindsey S. Jodrey (Connections, Year B, p. 244), almost a commentary on the morning’s Gospel lesson.

Jodrey describes the criteria here as cohering to the Greco-Roman ideal of a “noble death.” A noble death was marked by suffering for others — a setting aside of one life to benefit the lives of many others. (Connections, p. 244). In the Gospel, Jesus becomes the gate that leads to life, but is also the one who offers his life for the sheep. The word made flesh embraces human death, thus establishing the pattern of love as involving sacrifice.

This sacrifice is intended to gather a community marked by love. Such love looks out for those in need, extending compassion and acting generously toward siblings in faith who lack necessities. In this way, love moves beyond platitudes into concrete, even risky actions. It is the love that dares to speak truths about the emptiness of addiction, and a love that walks two feet behind one’s beloved out of honor and respect.

In the Sermon
This week, let us preach love that takes shape in concrete actions: a love that is honest to confess our brokenness like DMX, and a love that embodies a princely devotion of faithfulness.

The patterns of the past few weeks are reminders of the ways the world has failed to love. However we understand the roots of gun violence and mass shootings, it is impossible to say we have acted with love toward each other. We have not acted in love toward siblings in need — the Black youth rashly profiled as a thug, the ex-con rapper struggling with addiction, or the “essential” workers preparing to be evicted. We have executed the innocent, and denied due process to teenagers in hoodies, regardless of the crimes they may or may not have committed. We have failed to heed the voice of the Good Shepherd, preferring to hear his words to us as romanticized love song instead of lyrics that lead us into action.

The sermon this week needs to combine love with action.Whatever his shortcomings, Prince Philip modelled loving faithfulness to his wife, family, and nation. Whatever his faults, DMX embodied the call of Jesus Christ. He offered his life for others even as he turned his ear toward the Good Shepherd. Their lives are complex and different — just like all who are children of God.

Christian faith involves more than nice bromides and convivial bon mots. The voice of the Good Shepherd calls out to a broken and wounded flock this week. And while it may seem improbable that persons as wholly different as a New York rapper and an English prince might share any reasonable connection to John’s call for radical discipleship, it’s worth spending a moment to consider a rather improbable possibility.

The intent here is not to overlook the 99-year-old Prince’s wealth, privilege, or his frequent inappropriate statements. Dismissing the prince’s comments as gaffes likewise ignores the monarchy’s role as the promulgating colonialism and the oppression of native people. At that same time, it is important to see DMX’s life in its full context, including his long drug abuse and a felony conviction for tax fraud. Both men were complicated people from starkly different backgrounds who led their lives under the scrutiny of the spotlight of celebrity.

In different ways, both demonstrated the commitments espoused by 1 John by choosing paths that led them to offer their lives in service of others. Forget about imagining them chatting it up at the gates of heaven. Instead, pick apart the devotion they expressed that went beyond speeches or lyrics.


Bethany PeerbolteSECOND THOUGHTS
For A World Of Very Few Still Waters
by Bethany Peerbolte
Psalm 23

My favorite part of Psalm 23 is Psalm 22. We are usually introduced to Psalm 23 as a sweet little verse to recite to show our faith in God. It sing songs through these beautiful images of green pastures and still waters. God’s presence is not second-guessed. God is there in the valley of death and when our enemies are close by. God is so great to have around goodness and mercy surely will follow us every day of our lives. The psalmist is so sure and at peace because of God, we softly float in the carefree world in which we live.

But the whole psalm changes when we read the psalm ahead of it. Psalm 22 is quite a different space. The author is lamenting God’s continued absence. In this psalm, we are under the green pastures as mere worms to be trampled on by the world. The confidence we see in Psalm 23 is exactly what the enemies throwback at the psalmist as a mockery. Psalm 22 turns Psalm 23 from confident declaration into vulnerable aspiration.

