Prayer of the Day
O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (ELW p. 33)
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
1 Peter 2:19-25
19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
Metaphors of Jesus the Good Shepherd and Jesus the gate follow the story of the healing of the man born blind from birth. Jesus sees a man born blind, and the disciples ask him about the cause of the blindness. The disciples assume the blindness must be a form of divine punishment for sin—sin of the man or sin of his parents. Jesus shifts the frame of reference. He will not speculate about what caused the blindness but instead focuses on what can be done about it.
Jesus does not heal the man immediately but puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to go and wash. The man born blind, eventually is healed, receiving his sight. And many verses of scripture are about him bearing witness to a Jesus whom he has never seen.
After the healing, Jesus goes on to teach, explaining that thieves and bandits return as people who the sheep do not know and to whom they will not listen. It is not entirely clear who the thieves and bandits and even the stranger in today’s gospel text are or who they represent. Whoever they are, one thing is absolutely clear, they do not offer, provide, usher in abundant life. Jesus, the gate or door, is the one who brings with him abundant life. This abundant life is for the man born blind from birth. This abundant life is for those who do not even know Jesus yet. This abundant life is for you and for me.
The Forth Sunday in Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday in our tradition. We read from John’s Gospel, Chapter 10 and we read the beloved 23rd Psalm. But this year, when we only read through Chapter 10 verse 10, we would be better off calling it Good Gate Sunday. I don’t want us to rush past this powerful gate, or door, metaphor. It seems especially fitting this year when closed doors are in fact giving life to us and to people who we may never meet. I posted a photo about a month ago of an empty church sanctuary, with the caption, love looks like an empty church. Hard as it is to be quarantined, difficult as it for so many small businesses, right now, love also looks like closed doors. There is so much about Coronavirus that we really do not know yet, whatever talking heads say. And so, love and abundant life, right now continue to look like closed doors or gates.
Other parts of the economy will need to open back up so that abundant life is accessible to people who have been laid off. Other parts of the economy will need to open back up because they can open up without gathering large crowds of people. For the church, abundant life may still include closed doors.
Fortunately, the church has never been tied to a building. We say we are the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ, the people, not the building. Much as I enjoy time in our sanctuary and fellowship hall, they are not core to our identity. Since about a week after we first shut down, I have been singing an old Jay Beech song from my first ELCA Youth Gathering in Dallas, We are the Church. The Body of our Lord. We are all God’s children and we have been restored.
The church is not a building where people to to pray;
it’s not made out of sticks and stones, it’s not made out of clay.
You can go to worship but you cannot go to church;
you can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search.
The church, it is the people living out their lives,
called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.
We will return to our building, and I will rejoice to gather with all of you then. But there is no building that can pronounce the life-giving words of Jesus’ today, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus the gate or door can keep thieves and bandits out. Closed doors can give abundant life during a pandemic. But the metaphor of Jesus the gate has more richness to it, as all good metaphors do. Eventually a gate or door swings open. Sheep run out into green pastures. They play and recreate, or as my old camp director used to say, re-create. There is life beyond the gate, abundant life. This life is for everyone, for the whole world.
This leads us beautifully to our scripture passage from Acts. Sometimes I think it’s odd that we have all of these readings from Acts during the Season of Easter, before we celebrate Pentecost, which comes at the beginning of the Book of Acts. But the Easter Season is about learning what it means to live as Easter people, when death has been defeated, when resurrection followed the cross. And I find comfort in turning to the Book of Acts and being reminded of how those early followers of Jesus practiced being Easter people.
Our passage comes right after the passage we read each Pentecost Sunday. Those baptized on Pentecost came from different regions, speaking different dialects. Some may not have shared the native languages of others, in spite of a shared Jewish faith. There would have been distinct food preferences and different levels of financial security. There would have been different prejudices to navigate, and different interpretations of Torah. Just when one was beginning to learn the names of those seated at dinner, new faces would appear. Daily, the text says, “the Lord added to their number” (verse 47). It is an unstable situation.
