30th April 2023
Reflection on the readings (see below).
Today’s readings feature what it is to be radical.
The story in Acts tells us of a lifestyle that even today we would consider to be very radical. We wouldn’t really have enough trust in each other, to sell up and share all that we own. We would be worried that others would take us for a ride, living off our wealth and deprive us of any enjoyment.
The writer of Acts notes that it is this radical lifestyles that makes the new faith in Jesus Christ so attractive.
We might summarise this radical lifestyle as: Live in the present. Don’t hold onto things against the future; share and enjoy what you have now. Have regard for one another’s needs. And in all this praise and worship God.
We might hear Psalm 23 as a description of what is it like to be on the receiving end of such a radical way of living:- to be cared for, to be provided with what you need whether that is food and drink, rest, reassurance or companionship. And again the response is to praise and worship God.
Returning again to the lifestyle envisaged in Acts, it seems as if it could never be a reality for us because we are too afraid of what we might loose – the sacrifice would be to great. Yet as Christians we are happy to acknowledge the sacrifice that Jesus made, the sacrifice that gained for us the opportunity of just such a new life. The writer of 1 Peter calls us to follow Jesus’s example, to be willing to suffer loss and hurt if it will bring in the kingdom of God. To do so is to be in the care of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Jesus knows our weaknesses, our lack of confidence, our inability to trust and take risks. That same Jesus knows that, like sheep, we will often go astray and, as the Good Shepherd, he is always going to come after us to rescue us. With Jesus in charge, can we somehow find the strength and desire to radically alter our lives so that everyone can benefit?
If we look around us we see a great need for a better way of living, a better way of making daily life work. Here in the UK we hear of people whose income doesn’t allow them to buy even the food they need, whilst at the same time we hear of business leaders, city brokers, and celebrities whose weekly income would exceed the annual income of others. We hear of people who cannot afford to heat their homes, while at CEOs and shareholders (including several Anglican dioceses) reap the profits of soaring oil prices. Looking globally we can compare the subsidies given to the UK’s oil and gas sector, and the sums paid to contractors to keep refugees out of our country, with the diminishing sums the UK spends on overseas aid. Looking globally we see countries with far smaller economies suffering from droughts and floods and soaring temperatures, all triggered by the climate crisis which our continued exploitation of the fossil fuel economy has caused.
How are we going to get out of this mess? In John’s gospel Jesus describes two different ways of accessing the sheepfold and its resources. On the one hand there are the thieves and bandits who ignore the way into the sheepfold that has been designed by the Shepherd. Instead find their own way in. They want to make a quick buck, stealing the sheep. They have no interest in the long term management and wellbeing of the flock. The Shepherd in the other hand manages the flock by paying attention to the way the fold is designed. The Shepherd spends time getting to know the sheep and building up a trusting relationship with them. And as a consequence the herd thrives, enjoying abundant life.
If the sheepfold were our planet, the place where we live, is it better that we are looked after by thieves and bandits who ignore the ways in which the planet is designed? Or is it better that we are led by the Shepherd who is in tune both with us and the planet? Those of us who can see the damage that the thieves and the bandits – the self seeking multi nationals, the asset strippers – are causing should speak up. We should call out the damage that is being caused by those after a fast buck, and the suffering that is being endured as a consequence. We should be ready to call for a radical way of living. We should be ready to make sacrifices that will benefit us all.
Those who had been baptised devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 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, 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 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.
1 Peter 2:19-25
It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 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. 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.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
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. 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. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
Jesus said, “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. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”