Without Psalm 22, Psalm 23 is a declaration in good times. The sun is shining and things are going right. With Psalm 22, Psalm 23 is a declaration that even when life sucks and people are being terrible to one another there is hope. This hope is why we paint Psalm 23 on small canvases and stitch these words on pillows. We know there will be a time when instead of lying down in green pastures, we are the worms underfoot. In those times we need reminding of the potential God makes possible in our lives and in our world. They serve to remind us this is not what God intends for us. Psalm 23 is hopeful courage amid the chaos that things will get better because God leads us to still waters.

The waters of our world are far from still. With the court case wrapping up around Derek Chauvin we wait to see if history will be made or if state brutality will win again. We hold the fear that a verdict of not guilty will set off a national round of protests not knowing if we can hold back the destructive anger that grows inside the masses. We hold the uncertainty of what a verdict of guilty would mean. The work may begin with new energy or we may become complacent after the thrill of a win.

The pastures seem far from green. The list of cities that have had mass shootings recently continues to grow. Even as Austin, Texas arrests its suspect, the nation is stalled on any action to stop the way Americans turn their hate into murder. Here are some horrifying statistics: When we define a mass shooting as an incident having three or more victims of a firearm attack, we had 126 mass shootings in the first three months of 2021. Those attacks left 148 people dead and 481 injured. Compare the numbers of humans negatively affected by shootings to the numbers negatively affected by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and we see a very different response effort. (There have been 35 more mass shootings through April 19, when this article was written.)

Many are left with want as state legislatures pass bills that will severely impact the transgender population. From denying them access to sports education to taking children away from loving homes that affirm their gender, these bills are threatening the well-being of children across the nation. The bills are heavily influenced by transphobia fueled by Christian theology against the LGBTQIA+ community. The God who we are claiming this week as our shepherd is the God being cited as the reason for the legislation.

When the world does not look anything close to Psalm 23, we need Psalm 22 to remind us that the psalmist is not dancing in those green pastures — he is languishing and longing for a better tomorrow. Psalm 23 is the anthem of those who languish. The New York Times published an article about the communal languishing in which we find ourselves. Languish is the feeling of being stuck. It is not quite depression, we may still feel the energy for the work and the life we lead, but there is a lack of progress all around us that we are holding as a community. The article gives some ways to beat the languish or at least hold it at bay. The first suggestion is the concept of “flow.” Flow is getting into a space where one is concentrating on one thing. It can be Netflix or setting an hour of work without interruption. Flow beats languish by taking ourselves out of our head and allows time and sense of self to melt away for a moment. It is an escape to a better place. Psalm 23 could be that better place we set time to escape to without distractions.



ILLUSTRATIONS

Mary AustinFrom team member Mary Austin:

1 John 3:16-24
Living Your Life for Another

The writer of 1 John advises that “we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Jerome Foster laid down his usual life for a year, appearing outside the White House every Friday to bring attention to climate change. Foster is a teenaged computer science student from New York who made the sacrifice of time and money every week, starting in 2019, to come to the White House each week. “Every Friday for 58 weeks in a row, Foster would stand near the perimeter of the White House in Lafayette Square brandishing a placard that read “School strike for climate,” an invocation of the global school strike movement sparked by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Foster says Thunberg, who joined him for a protest when she visited the US two years ago, has “changed the entire conversation” about climate change. For the first month or so, it was a lonely experience beyond the encouragement of the odd sympathetic European tourist, before Foster was joined by an unlikely ally.”

Next to join was a Trump supporter, who thought climate change was a hoax, and yet could see the pollution in the water near his home.  

Foster has since been invited to join a panel of climate change advisors to the President, and he “has been included among a group of advisers to Joe Biden who will inform the president on issues related to environmental justice, where low-income communities and people of color face the greatest fallout from climate change and pollution. “I didn’t expect this to happen so soon, it was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’” says Foster, who posted a tweet summing up the dramatic upgrade in his influence.”

