Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 11, 2014

Reading 1: Reading 2:Reading 3:Reading 4:
Acts 2:42-47Psalm 231 Peter 2:19-25John 10:1-10

By Bruce G. Epperly

Healthy spirituality is all-season: it embraces mind, body, spirit, and relationships; individual and community; sickness and health; contemplation and action; and abundance and scarcity. It promotes individual transformation, and points individuals toward God’s larger global missions.

The final verses of Acts 2 give us a vision of what I will describe as holistic theospirituality, the integration of theology and spirituality for the transformation of persons and communities. Acts 2 is a model for congregational life at its fullest. In the honeymoon days following the spirit-filled Day of Pentecost, the Jerusalem church seamlessly joined study, celebration, worship, prayer, and mission. Mind, body, spirit, and relationships were transformed by this generous, intellectually stimulating, praise-centered, and missional community. Signs and wonders emerged as a result of the community’s alignment with God’s vision.

The Acts vision of church joined mission and meditation, worship and social welfare, and intellect and action. Every aspect of human life was brought into relationship with God’s spirit-centered vision of humanity.

The message of Psalm 23 also speaks of a holistic theospirituality, adequate for every season of life. Threat is real, but God is more real. Enemies lurk, but God’s protective care drives them away. We walk through the darkest valley – not around it – and discover God’s companionship. Life’s challenges cannot be avoided; but we find courage in walking with God in the midst of upheaval and threat.

The Psalmist’s theological vision and sense of God’s nearness enable him to face trial and tragedy with courage. Theological reflection and spiritual experience give him perspective on the events of his life. Trouble abounds, but beyond and within the trouble the Psalmist senses God’s intimate presence.

The message of I Peter affirms that by Christ’s wounds we are healed. This enables the believer to face pain with Christ as her or his model. This passage exemplifies the statement, “I have good news and I have bad news.” First, the good news: this passage describes an intimate, loving God who feels our pain. God is near, and the intimacy of God enables us to endure suffering by placing it in the perspective of Christ’s life-transforming and saving suffering. We can endure suffering because we believe that our current suffering is temporary and fades in importance in light of God’s everlasting life. Next, comes the bad news: this passage can be used to counsel people to bear suffering unnecessarily, to hang in with abusing partners, and believe that every event, including painful and abusive events, is God-sent for our spiritual growth. When used this way, this passage becomes demonic and destructive. It is healthier to say – and by their fruits you shall know them – that the goal of God’s suffering is to reduce and heal the suffering of the world. We can respond creatively to the necessary and inevitable sufferings of life, not because we have to or because we are being tested or should endure unnecessary and unjust suffering, but because God’s suffering love will in the long haul transform our suffering.

John 10:1-10 is also ambiguous in its message and needs to be rescued from literal and unimaginative interpretations, parading as orthodoxy. There is the potential to read this passage in ways that are imperialistic and exclusionary. All other shepherds, one interpretation might say, are thieves and intruders, destructive of our spiritual lives. Could these thieves include Buddha, Mohammed, and other non-Christian teachers? If this is the intended meaning, then we must reject this passage as unhelpful. We can also interpret it holistically through the lens of God’s global aim at wholeness. In light of God’s quest for abundant life, the aim of Jesus’ ministry, we can see this passage as an affirmation of God’s care for all of us. This positive affirmation challenges any theological statement connecting our suffering with divine punishment, God’s will, or some form of predestination separating from eternity the saved and the unsaved and abandoning the majority of humankind to damnation.

While the divine lure may be perceived at times as uncomfortable, following God’s vision eventually leads to embodying abundant life in our personal and communal lives. Acts 2:42-47 shows us what it’s like for communities to live by God’s abundant open-heartedness rather than scarcity thinking and its attendant possessiveness.

Today, we celebrate holistic theospirituality. What we believe about God and ourselves matters and shapes our behaviors and values. Living by God’s abundance awakens us to generosity and care for our neighbors and invites us to be part of communities of creative transformation.

Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of over thirty books in theology, ministry, scripture, healing, and spirituality including, Process Theology: A Guide for the PerplexedHoly Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, and Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God. He may be reached for conversation and speaking engagements