Lectionary Preview study materials: 25 April 2021, Fourth sunday in Easter
1 John 3:16-24
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The First Lesson
The rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
`the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Dominus regit me
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
1 John 3:16-24
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?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Easter 4 (B) – April 25, 2021 Sondra Jones
This is a dangerous moment for Peter and John, having just been arrested after the healing of the crippled man at the Temple and their teaching about Jesus’ resurrection. Peter’s courage in the face of interrogation before the gathered court is striking; he speaks the truth about Jesus as the source of healing, and he speaks plainly about what those authorities have been party to: the rejection and killing of Jesus. This disciple, this regular Joe, stands up to the learned and powerful. We might recall that Peter hasn’t always been so courageous. Here, the source of his courage is the Holy Spirit. It fills Peter and calls him to witness to who Jesus is and what he does: saves and heals. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter carries out his call to witness.
- What are other examples you can think of – perhaps modern examples – of Christians speaking truth to power when it was dangerous to do so?
- Is there an experience you can share of something you did that felt impossible or frightening where you sensed the help of the Holy Spirit?
Psalm 23 is perhaps the most well-known and beloved of the psalms. It describes the relationship between God the Shepherd and the psalmist David. It’s easy to see why this psalm would be beloved; it’s a beautiful and comforting description of the most trusting of relationships. Scholars have called it a “Song of Trust”. The Shepherd guides, refreshes, and nourishes the sheep. Nothing is lacking. And everything provided by the Shepherd is the best. “Green pastures” versus sparse ones, water that is safe and restorative as opposed to rushing torrents or stagnant pools. The Shepherd guides the sheep in the right direction, instead of dangerous ones. Even with trouble all around, God is present and protecting, and God’s care is plentiful.
In Hebrew, “mercy” is sometimes translated as “loyal love,” indicating a covenantal relationship with all of the obligations of deep commitment. It’s a two-way relationship, but one in which the sheep – us – are blessed with all of the best God has to offer.
- Do you feel loved, protected, sustained by God?
- This psalm declares that God wants to meet all of our needs and lovingly care for us. When have you found yourself trusting – or not trusting – in his care?
- Can you describe a time of danger or darkness in your life when you felt the shepherding of God?
1 John 3:16-24
So much is happening in this passage. There’s a call to believers to set aside one’s own life in order to take care of those in need. There’s a caution against hypocrisy. There’s a how-to guide on responding to the call of the conscience. There’s God’s response to prayers. And there’s a call to be like Jesus. So much to take away!
This is a letter to a community – a family – of believers in which there are – as with all communities – problems. There’s wavering in the belief in Jesus and perhaps some fear about the dangers of being a believer. John calls the community to love and defines love. Love is a verb: evidenced by action, not by words. And, John says, God knows our hearts; God knows our consciences. By truth and action, our hearts are transformed. Our actions and our prayers become an output of love and are met with God’s “Yes”.
- How have you experienced your faith community as a family with differences and struggles with faith?
- How have you experienced love as a call to selflessness? What does it mean to you to “lay down our lives for one another”?
- Recall a time when you’ve experienced the transformation brought by living out the love for one another that God commands of us.
God desires unity, and God is willing to go to any length for it as we see in the theme of laying down one’s life that threads throughout today’s readings. Jesus’ desire for unity demonstrates his commitment and great love. He gives his life voluntarily; no one takes it from him. He does this in order to gather all his sheep into one inclusive gathering of all of God’s people. There is great hope in this promise, this yearning, because, as Jesus says, just as he gives his life, so can he take it back again. As this desire to be united provided hope for the Gentiles and others, so too does it provide hope for those on the margins today.
- Inherent in this passage is a message of protection and care that we see in Psalm 23. What does this combination of deep care and God’s desire for “one flock” say to you about God’s love for you?
- What do you need to “lay down” in your life in order to bring about the kind of unity Jesus describes?
Sondra Jones is a third-year candidate to the diaconate in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. She is a student in the Iona Collaborative, a cooperative project directed by the Seminary of the Southwest for the formation of bi-vocational priests and deacons. Her fieldwork for this year – marked by the limitations and opportunities brought about by Covid-19 – is in the field of addiction and recovery, specifically with the Two Way Prayer project. She is helping to develop materials to further the practice of Two Way Prayer as a means of enhancing conscious contact with God as described in the 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs. She has worked in the field of advertising for 25 years, and currently is a Senior Project Manager. After graduation from Iona, she looks forward to returning to the study and writing of traditional iconography and bringing God’s creative spirit and gifts into her ministry. She also very much looks forward to marrying her partner, Patrick.