In many ways, the take-aways from Acts 2:42-47 are pretty simple. Followers of Jesus eat together. They pray together. They learn together. They have things in common; they practiced generosity. The collective name for these activities is faith practices. Now, faith practices are not a set of hoops you to jump through before receiving abundant life. Faith practices, like those referenced in Acts 2, are what abundant life consists of.
Whether abundant life comes because we are protected by closed doors or abundant life is experienced in those lush green pastures beyond an open gate, something comes next. The man born blind from birth could not stop witnessing, pointing to Jesus, the man who healed him. We never hear about him after John Chapter 9, but it may be safe to assume that his life of following Jesus did not end the day he regained his physical sight. Would he not want to make sure everyone else had abundant life? Would he not want to spend a little more time praising and thanking God? Would he not want to learn a bit more about this Jesus?
The goal of faith practices is to produce a distinct identity, to develop a shared vocabulary, to build a community that can carry each other’s joys and burdens. The problem is that such formation can often create a rigidity of form, a settled script of behavior. There is a lack of porousness in the communal boundary. Faith communities with robust faith practices may struggle making space for difference. And yet, Pentecost gave the early church a community that was full of difference, a community that needed to build a common life even as it changed from day to day.
Yes, sometimes hearing from people who are not like me makes me initially uncomfortable, like I have missed a perspective or experience. But when we lean in, we are introduced to new worlds. In the last month, webinars with diverse panels of people from across the country helped me see the pandemic and the activity of quarantine through different eyes. Other voices even help me interpret my own experience in a new way. I had to look at some of my subconscious assumptions and examine if they were worth holding onto.
If different people impact our faith practices, then so do different circumstances. The thing about faith practices is that they are not stuck in time and space, as the pandemic has surely reminded us every day. What prayer and the Lord’s Supper and learning and sharing looked like in First Century Palestine is one thing. We can assume they looked quite different when they Christian faith was taken across the Mediterranean to the British Isles and into Scandinavia, where Christianity bumped into Celtic and Nordic Spirituality. European immigrants came to the United States and faith practices transformed again.
Worshiping in the home, watching a screen, is not ideal. I was told earlier this week that it has taken several weeks for a few us to get used to this. That’s right. It takes practice. Giving thanks to God during quarantine can be challenging. Our stewardship team is going to help you out with that in May. Look for the first prompts in today’s bulletin and on our Facebook page. Generosity may look different right now. Some of us have less, because of job loss. Some of us may have more, because we are not eating out or spending money on entertainment. You might find a new charity today on Idaho Gives. It is not just money that Idaho nonprofits need—it’s the boost to their morale, each financial gift says, “we believe in what you are doing, keep it up!”
Each one of us has been given abundant life by Jesus, the gate. He is both the source of abundant life and following him is the way to abundant life. As we continue to adapt our faith practices of prayer, learning, Holy Communion and generosity, may we, like the man born blind from birth, always be pointing to Jesus as the source of abundant life.
Prayers of Intercession (Adapted from Sundays and Seasons by Larry Mills)
Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.
A brief silence.
Shepherding God, we thank you for the educational ministries of your church. Enrich the work of teachers, professors, mentors, advisors, and faculty at colleges, seminaries, and learning sites as we work with these new mediums. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Creating God, we praise you for those who maintain and operate farm equipment, for those who plant and harvest crops, for local markets, and for those involved in agriculture of any kind. Strengthen their hands as they feed the world. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Guiding God, no one should be in want. Bid the nations to return to your paths of righteousness and inspire our leaders to walk in your ways, so that all may have the opportunity to live abundantly and sustainably. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Comforting God, you carry us tenderly. We pray for those who walk through dark valleys overshadowed by anxiety and overwhelmed with suffering. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Nurturing God, you desire justice for the hungry. Bless advocacy work, food pantries, and feeding ministries in our congregations. May none of our neighbors lack for basic needs. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Everlasting God, your beloved have heard your voice; you have called them by name and guided them to your side in death. We thank you for their lives of faithful witness. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord. Amen.