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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23:1-6, I John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

The news is dominated by the “bad” things of life—crime, scandal, disaster, etc.  That’s been the norm through much of the history of journalism.  It’s no surprise that The Christian Science Monitor arose as an alternative, their slogan, to this day, being, “To injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”  There is at least one exception that usually makes it into print or onto the screen—acts of selfless giving, of heroism and sacrifice.  Here in the Portland area a father recently dove into the river to rescue his drowning son.  He successfully saved his son but went under himself, losing his life in the process.  Less than an hour ago I saw footage of dogs attacking a boy in Washington, D.C.  A man intervened, suffering injury as he drew the attacking dogs to himself.

We are moved by such stories.  They represent for us the best in humanity.  It’s not that we should hide our heads from the evils of life, the injustices that cry out for attention, but we should not allow the media to define humanity through the sensationalism of some reporting.  We admit that the capability of such acts exists within us, but we are more than those acts..  I’m sure that millions of acts of self-giving occur every day without making the news.  A teacher takes money out of his or her own pocket to buy teaching resources that enhance her students’ learning.  A neighbor delivers a casserole to a sick friend.  A politician takes an unpopular and principled stand to see that benefits to the poor are not cut, even if it costs him or her votes.  Maybe it’s as simple as taking time from a busy schedule to listen, maybe even give a hug, to someone who is feeling down and unlovely or unlovable.

We see such things and say, “Ah, there’s love at work.”  We need the inspiration that stories of such acts bring.  Some of us are even moved by recent studies showing that even rats are capable of seemingly compassionate acts.  They work to free a brother or sister rat who is imprisoned in a cage.  They save food and share it with that imprisoned rat.  Who would have guessed?  Most of us, I believe, are moved when we see compassion at work.

At least two of this week’s lectionary readings speak of that love at work.  The reading from the epistle of I John says that we know love when we look at Jesus who “laid down his life for us,” going on to call us “to lay down our lives for one another.”  (I John 3:16)   Such love is in play when we share “the world’s goods” with “a brother or sister in need . . .”  (vs. 17)   Love is not an abstraction.  We are to “love one another” “in truth and action.”  (vss. 18 & 23)

The Gospel reading from John, chapter 10, draws on the imagery of the shepherd, known to many from the 23rd Psalm, which is another of this week’s readings.  The Psalm details the way the shepherd cares for his sheep, keeping them safe from evil and comforting them.  In John, Jesus is “the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11, 15, 17-18)

Later in John we are told that this is the highest form of love known to humans.  It’s not just about Jesus, but about what we perceive in human experience and say, “I can’t think of a greater example of love.”  In John 15:12-15, he commands us to love one another, noting, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  I wonder if this inspiring love can even be extended to “enemies.”   Certainly Jesus tells us to love our enemies.  (Luke 6:27-36)   Paul, in Romans 5:7-8, writes, “ . . . rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”

That’s the kind of love to which we are called.  Jesus life, death, and resurrection have had many levels of theological interpretation wrapped around them over the years.  (I have to comment here about a typo I made in attempting to write that last sentence—“wrapped” came out “warped.”  Think about it.  A Freudian slip?)   All deep, logically developed, formulations aside, the simplest interpretation is that he came to show us what love is, and the power of love, seen in everyday acts of self-giving, sometimes heroic and extreme.

There are other thoughts and questions of note in today’s readings.  Who are the “other sheep” Jesus has “that do not belong to this fold,” who are to be brought “so there will be one flock, one shepherd.”? (John 10:16)   How does that relate to Paul’s declaration about Jesus that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”?  (Acts 4:12)

The reading from Acts takes us into questions about healing, a troubling area for those of us who do not have a “magical” view of such things.  Healing seems to be much more complex than some who believe in “faith” healing imply, yet this story of Peter and John being questioned about their healing of a man lame from birth brings us up short.  Their answer: “ . . . 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.”  (Acts 4:10)

Many of us come to scripture with many questions, even doubts.  Statements are made that seem to defy our experience.  We can stretch our definitions of health and healing.  I am married to a physically challenged woman with lupus, but her being is robustly healthy.  In stories like the one in Acts, I see another truth at work.  Those doing the questioning at looking for a magical human power that they think Peter and John are using.  (vs. 7)  They are looking to stop this young “Christian” movement in its tracks.  Peter and John refuse to take credit for the healing, making themselves either heroes or villains.  There is a higher power at work in the cosmos that wants us all to be healed.  Our compassion is not intended to make celebrities of us; it is an expression of divine love at work in us.  If we don’t see that, we’ve missed the only thing that matters here.

Perhaps there is something here that connects with our theme of self-giving love.  When we witness heroic acts of service, even the saving of a life, we gather and heap adulation on the “heroes.”  Usually the “heroes,” in contrast, are quite humble.   They don’t claim any deep presence of an altruistic spirit; they just did what they had to do.  It came from somewhere there in their human nature, some deep place of which they were hardly aware.

When we look at Jesus, we see the power of what can come from such deep places, and we are inspired to love one another, with whatever it takes.

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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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