Foster says that he is not alone in making sacrifices for this cause. “Foster has banded together with other young people both horrified and incandescent that their futures are being plunged into fiery uncertainty by the actions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. While the youth climate movement has inspired, and perhaps shamed, many older people, Foster hopes the activism will be redundant before too long.” He adds, “I talk to other activists, and every single person has something they did before activism and something they want to do after it,” he says. “They want to go back to doing what they love to do, to have a career, to be young persons again. No one wants to sit here and beg politicians to do the things that they were hired to do. In ten years’ time I don’t want to still be fighting about clean air and clean water. That’s a complete and utter waste of a lifetime, to fight for bare bones things.”

Outside the White House, and now welcomed in it, Jerome Foster is laying down the typical life of a college student for a larger cause.

* * *

1 John 3:16-24
Laying Down Your Life
After a hit-and-run car accident left Sonora Jha bloodied and with broken bones, she was desperate to reassure her six-year-old son that she was not going to die. With her husband in Singapore, and not very interested in their marriage, she was effectively a single parent, and she felt deeply the need to live for her young son. “On the way to the ER, he and I lay in twin stretchers in the ambulance. They had strapped me in to keep my spine and neck straight. I swung my eyeballs to the leftmost corners of their sockets so I could watch my boy as he watched me. I could tell he thought this van and all its gadgets were cool and scary at once. “Listen to me, Gibran,” I said. “I am not dying.” He couldn’t nod. They had strapped him in, too, just in case he had injuries no one could see.” She promises her son that she is not going to die. “In the months and years after that day, I would have the time to dwell upon the hysterical nature of my promise. I have since realized that when you make a child a promise not to die, what you are really saying is that you promise to live, to live hard and strong, to keep your eyes open even when your body wants you to be unconscious. To live hysterically.”

Other people have to lay down their usual lives for her to live her life again. She has trauma surgery and then goes to rehab, and has to learn how to let other people help. “Letting strangers gather up my pieces from a car crash on Highland Road, letting new friends take Gibran into their home, letting acquaintances set up meal trains and hospital supervision for me until my husband arrived from Singapore felt like a stab of shame even through the haze of OxyContin in my hospital bed.” People are willing to give of themselves in a way that’s new to her. “The world came out of the woodwork. The Indian community of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, visited often and sang me my favorite love songs from Bollywood movies. The campus community of LSU brought me books from the library. The faculty helped me keep up with my papers, offering deadline extensions I refused to take. The parent community of Trinity Episcopal Day School took Gibran out on glorious playdates. A young Korean woman in my apartment complex, a Ph.D. candidate like me, drove Gibran to school with her daughter and had him over for meals of delicious ramyeon and kimbap with pickled daikon.”

We lay down our lives for each other in all kinds of ways, dying to our old selves and living anew.

* * *

John 10:11-18
Shepherds at the Keyboard

Traditionally, we think of older people shepherding younger relatives and colleagues through life. When it comes to technology, younger people are often the shepherds. “Seniors who feel like today’s technology has left them in the dust are hitching a ride with a philanthropic gaggle of students who, in their spare time, are helping older generations return to the fast lane with their iPods, iPads, smart phones and computers. A group of teenagers who never knew a world before computers launched Wired for Connections/Mentor Up, a club at Carmel High School in California, designed to help senior citizens understand the basics of modern-day devices and bridge part of what they perceive as the intergenerational divide. Sean Butler, a 16-year-old sophomore, initiated the program…offering to share his tech knowledge in 45-minute, one-on-one mentoring sessions with members of the nearby Carmel Foundation, a membership organization for people 55 and older.”

Butler says, “I was probably 5 years old the first time I sat down at a computer. It didn’t take me long to start figuring things out because I wasn’t afraid to play. It’s easier to learn technology if you’re not afraid of it and what holds a lot of older people back is that they’re afraid they’re going to mess something up if they play around and experiment. They don’t realize that most of the time you can just undo what you just did and get back to the place that you want to be.”

