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Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 25, 2010

Easter 4C RCL April 25, 2010
Acts 9:36-45
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10: 22-30

This morning we begin with the story of Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, a name meaning “gazelle.” This is one of the passages assigned in our new Revised Common Lectionary. Tabitha is a disciple; she is known for her ministry to widows in the congregation at Joppa, modern Jaffa. She has helped many of these widows, and they have formed a community around her to do the same for others which she has done for them, sewing clothes, sharing money and resources and support.

Tabitha has died, and Peter is called to minister in this situation. Peter goes to the room upstairs, and the widows are heartbroken at the loss of their leader. They are weeping and showing examples of the clothing which Tabitha has made. Peter puts them all outside, as Jesus often did, so that there can be quiet. Then he kneels down and prays. Peter then turns to the body and says, “Tabitha, get up.” This parallels many of the healings of Jesus. When he raised Lazarus, for example, he called, “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus walked out of the tomb. When Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, he took her hand and said to her, “Little girl, get up.” And she did just that. Now Tabitha opens her eyes, sits up, and Peter takes her hand and helps her to stand up.

Saul has just been converted to the new faith, and now Peter has healed a man named Aeneas and Tabitha. All of these events show us that the new community of followers of Jesus was growing and continuing our Lord’s ministry with works of healing and new life.

We continue our glimpses into the Book of Revelation with the vision of the multitude gathered before the throne of the Lamb. They come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” There is a multicultural multitude that is beyond counting. Scholars tell us that the ordeal referred to is persecution by Roman emperors. These people have survived the persecution and now “they will hunger no more and thirst no more.” Their suffering has ended. The Lamb has now become their shepherd, and “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

In our gospel for today, Jesus has already described himself as the Good Shepherd. He has said that he knows his sheep and his sheep know him. In this passage, he is being questioned by the authorities, who are trying to entrap him as usual, and he tells them that they do not belong to his sheep. He says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Jesus is talking about the very close relationship which he has with each of us and with all of us as his flock. In biblical times, the shepherds would put their flocks together for safety at night. In the morning, when they were ready to lead the flock out to pasture—the biblical shepherd went ahead of the flock—each shepherd would call his sheep, and the big flock would split into the several flocks because each sheep knew its shepherd’s voice. Each sheep would follow its own shepherd.

Jesus is our shepherd. Each of us knows his voice. We know when he is calling. We can tell when he is nudging us to follow him. We have had a long and strong relationship with him, and we know that we can trust his leading. He is not going to lead us into danger. He is not going to let us perish. He is not going to let something or someone snatch us out of his hand. He is going to lead us to good fresh water and wonderful lush grass. He is going to take care of us.

He knows each of us so well. He knows our gifts and our strengths, and he knows our weaknesses and our places of vulnerability. He knows that we are human. And, most of all, he loves us; he cherishes us. And that leads us back to the fact that he will take good care of us. The biblical shepherd goes out ahead of the flock, scouting out danger, finding the good water and the best pasture. The good shepherd will give his life to save the sheep from wild animals or other dangers.

For us, the spiritual journey can seem full of unknowns and places of confusion, and, for us, it is. Because we do not know the mind of God. But we do know that God is full of love for us. God walks ahead of us and beside us. God surrounds us with love and protection. All we have to do is trust in God. Jesus says in this part of the gospel that he and the Father are one. This means that God has gone through all the experiences that Jesus went through. God knows what it is to be born in a stable in Bethlehem in less than the best circumstances. God knows what it is to be scorned and marginalized and, finally, to be nailed to a cross and to go through agony and to feel alone and totally rejected and to be buried and to rise to new life. Our God is as close to us as the best shepherd is close to his or her flock, knowing each of us intimately, calling to us, and keeping us safe through all the challenges of the journey. May we listen for the voice of Jesus. May we follow him faithfully. Amen.

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