Acts 4:5-12 Psalm 23 1 John 3:16-24 John 10:11-18
Every year since becoming a priest, I have gone on vacation immediately after celebrating the Easter Services and taking communion to a parishioner or two. This year was no exception. After all the services of Holy Week, I am always ready for a break.
The down side to taking my vacation these two Sundays is the fact that I miss getting to preach on the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples and having Thomas touch his wounds. This is always the reading for the first Sunday after Easter and one of my favorite. I love the story of Thomas, because doubt is something I believe all people of faith experience at various points in their lives.
Hearing that the men who actually walked with Jesus also struggled with their faith at times, helps bridge the perceived divide between the strength of our faith and the strength of their faith. Peter, who in today’s reading from Acts, stands up to the rulers, the elders, and the scribes, – a man’s who faith we would like to experience for ourselves, had his moments as well.
Remember that Thomas refuses to believe Jesus has been resurrected until he sees Jesus, and his wounds, for himself. Peter denies even knowing Jesus before Christ is crucified. It is important to recognized this when we read about how Peter responds to his captures. And, we need to note as well that Peter is strengthened by the Holy Spirt, who is with him that day.
We need to take note of the presence of the Holy Spirit is for two reasons. First and foremost, the Holy Spirit is always presence and available to us. The second is that what Peter did, he did not do alone. Jesus does not send his disciples out in the world alone – we are never alone. God is with us – always. We can and do, however, forget this from time to time – and when we forget, we feel all alone and we struggle.
I love the 23rd Psalm and it message. The Lord leads me, the Lord revives my soul. The Lord helps me as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He is the Good Shepherd who, lies down his life for those entrusted to his care, as Jesus tells us, in today’s gospel reading, that he will do for us. Today’s scriptures teach us that there will be conflicts in our life, but with the Lord as our shepherd, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we can find the strength to endure whatever struggle might be before us.
Peter stood before the same people who were responsible for the execution of his Lord, and yet Peter told them that they had been powerless to stop Jesus, whom God had raised from the dead after they had Jesus executed. Using Hebrew scripture to respond to the high priest Caiaphas and the others who were questioning him, Peter said, “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”
Caiaphas and the others rejected Jesus and thought they could silence him and his followers by having Jesus killed, but they did not. What Jesus says continues to be taught, throughout Judea and the world – and here. What is taught is quite amazing, since what Jesus says is so simple. We are to love God and we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Simple, but not easy.
For many of us the first obstacle we have to overcome is to love ourselves. All of us have thought, said, and done things that we are ashamed to admit. We may think that if people really know us, they will not want to spend time with us – so we pretend to be who we would like to be – so that people will not know just how empty we feel inside. Today’s story in Acts, however, reminds us that even Peter who denies knowing Christ, can grow into the man I am sure he wanted to be.
Peter is now the man God intends him to be, because he has opened himself to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we open ourselves to accept the love of God, the emptiness we pretend is not there, is filled, and we are made whole by the grace of God.
The transformation that takes place is one that enables us to see ourselves and others through the loving eyes of Christ who understands the challenges we face in life. Jesus understands our pain and our suffering. He understands our selfish tendencies and loves us anyway.
Seeing ourselves – and others, through the eyes of Christ, is how we can love our neighbor as ourselves. The Good Shepherd not only lays down his life for us, he brings us together, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
We are not alone, not only is the Holy Spirit present for us, we are all part of Christ’s flock – no one is excluded. Yes, we may deny this from time to time, we may look at our differences and think that some people are not a part of our flock, or that we are not a part of his flock – but when we think these things we are mistaken. In the gospel, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” In my mind, this makes it clear that Jesus loves every single human being and that God’s love, which in Easter we celebrate triumphs over death, will ultimate bring all the people of the earth together.
We have a part to play making this happen. We need to follow the teaching of Jesus, by not only loving God, but by loving others as Christ loves us. In Morning Prayer, there is a prayer for mission that I feel is particularly appropriate for this gospel reading in which Jesus talks of bringing others into the fold. I want to conclude today with that prayer.
Let us pray.
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.