The students attend a training before they start working with their older students, and learn more about what life is like for their students, “One thing we did, for example, was smear a pair of glasses with Vaseline, so we could get an idea of what it might be like to have the kind of vision problems that some older adults live with every day,” one volunteer teacher explains. “We also taped fingers together and put tape over fingertips to try to replicate problems they might have with their hands. It can be frustrating to watch how slowly some of them are when they try to type, but the sensitivity training taught us that typing can be very difficult if your fingertips are numb.”

One of the teachers reflects, “I can honestly say that I feel like I’ve learned more during these sessions than I’ve taught. I mean, obviously they’re taking in all this information and hopefully applying it every day but, for me, just talking with them and learning their stories is what draws me back every time. I love having those conversations.” The good shepherd comes in many forms.

* * *

John 10:11-18
Shepherding is a Two Way Street

Golf coach Fred Shoemaker believes that everything that’s true in golf is also true in life. He understands his work as a golf coach to be the work of shepherding people through anxiety, growth and resilience. For him, the biggest job of a teacher or coach — or shepherd — is to create an environment where learning can happen. “When you leave the golf course, when you leave the athletic field, or you leave the chess board, whatever you want, you somehow are a better person in life from what you've learned.”

When he coaches young golfers, he takes their parents aside and asks the parents if they’re willing to learn from their kids. Sure, most of them say. The kids meet up with the parents, “and the kids coached them in putting, and it was really, first of all, you got to see a mirror of how you've coached others or taught others, and they said, "Now, I get to tell you what to do," among other things, but it was just delightful. See, my experience of young people is that they want to contribute. They want to know what they say matters to another. They want to be heard, and if it does make a difference, it just turns them on just like it does to you and me to know we've made a difference for another person. See, I know this is going to sound silly, but as a teacher, do you ever ask a student, "How can I be better at what I do?" What do you all see? How can I coach this better? Who are you that would allow us to go in deeper? I mean, that's a moment of extreme vulnerability, but if we're not that open, to be the avowed expert, the cult of the expert is a dangerous position because we just get stuck there, and we're afraid to look into places or to be vulnerable or to see that what we're saying may be done in a different and better way.”

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” In parallel ways, our modern shepherds, teachers, they know students deeply, and bring out their best selves.

* * *

John 10:11-18
Shepherding Bees and Future Generations

Debra Roberts spends her time and love shepherding bees, who give her a window to the kind of love that Jesus is talking about when he proclaims that he is the good shepherd. The difference between the hired hand and the good shepherd is love for the creatures who are being tended. Roberts urges, “So love the bees or at least love who you love so passionately that it wells up and out of the cup of you like a great, warm, honey-ed libation, pouring over all of life (which happens to include the bees and everyone you care for). Prepare to fall in love more than ever you thought you could, for love will do its work and love will bring us home sweet home.”

Caring for another creature, be it as a shepherd or a beekeeper or a pet owner, takes us, she says, “from our first awkward years of stewardship, toward competence then grace.”

Shepherding, whether it’s Jesus the Good Shepherd, or our work to follow in his footsteps, always looks to the future. “My grandfather told me that he knew he wouldn’t live to experience equal and civil rights in our country. And he didn’t. But he believed in them and acted accordingly. I believe we all see some of the effects and fruits of our labor in our lives. And at other times, I think we are asked to faithfully offer our thoughts and actions up to the great-great grandchildren we will never see the faces of. So much of this requires just simply doing the right thing (and especially what feels right to us). Many of our efforts will be un-thanked. But I don’t think we are ever confused about what matters if we are really paying attention. In our heart of hearts, the welfare of all life, bees and all, matters.” Every good shepherd is also tending the future.

* * * * * *

Tom WilladsenFrom team member Tom Willadsen:

John 10:11-18
Big, little, short or tall, wish I could’ve kept them all. I loved ’em every one.

