Reflections on the Gospel By
“Theology is not simply a set of truths to believe, it is a path to walk, or a living vision to pursue.” [Boyer and Hall] Martin Luther did not so much set out to reform the church as he did to reform preaching.
The Evangelical Teaching [Lutheran] Church. [Lutheranism is a theological movement within the church catholic]
Today’s gospel sounds so simple: “my sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” There are times when it does feel just that clear and easy. On the other hand, the book of revelation, our second lesson, tells us that discipleship develops by passing through a time of great “tribulation,” and our first lesson, the acts of the apostles is full of warnings that faith communities will be tested by internal divisions even as their very character seems to be challenged by new members from every land. This sounds just like today, does it not? One of the reasons the writer of Luke also wrote acts was for the same reason. The early church was struggling with Jewish Christians versus gentile Christians.
Some Jewish critics thought Jesus was destroying Judaism with his teachings. The writer of acts says, that is not so. As we continue the Easter season, current events may be the signs of the times we need to help us understand these mysteries more deeply than ever before. The USA has been ravaged by political divisions, abortion being the latest one, and sad to say we in Canada are not far behind. Who of us in Canada could have ever imagined a political party supporting the honking truckers and now again the honking motorcycles and being told not to say anything about the USA views on abortion? [incidentally it cost us, the taxpayers, 4 million for the Ottawa debacle and $400,000.00 for the Victoria exercise in giving them “free speech.”] At the same time, we have had covid-19 and now the invasion of Ukraine, a situation many have interpreted through biblical images such as David versus goliath, The massacre of the innocents, Or just plainly the attempt of evil to dominate the world. [incidentally, here in Victoria, last week, the pastor of the Ukrainian catholic church, and his family were burned out of their home by an arson.] All of these violent, apocalyptic images make for an interesting contrast with the image of the good shepherd. So, what is scripture telling us today? First, let us look at Paul and Barnabas, in our first lesson, as they are doing their mission in Greek territory. Their preaching seemed to start innocently enough, urging the mixed crowd of ethnic Jews and converts to remain faithful to god’s grace. But what does it mean to be faithful? For Paul, a Pharisee who now preaches Christ, faithfulness implied being open to a new revelation—including the revelation that god’s choice of people was more than just the Israelites. Thus for me, Paul never did convert, he just changed his emphasis. God loves all people. But the trouble came when the traditional group saw the enthusiasm of the gentiles toward this new teaching, the warning bells went off. They were going to be outnumbered and their traditions would be challenged.
Something is not right here, eh? Again, two thousand years later, nothing has changed. The “new” group always threatens the old guard. I, as an old white guy, find myself surrounded by women, people of colour, different religious groups, LGBTQ, and the list goes on. What am I to do?
Well, not that long ago, we were told that if we recognized the rights of gays, they would take over the world. I believe 10% of people were gay then and 10% of people now are gay. Sorry, fear mongers, but gay people taking over the world did not happen. I certainly enjoyed watching our Canadian gay person winning at jeopardy.
Nothing has changed other than all people have rights. What is an old white guy to do? I say to myself, “get over it!” John of Patmos’ revelation is that, People are suffering serious persecution and speaking to others who share their fate throughout history. The writer is using spectacular imagery to assure them that, just as for Jesus, faithfulness will win out in the end. As Diana Butler Bass said, john 21 says, “Caesar does not win.” “Caesar does not get the big fish.” To depict his hope,
John of Patmos describes the immeasurable multitude of people from every time, place and tongue who have remained faithful.
There are no limits to who can participate in this victory celebration.
No matter what they have been through, they now wave peace palms as signs that suffering and conflict have been redeemed and god is here, wiping tears from our eyes.
With counterintuitive imagery, john of Patmos. Tells us that people who will stand rejoicing in Christ’s presence have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.
Now as i have admitted before, this sacrificing and blood are not my favourite topics. But those ideas were part of their makeup thousands of years ago. What john of Patmos was saying, was that washing our robes in the blood of the lamb meant joining with Christ in his death and resurrection.
For me it means baptism and the Eucharist but not only for those of us who participate in these acts but also the persecuted innocents. We believe in god’s goodness so much that in the midst of torment and gloom, we believe in the forgiveness of all, even our oppressors.
For me, i have to rely on god’s grace, Because, my forgiving of some people will never happen. Thank goodness for the image of the good shepherd. “my sheep hear my voice…they follow me.”The writer of John portrays a good shepherd who lives a life of faithfulness, even when Jesus, the good shepherd, really did not know how his mission was going to turn out.
Today, in this moment of history, these readings take on a radical character and describe the demanding depth of our Christian vocation.
I cannot help mentioning president Biden, a loyal roman catholic, who gets flack from all sides of the “Christian” perspective on his allowing of abortion.
Yes, some of us old white guys do get it right. We must remember that following the good shepherd will lead us to where he goes: And that is into the heart of conflict and suffering. I do not know what happened on Golgotha, but i heard, through scripture, even Jesus saying, “if there was another way, he would rather not die.” Let us be honest, which is so hard for many of my “Christian” friends.
No one, in their right mind, would seek conflict and suffering, But when it comes, as it inevitably will come, We have a guide whose voice speaks through the myriads who have gone before us, and those who listen to god today: “no one has the power to snatch you away.”
My guru, Roger Karban, a roman catholic called Rudolph Bultmann, a Lutheran, the greatest 20th century scholar of Christian scriptures.
Bultmann said, “eventually the preacher became the preached.”
In other words, during his earthly ministry, Jesus preached a reform of Judaism. After his death and resurrection, Jesus became the reform he had preached. This Johannine passage written in the mid-90s speaks about Jesus shepherding the sheep. Earlier Jesus had talked about a good shepherd. Now he speaks about god -as the shepherd.
It was only at the end of the first century that Jesus/god was identified as the good shepherd. Yes, the preacher became the preached.
Thus, the Eucharist becomes the main reason in the celebration of this “new” idea of god.Because it is in the breaking of the bread that we become the good shepherd to one another.
Through the years we forgot that, especially as protestants, and we did prayers and rituals but we forgot the Eucharist which then caused us to fail in what we were sent to do/to be. Which quite simply was to share the abundant life with one another. We are not talking about abundance in years, or in wealth, or status, or accomplishments.
It is life that is abundant in the love of god made known to us in and by Jesus the Christ. A love that overflows to others. If we never heard it before. We need to hear it now. Amidst all the other voices, Sadly, many people who pretend to speak for God, People who said Jesus should not heal on the Sabbath, People who say, you should not---- --you fill in the blanks. We need to hear the voice of the good shepherd, a voice of promise, a voice that calls us by name and claims us as god’s own. A voice that says, she loves us. A voice that says through us,
“this is my body, my blood given for you and you and you….” I believe what we want, what we really want, is to know that god knows about us, Cares about us, and actually knows us individually, and personally,
And that above all, she knows our name. And ultimately carries us safely across the shadow of death in her arms. In the end, it is that simple, but it is never easy. Shepherd me, o god, Beyond my wants, beyond my fears, From death into life. AMEN.