Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter
I have struggled with the three lectionary readings for today for the better part of the week. Part of this struggle has to do with a decision I made when I began the lay preaching that has marked my career.
When I first began my lay speaking career, I picked one or two passages and focused on them. This was in the manner of one of my preaching role-models.
This particular preacher did not use either the revised or the common lectionary but rather developed his own. Over the course of the year, he would jot down thoughts and ideas along scripture verses and connectional ideas and once a year go on a “retreat” where he laid out what he proposed to preach for the coming year. At any one time, he had sixty sermon ideas lined up. He didn’t have the sermons actually prepared but he had the ideas and when the time came, he wrote his sermons.
But when I began the long-term pulpit supply that has characterized my lay ministry for the past twelve years, I found that particular method wouldn’t work for me. The demands of preparing a message every week coupled with my own professional job requirements required some other source of inspiration and I found it in the lectionary, both the common lectionary and the revised lectionary of today. So I spent time looking at the Old Testament reading, the Epistle reading, and the Gospel reading and trying to find the connection between the three. Sometimes it has been easy to find; sometimes it has not.
I would advise beginning lay speakers or those who only preach once or twice a year to follow the advice that was given to me by another preacher; look at the three lectionary readings for the Sunday that you are preaching and follow the one that your heart and soul tell you to follow. Pick one of the three and use it to your heart’s content; as you progress in your career, you can try other methods.
So having written all that, what connection do I find in the three lectionary readings (1) for today? In one sense, we are the connection.
It starts with John the Seer’s vision of the Kingdom which is to come; it is most definitely a vision of what he would like to see in his world. As Robin Griffith-Jones pointed out in his book, “Four Witnesses”, John the Seer weaves a tapestry of connections. He does not spell out the connections nor does he explain the combination that he sees; rather, he leaves that task to each one of us. (2)
The Seer’s world is one of turmoil and violence. Christians are being persecuted and the handy scapegoat for many of the Roman Empire’s faults. John the Seer sees the world around him being destroyed and the church which he has helped build being destroyed along with it.
For him, the Heavenly Kingdom is the answer. In his vision, he sees those who have survived the persecution. But it is interesting that John adds that these individuals no longer will hunger or thirst.
We might assume that this hunger and thirst have been filled through the Bread of Life offered by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the Living Water that was offered to the Samaritan woman at the well. But I am reminded that John Wesley, who saw the poverty and hunger of his own England and the lack of concern by his own Church of England, argued that those who are not fed real food or drink real water will have a hard time accepting the Bread of Life and the Living Water.
We must, as evangelicals, offer the Bread of Life; we must, as evangelicals, offer the Living Water. But if a person’s physical body is hungry or thirsty, then they will not accept the food and water that their soul longs for. If a person is cold, then the warmth of the Holy Spirit cannot warm the body. I am not saying that we should ignore the spiritual needs of the people of this world but, if the physical needs are not filled, the spiritual needs will never be filled.
Peter is told of the death of Dorcas. He does not simply comfort her friends and counsel them in their sorrow; but rather he takes the skills and the powers that have been given to him through the Holy Spirit and heals Dorcas. And it is this event which the people talk about for days to come.
Here again, I am not saying that we all have that same power or ability but Paul does note that we all have been given skills and talents that we can use in the name of Christ. Still, such skills and talents are of little use if we do not take care for the physical mind and body with the same effort and intensity that we care for the spiritual mind.
There are those who say that they are Christians but their acts betray their minds. They want to know that the Messiah is coming, much like those who questioned Jesus that day in Jerusalem described in the Gospel reading for today. Those in the square that day are told that they have been given the answer to their question but because they do not believe the answer, they do not understand. Those that believe that Jesus is the Christ do so because they have seen the proof; those who do not believe do so because they are blind to the proof. As Jesus pointed out, those who know hear their Master’s voice and they follow His call.
And that is the key point for me; if we are called to Christ and then we do nothing, then that call was naught. If we are called to Christ, then we must do those acts that will show that Christ is alive. This will be done because we will care for people in times of sorrow; this will be done because we will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and bring hope to the oppressed. If others are to hear the call of Christ in their lives, they must see the proof. To simply say that there is a call will never be sufficient; to do nothing that will help people come closer to Christ cannot help people hear the call.
Jesus stood before His neighbors and proclaimed the Gospel message. It was not a message of war and celebration; it was a message of hope and peace; it was a fulfillment of the promise of God to never forget His children here on Earth. If we are to see the Kingdom of Heaven, then we must work for it here.
There is a connection between what we say and do each day of the week and what we say and do on Sunday. Just as Christ told the people around Him that day described in the Gospel reading for today, so too is it true for us. Others will know the Father because of what we do. If we say that we are Christian but our words, thoughts, deeds, and action belie that, then people will wonder what the connection is. If we say that we are Christians and our works, our thoughts, our deeds, and our actions support that, people will wonder what the connection is and they will want to find out more.
It thus becomes our responsibility to help others make the same connection with God through Christ that we have made.
(1) Acts 9: 36 – 43; Revelation 7: 9 – 17; John 10: 22 – 30
(2) Adapted from “Four Witnesses” by Robin Griffith-Jones