T.G. Sheppard was a popular country singer in the early ‘80s, who took his stage name from this morning’s gospel lesson. His lone appearance on the pop Top 40 was “I Love ’em Everyone.” Here’s part of the refrain:

Big, little or short or tall, wish I could've kept them all
I loved 'em every one

(Written by Phil Sampson, recorded by T.G. Sheppard)

At first I thought this isn’t really good sermon material for a proper, mainline congregation, even in 2021, but imagine it really was The Good Shepherd singing those same words…, when wrenched from their original context aren’t they apt for how we see Christ? He wishes he could have kept us all; (That is, some of us have strayed.) “Big, little or short or tall”…isn’t that everyone? Even kids with chicken pox? Christ loves us, everyone.

* * *

Psalm 23
He restores my soul

Early in my career I was called to visit someone in the hospital who was a member of a different denomination, but in a pinch, she’d take a Presbyterian. The call went to the young lefthander from downstate Illinois. Me. This woman was facing a serious medical situation, fearing death. I arrived at the bedside and introduced myself. We chatted about her condition. She confessed not having found a church since moving to the area 15 years before. She’d been a Campbellite (Disciple of Christ) she informed me, when she’d lived in the Great Plains. I asked her what she wanted me to do. We decided to recite the Psalm 23 together. She’d memorized it as a girl during the Depression. She’d memorized the King James Version, while I was a Revised Standard Version guy, but I was able to go bilingual by the time we got to “my cup runneth over.” When we were finished I asked what part spoke to her most strongly in her situation. I saw on her face, she recited the psalm silently and stopped at “He restoreth my soul.”

The wonderful thing about those four words is they can read in the continuous present tense. Not “the Lord restored my soul” in the past, or “I trust the Lord will restore my soul one day,” no, this was something the Lord does all the time. Yes, goodness and mercy are fabulous, but perhaps the most powerful words come in the middle.

* * *

1 John 3:16-24
Abide

The NRSV renders the Greek μενει in 1 John 3:17 as abide. This verb appears frequently in 1 John. Abide is a solid translation; it implies both dwelling and permanence. In English one abides in one’s home, but also can abide a difference of opinion with one’s neighbor.

Interestingly, when μενει appears in New Testament texts which cite the Hebrew scriptures, the NRSV renders those appearances as “endure” and “will stand forever,” stressing longevity. This is in the case of 2 Corinthians 9:9, which cites Psalm 112:9:

They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn is exalted in honor.


And 1 Peter 1:25, which cites Isaiah 40:8

The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.


The Hebrew word for endures in Psalm 112:9 isעמךת while in Isaiah the word is יקום .

* * *

Acts 4:5-12
Rulers, elders, scribes…

The beginning of today’s reading identifies those who questioned Peter and John as “rulers, elders and scribes.” It’s worth noting that in the verses just before today’s pericope it is “the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees” who came to Peter and John much annoyed. The dispute was not whether the man had been healed by Peter; the dispute was that Peter and John were proclaiming resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees did not believe in. The problem was not that the man had been healed. The problem was that the man had been healed by a power that the powerful denied. It echoes the miracle of the blind man in John 9. The squabble was about credentials, and the miracle of a man who had been lame leaping and praising God (Acts 3:8) is forgotten.

* * *

Acts 4:5-12
The stone you rejected

Peter alludes to a passage from Psalm 118 that ought to be very familiar:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.


This verse appeared among the lectionary passages for both Palm Sunday and Easter. Peter makes a sly revision. He says to the leaders that it was they who had rejected the cornerstone, Jesus. This altering of the familiar text no doubt made the leaders even angrier at Peter and John.

* * * * * *

Katy StentaFrom team member Katy Stenta:

Psalm 23, John 10:11-18
Sheep Scale

What kind of sheep are you?

There is a common game to play on social media, where a picture of a person or animal is shown with different emotions and the question is asked: Which one are you today?

There is a wonderful sheep one that prompted me to write this prayer, because our shepherd cares for all kinds of sheep in all kinds of states. It does this by naming what is going on in each picture and pairing it with Psalm 23. The image can found here. It is important to take stock, where are you, how are you and to remember that no matter what, you can bring your full self to the shepherd today. Because the shepherd is always good, and we can count on that, especially when we aren’t feeling well. We can lean and rely on Godself instead of our own capabilities that day.

