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Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23:1-6, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30

We’re still in the Easter season, celebrating the power of resurrection. Whatever else the message means, it tells us that death is not the final word about the meaning of life.

One of this Sunday’s lectionary readings is about someone being “raised from the death”—hard for the modern mind to digest. At the same time, the story of Tabitha (or Dorcas) is so human. She’s died. Her friends have gathered. What are they doing? They’re admiring her handiwork, the clothing she made while she was living. They’re in the presence of death but their interest is not focused upon the lifeless body. They are reveling in something of beauty and significance that has been left behind. It is a testimony of sorts that the meaning of one’s life doesn’t stop when the body expires.

It turns out in this case that Tabitha rose to face another day. It doesn’t always happen that way, but for those who have eyes to see, death does not define the meaning of life.

Psalm 23 has been a comfort to many, with its pictures in which we are surrounded by green pastors and still waters, our souls restored, etc. The sheep and shepherd imagery is there in a couple of the other lectionary passages as well. Revelation 7:17 says that “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life . . .” In John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

Most of us have little up-close connection with shepherding. Our images of this dirty, smelly, taxing, sometimes boring, labor are often idealized. Sometimes we’re not sure we want to be thought of as sheep—not the brightest animals of the block. The image of sheep and shepherd calls us to a certain amount of humility, but that’s a lesson for another time.

In the middle of Psalm 23 is that familiar verse four. When most of us learned it, or first heard it, the words were, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Most newer translations have something similar to what the New Revised Standard Version (our pew Bibles): “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil.” It is another declaration that death is not the final word about life. It speaks of walking through troublesome, potentially frightening times, and coming out on the other side—finding resurrection. The passage from Revelation speaks in a similar manner. Here are all those in white robes again singing praise to God. Someone asks who they are. The answer: they are the ones “who have come out of the great ordeal.” (Revelation 7:13-14) Like the sheep, they have found themselves in a comforting place where there is no hunger or thirst and all tears are wiped away. (vss. 16-17) For the Psalmist or the writer of Revelation it is the presence of God that makes the difference. “I fear no evil; for you are with me . . .” (Psalm 23:4) The Lamb in whose presence those in white are singing is their shepherd. It is God who wipes away the tears. (Revelation 7:17)

Whatever other interpretations one imposes on the entire book of Revelation, it is a vision that came to John on the island of Patmos for the encouragement of churches and followers of Christ who were under persecution, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, threatened on every side. The message then was, as it is now, “You will get through this. God will not abandon you. These threats do not define what your life means.”

The promise, in my opinion, is not just for some future heavenly state. Resurrections will continue to occur in the middle of this life. You will probably walk through more than one dark valley along the way, but don’t let those dark valleys define what your life means. “You are my children, my sheep. Remember who you are and who walks with you.”

Many who saw and heard Jesus during his ministry on earth weren’t quite sure who he was. Some speculated that he was the Messiah. In this week’s Gospel lesson from John, chapter 10, they confront him. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (vs. 24) When I read the story today, it seemed to me that Jesus' response tells them they’re looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place. While he speaks of “eternal life” (vs. 28), his main emphasis seems to be upon getting them to see that God is already right there. “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me (vs. 25), concluding with the words, “The Father and I are one” (vs. 30) It is again the assurance that he is with us. Resurrection doesn’t have to wait. It’s there every day for those who have eyes to see.

The essence of resurrection is being filled with the life of God, which is something that can never be overcome by death. John’s Gospel begins with these inspiring words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Light and life are more powerful that darkness and death.

In the 17th chapter of John (vss. 20-26), Jesus prays for his followers in all ages. For me, his words in this prayer, not death and darkness, define the power of the resurrection. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us . . . The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me . . . I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” That’s the resurrection I want to see and experience and talk about!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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