Fourth Sunday of Easter

8th May 2022

Acts 9:36-43

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Revelation 7:9-17

I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom

and thanksgiving and honour

and power and might

be to our God forever and ever!
Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;

for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 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. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Reflection

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry saying, “ The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” And what is the good news? That the Kingdom of God is near; indeed those who believe are citizens of that kingdom. When Jesus in turn sends his disciples out to preach the good news, he instruct them to heal the sick, cure disease, to exercise authority over demons, and, in Matthew’s gospel, to raise the dead. The message is clear that the reality of God’s kingdom is not just about words but deeds too. So it is in the Book of Acts that we see the good news being preached not just with rhetoric but with actions too. In today’s example, Peter raises Dorcas from death. But the story also shows us in other ways what the reality kingdom of God looks like. Dorcas, clearly a citizen of God’s kingdom, is renowned for her good deeds. Her fellow citizens, the local Christian community, are equally committed to making the kingdom of God a reality in the concern that they show. Time and again the Book of Acts relates stories of the first Christian communities where their love for each other shines out as beacon for others to see. Do our church communities shine as brightly?

Psalm 23 is often loved because of the idyllic image that it presents of green pastures and still waters. Such ease and comfort is surely what the kingdom of God is made of? But when we look around the world today, do we see much in the way of green pastures and still waters? Rather we see battle grounds, land that is either flood-ridden or drought-bitten, people and communities struggling to survive against a tide wave of poverty and oppression. For activists struggling to bring about change – to bring in the values of the kingdom of God – it can feel as if the kingdom of God is not at hand but is rather a fast disappearing fantasy. Psalm 23 offers something of more comfort – God’s companionship when things are tough, when the way ahead is dark. Waking becomes an act of faith but with the assurance goodness and mercy to come.  As with the community to which Dorcas belonged demonstrated, when things are tough, we do need to rally round and support one another. If nothing else we can pray for those activists who are standing up for the kingdom values – for the safe passage of asylum seekers, for the provision of food for those inadequate means, for the proper funding of the NHS, for the ending of fossil fuel investment.

The passage from the Book of Revelation tells the same story as Psalm 23 but in more florid terms. Those who have walked through the valley of death are those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb: they do indeed come to find rest where they no longer hunger and thirst, where they are comforted and refreshed. 

Those who believe, those who are citizens of God’s kingdom, those who recognise the voice of the shepherd, have the gift of eternal life. They will know the comfort of Jesus’s presence even in the depths of winter.

Third Sunday of Easter

1st May 2022

Acts 9:1-6

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 

Psalm 30

1 I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.

3 You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4 Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favour for a lifetime.

6 Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.

7 While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, Lord, with your favour, made me as strong as the mountains.”

8 Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.

9 I cried to you, O Lord; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,

10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; *
O Lord, be my helper.”

12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Revelation 5:11-14

I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honour and glory and blessing!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

John 21:1-19

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Reflection

The short passage from the Book of Acts introduces us to Paul’s Damascus Road experience (although here he is still known by his Jewish name of Saul). From being an ardent antagonist of the followers of Christ, Paul swerves, U-turns, to become the most ardent evangelist. Why? Because he encounters the risen Jesus head on. Last week, in John’s gospel, we heard how various disciples met the risen Jesus and how in different ways they began to understand what was happening and who it was – and in what nature – they were encountering, when they met Jesus. The risen Jesus was not a human brought back to life, but the  God-who-had-become-human-and-had-ascended-once-more-to-the-God-head. It is his encounter with this Jesus that confounds Paul’s previous understanding of Jesus and his followers, and brings to new life in him an understanding of and relationship with the Christ. Indeed brings him new Life.

Thereafter Paul went on to transform other people’s understanding of Jesus, to nurture in them new Life, and did so with zeal, raising the profile of the  Way of Christ to new heights. 

Today’s Psalm too tells of the way of salvation as a process of transformation that echos both Paul’s experience and that of Paul’s ministry. The mission of Paul and his contemporaries, gave rise to the exponential growth of the Christian community – from its roots as a group of believers perhaps measured in hundreds, to a faith movement that, by the third century, becomes the state religion of the whole empire. Perhaps it is this that we are seeing in the extract from the Book of Revelation: the Lamb, once a creature to be sacrificed, becomes one to be credited all ‘power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing’ for ever and ever!

The gospel passage today comes from the end of John’s gospel. It is quite likely a later addition: in John’s account this is the first time we hear that Peter is a fisherman – the call of Peter away from his fishing career comes from the synoptic gospel. Without this information, there is not the sense  that Peter and his comrades are returning to where their old lives had broken off. Nevertheless this is the story that we are presented with as the final story of John’s gospel.

There is still confusion amongst Jesus’s disciples. They still do not instantly or completely recognise the figure they see as Jesus. This is not just the human Jesus who has been resuscitated. This is someone who is more. Yet even so this Jesus still understands what it is to be human, what it is that humans need – whether that is success in their work, food to satisfy their hunger, comfort, or indeed reassurance that past failures have been forgiven. And not just forgiven: Jesus assures Peter of his confidence that he, Peter, can fulfil the task which Jesus is giving him. 

I am sure many of us have felt the sense of inadequacy that Peter felt, that we are not up to the task, that we are going to fail and will let other people down. And often it is that very feeling of inadequacy that leads us to fail. In the Principles of the Franciscan Third Order, that for day 24 concerning humility, says “Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which they feel unworthy or incapable they do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness”. This has often puzzled me, but I think it is reminding us that we should not rely on our own sense of ability but rather trust to the ability that comes from God. That was certainly Peter’s experience and Paul’s too. It should give us the confidence to continue with those tasks which we know to be right even if we can’t see how they might be successful. Success will come in God’s way and God’s time. 

I find it hard to believe that we humans will get our act together such that we can forestall the worst of the climate crisis, yet I am confident that God does not desire or will the destruction of creation. Somehow God’s will will prevail. 

Counting on …day 170

1st May 2022

Never give up hope! For weeks now I have been convinced that our grape vine has died. Its two  main branches have shown no signs of life – rather the bark has been peeling away – and the stubs where last years shoots were pruned are dry and hollow. But then, I glimpsed a couple of small pale green shoots – it is alive and we can look forward to another year of leafy sunshade and luscious fruits in due season. Signs of hope are to be treasured and praised. Thanks be to God!

 Counting on …day 144

7th April 2022

Hope is a great gift. It gives us the confidence to smile and keep going, even

when the odds seem stacked against us. Hope is often to be found in small things. A weed, against the odds, pushing up between the paving stones.  Spotting a first ladybird. Taking time to enjoy the aroma of a fresh cup of coffee. 

Lent Reflection

Meadow Sky Summer Landscape Sun Tree Hawthorn http://www.maxpixel

The hawthorn tree – crataegus monogyna – is native to Britain and grows to a height of 15m. It has a shrubby shape which provides safety for nesting birds. The hawthorn bears white, and sometime pink, blossom in May and hence is also known as a May tree. It can provide food for 300 different insects, and its fruit, haws, are eaten by various birds and small mammals. 

The early green leaves can be eaten freshly picked – known as ‘bread and cheese’ or as a salad. Its haws can be made into jellies and sauces. Hawthorn is widely used for hedging and provides good shelter for livestock. The wood is used for carving and for veneers.

Symbolically hawthorn represents hope.

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Love is a magical shelter where you will feel yourself safe beneath it. Mehmet Murat ildan