Sheep Scale Prayer
The Good Shepherd reminds me that the silly sheep belong to him, and that Jesus probably stuck his tongue out to his disciples and friends.

God leadeth me beside still waters, so that, at times, I am a contented sheep.

When I am a frazzled sheep, overwhelmed and tired, God restoreth my soul.

Even when I want to hide my meager sheep’s head in a bucket, or wander away from the fold — God sends the Holy Spirit to lead me back on the path of righteousness.

And when the path wearies, God gives us a deep and uncompromising sleep, for The Good Shepherd’s name’s sake.

Like a sheep, I am clothed in the beauty of your mercy; your rod and your staff comfort me. You surround me with love.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, half hiding, half jumping at shadows, you are with me.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overfloweth, and I pant in anticipation of the feast awaiting all of your sheep in heaven. Even in the presence of my enemies, you bless food so it somehow still tastes good.

Some days I leap for joy, remembering that goodness and mercy will chase after me, and someday I will be able to gambol in the house of the Lord, my shepherd, til the end of my life.

So we give thanks to you our Lord and Shepherd, the silly sheep, the resting sheep, the frazzled sheep, the hidden sheep, the exhausted sheep. Help us to see the sheep who are clothed in grace and the sheep who are jumping at shadows, the sheep who hunger for the kingdom and the sheep who remember to leap in joy. Remind us that there is no wrong kind of sheep, and that we, each and every one of us, belong to the shepherd.

In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

* * *

Psalm 23
Boundaries

Psalm 23 is a wonderful psalm about boundaries. It discusses the breaks God forces you to take, and the importance of eating and drinking properly. There is a level of force in the psalm. God “makes me to lie down by still waters” and then God “restores my soul.”

For this reason it is not surprising that the symbols used for God’s tools are boundary keeping symbols: a rod and a staff. Both the rod and the staff are used to protect me and keep me going the right way, but also to keep things out that I do not need messing with me today.

It is important to regularly consider and try to keep a hold of the healthy boundaries that exist in our lives. Truly the psalm is a beautiful moment of not just Sabbath, but also setting and keeping boundaries.

It is hard to enjoy rest or food or drink if we have no time or space in which to pursue them. A meal on the run, a moment snatched for rest, are not going to be as restorative as time that has been set aside to take care of yourself.

Many of the most pastoral moments I see are when we ask one another questions of self-care: Have you eaten today? Did you get a chance to move around a little? Did you remember to take your meds?

A colleague of mine pointed out that one of the things she likes to do for other people is to make them a cup of tea. She had an earth-shattering moment when she realized that she could treat herself to a cup of tea as a moment of time to practice that same loving care for herself.

Self-care and boundaries are as much a part of ministry as caring for others, for both you and the people you care for are God’s beloved and should be treated as such — as the psalm reminds us.

* * *

Psalm 23
Restoration

My youngest son turns into a whiny bear when he is hungry, a feeling I know well because he gets it from me. It is truly hilarious to hear him whine and grumble, because he almost never does so unless he is hungry.

He is getting to the point where, if he’s edging on cranky, he can realize he might be hungry and grab himself a snack. However, that is the exception, because he is still young and learning to listen to his body.

If he’s too far gone, if you ask him if he is hungry he will immediately answer “no,” because at that point he is too hungry to realize it, and he’s definitely too hungry to decide what to eat. If I am at all cognizant as to what is going on when he is completely hungry and angry — hangry — as some people call it, I won’t ask him any questions or talk to him. Instead I will place an open juice box just within reach.

Then I wait for him to notice it. When he does, he always drinks it, and when he is done I might quietly offer him a snack the same way, or even be able to suggest that a snack might be a good idea. Then he will eat it, singing what I like to call “the nummy song” as he eats, num, nummy, mmmmm…and is then able to reemerge the cheerful and reasonable child he mostly is.

I wonder if this is how it is in the psalm. If tired, hungry and overworked David is stomping around and happens upon a stream, and lies down for a bit and then remembers he has packed a snack, and then he is sated and able to truly rest and remember that the world is truly an okay place to be. There is goodness and mercy — and juiceboxes and snacks will follow you until you remember you need them and partake of them — and are restored to your better self.

* * *

Acts 4:5-12
Healing

It is truly heartbreaking to witness this story of the lame man who is healed because Peter and John are arrested for the healing they did. They are questioned by the powers that be, asking by what power the lame man was healed? The questions that are weighted with this question could be the same that we are asking of the vaccine.

Are you sure this works? Are we getting the healing to those who are worthy? Should people have to pay for this healing? Do we truly have this power to heal? Should we only heal those we know, or who we like, or who believe the same things as we do? Is this healing just a power play? Is there a great conspiracy behind this healing? Was it all fake; did the lame man fake his illness so that the disciples could trick people into believing their healing when they actually had a nefarious purpose to just control people?

Healing is complicated. It is never just a matter of being better. Often there are adjustments that need to be made — for the healed individual and the family systems that individual is a part of.

We know there are people out there questioning the vaccine, not just whether the vaccine itself is good and okay to take, but also the systems behind the vaccine: the governments and pharmaceutical companies, and the racial divide in how white people are treated by the medical system versus Black and Brown people, and how abused People of Color have been by the field of medical research.

Luckily, for Peter and John — and the lame man — they immediately understand the question is not only if “a good deed has been done to someone who is sick” — but also the systems that were behind that healing. Peter and John are proudly able to be transparent about how the healing took place, saying “let it be known to you…that this man is standing before you in good health in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”

Can we heal one another in the name of Jesus Christ? How might that change how we treat, understand and bring healing to one another? How does our salvation shine when we do this? It’s good to remember how and why we care for one another.


* * * * * *

George ReedWORSHIP
by George Reed

Call to Worship:
One: God is our shepherd, we shall not want.
All:  God makes us lie down in green pastures.
One: God leads us beside still waters; God restores our soul.
All:  God leads us in right paths for God’s name’s sake.
One: Even though we walk through the darkest valley, we fear no evil.
All:  You are with us; your rod and your staff— they comfort us.

OR

One: Open your ears and heard the Good Shepherd call.
All: We long to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd.        
One: In scripture and in the sighs of the Spirit, God calls us.
All: We will be attentive to God’s call.
One: We know we have heard and obey God’s call when we love.
All: May our words and our actions be testimony to our faithfulness.

Hymns and Songs:
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
UMH: 66
H82: 410
PH: 478
CH: 23
LBW: 549
ELW: 864/865
W&P: 82
AMEC: 70
Renew: 53

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
UMH: 79
H82: 366
PH: 460
NNBH: 13
NCH: 276
LBW: 535
ELW: 414
W&P: 138

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
UMH: 117
H82: 680
AAHH: 170
NNBH: 46
NCH: 25
CH: 67
LBW: 320
ELW: 632
W&P: 84
AMEC: 61
STLT: 281

He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought
UMH: 128
AAHH: 142
NNBH: 235
CH: 545
LBW: 501
W&P: 499
AMEC: 395 

The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want
UMH: 136
NNBH: 237/241
CH: 78
LBW: 451
ELW: 778
W&P: 86
AMEC: 208 

The King of Love My Shepherd Is
UMH: 138
H82: 645/646
PH: 171
NCH: 248
LBW: 456
ELW: 502
Renew: 106

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
UMH: 140
AAHH: 158
NNBH: 45
NCH: 423
CH: 86
ELW: 733
W&P: 72
AMEC: 84   
Renew: 249

The Gift of Love
UMH: 408
AAHH: 522
CH: 526
W&P: 397          
Renew: 155

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELW: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561 

O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee
UMH: 430
H82: 659/660
PH: 357 
NNBH: 445
NCH: 503
CH: 602
LBW: 492
ELW: 818
W&P: 589
AMEC: 299

They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love
CCB: 78

You Are Mine
CCB: 58

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is the Great Shepherd of creation:
Grant us the grace to listen for your voice
as we hear it in Jesus’ words and the words of others
so that we may be disciples of your great Love;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, because you are the Great Shepherd of all of creation. You have not made us and abandoned us but you faithfully call and lead us. Help us to be attentive to you so that we may also be faithful is sharing your love. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
One: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our failure to live out the love in which we are being saved. 

All: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We were created in your love and image so that we might be your presence among creation but we have failed in our task. We have been selfish and self-centered. We have been mean and petty, at times. We have been more concerned with being ‘right’ than with being loving representatives of your grace. Help us to hear you call us once again to return to your fold and be part of your flock as disciples of Jesus. Cleanse us and renew your Spirit within us. Amen. 

One: God loves the sheep of the flock and graciously call us and receives us as we return. Receive God’s grace and lovingly share it with all.

Prayers of the People
Praise and glory to your name, O God, Shepherd of all creation. Your love is your glory as you call us to yourself.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)
       
We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We were created in your love and image so that we might be your presence among creation but we have failed in our task. We have been selfish and self-centered. We have been mean and petty, at times. We have been more concerned with being ‘right' than with being loving representatives of your grace. Help us to hear you call us once again to return to your fold and be part of your flock as disciples of Jesus. Cleanse us and renew your Spirit within us.
       
We thank you for all the ways in which you have called us to yourself. We thank you for Jesus and his message in his words and in his life that helps us listen for your voice calling us home. We thank you for our task of being your loving presence in this world. We are grateful for those who have been faithful in sharing your love with us and others.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)
       
We pray for all your children in our need. We pray for those who have felt pushed and shoved from the flock by thoughtless or cruel words and deeds. We pray for those who find themselves lost and alone, away from the flock and the shepherd. We pray for all those who are striving to be faithful sheep and to follow Jesus into your reign.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)
       
All these things we ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:
       
Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service.)
       
All this we ask in the name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter

Today we hear a lot about sheep and shepherds. Sheep have terrible eyesight and are dependent on listening for each other and the voice of their shepherd to stay together and to stay safe. That is why is you are around a flock of sheep you will hear the baaing all the time. It is the only way they can safely stay together. Like sheep, we need each other to stay safe in God’s flock and like sheep we need to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd.


* * * * * *

Dean FeldmeyerCHILDREN'S SERMON

The Good Shepherd
by Dean Feldmeyer
Psalm 23 & John 10:11-18


“The Good Shepherd”
Pastels on Canvas
Artist: Julie Creig
(Used by permission of the artist.)
Available at Julie Greig’s website or https://www.juliegreig.co.nz/home, or by doing a search for “good shepherd painting.”

  1. Distribute copies of the painting, above, to the children, or make one big copy to show to all, or project the copy on a screen so the whole congregation can see it as well as the children.
  2. Read to the children John 10:11 — “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
  3. Say: This picture is called “The Good Shepherd.” It’s by an artist who lives in the country of New Zealand and whose name is Julie Greig and she has given us permission to use a copy of her painting this morning.

    Look carefully at the picture and tell me:
    1. What colors do you see?
    2. What sounds do you hear when you look at the picture?
    3. What is going on in the background? (Storm?)
    4. Where do you think this shepherd has been? What was he doing there?
    5. Where is he going, now? Why?

    6. (It’s okay to help with the answers.)

    7. Why do you suppose Julie Creig decided to call this painting “The Good Shepherd?”
    8. The Bible says that Jesus is like a good shepherd. How do you think Jesus is like the shepherd in this picture?
    9. The Bible says we should be like Jesus, that we should be good shepherds. Jesus says that he wants us to take care of his “lambs.” How can we do that?
Conclude with a prayer of thanks for artists who stimulate our imaginations and challenge us to see scripture in new ways, and asking for the courage to be the good shepherds that God is calling us to be.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Immediate Word, April 25, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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by Peter Andrew Smith
Acts 1:1-11

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