The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2018
April 22, 2018 | by Nathan Mattox
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 1 Alt||Reading 2 Alt|
|Acts 4:5-12||Psalm 23||1 John 3: 16-24||John 10:11-18|
This text skews toward the “exclusivist” interpretation of the uniqueness of Christianity toward the end of it, and may not be the most fertile ground for the process preacher. Most of us, I venture to say, affirm the approach to world religions found eloquently presented by Marjorie Suchocki in her book Divinity and Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism. Perhaps the text provides a template for the adventurous preacher to “preach against the text” and articulate a different vision than Peter’s proclamation. Or, perhaps there is room for us to take a more expansive view of the nature of Christ that Peter might be proclaiming when he says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
In any case, his reference to the Psalm in the verse before reminds this reggae fan once again of a Bob Marley song, “The stone that the builder refused, will one day be the head cornerstone.” To identify with Jesus means identifying with the rejected, especially in times of trial, as Peter does here. He’s doubling down on the claim of identity with the Christ in the face of the Priestly authorities who had been known to be accommodating of Greek and Roman incursion into the temple practice.
This is “Shepherd Sunday,” which occurs every Easter season. An alternative text to the Acts passage above is from the lectionary before it was “revised,” from Ezek. 34:11-16; 30-31, which also speaks about the Good Shepherd to which Jesus refers in the Gospel text. As for this cherished psalm, one aspect that might appeal to the Process Preacher is the notion of “goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life.” Most commentaries point out that the Hebrew word ירדפוני, jirdepuni, shall pursue me is a better literal translation, and perhaps opens some doors to speak about the dynamic aspect of God’s lure. Mercy might also be read “loving-kindness.” In either case, the pursuit of God’s goodness and mercy is quite expressive of the creative-responsive love of God found in Process Theology.
1 John 3:16-24
“The OTHER John 3:16” is one that I like to draw my congregation’s attention to from time to time. Whereas the familiar John 3:16 speaks about God’s action, this one refers to Christ’s ultimate loving act of “laying down his life for us” and the reciprocal act of “laying down our lives for one another.” The implication is that we have “grace and responsibility” as John Cobb titled his book describing Wesleyan theology informed by a process perspective.
I have spent much of the time I have been writing this commentary also preparing for how my church can respond to aid in a statewide teacher walk-out on behalf of funding for schools with crumbling resources. We have been guided by verse 17 of this text, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” While the need for better funding provided by the Oklahoma State Legislature – which has made a regular practice of stripping funds from our school system, delaying needed teacher pay raises, and substituting lottery funds for tax-generated funding – looms large in my own perspective, this text provides a good template for other ways that any faith community might be reaching out (or needs to reach out) to those in need. Our very identity depends on us living into the challenging words of John.
“Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” could be the theme of any social justice oriented church. How does Process Theology support and embolden a strong sense of social justice? It thoroughly puts God’s action in the hands of people. God depends on people following the Divine Lure of persuasive power in order to make the world closer and closer to the Divine Aim.
The part of the scripture about “our hearts being reassured by God whenever our hearts condemn us because God is greater than our hearts” has some rich potential for a process interpretation. God’s primary action/identity as Creative-Responsive Love is tantamount to this same scriptural allusion to God’s continual act of expanding our awareness and acceptance of our own shortcomings, while at the same time stretching us and increasing our vision to go beyond what we currently perceive.
The lectionary harmonizations between the epistle and the psalm and this Gospel reading are evident, with the major theme being one who “lays down one’s life” for one’s sheep. The difference between a “hired hand” and a shepherd being the sense of connection and closeness to the sheep is another example of creative-responsive love. God is not distant, removed, immutable, and impassible as classical Christian Theology sometimes posits. Instead, God is highly engaged with the world, indeed in Process Theology God is the MOST influenced and engaged entity in the universe. Jesus’ identification with the Good Shepherd reaffirms this engaged and concerned character of God’s being. Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” There is a resonance between Christ’s identification with the least and the lost sheep and his identification with the Divine. In all cases, Christ exemplifies the willingness to lay everything on the line. This radical commitment to the Divine Aim guides our own discipleship, pushing us to the boundaries of our comfort zones as we seek to “pick up our cross and follow.”
Rev. M. Nathan Mattox graduated with an MDiv from Claremont School of Theology in 2005, and has since served United Methodist congregations in Arkansas and Oklahoma, most recently University United Methodist Church in Tulsa since 2011. A fellow of the Fund for Theological Education, National Council of Churches Ecological Justice Young Adult fellowship, Collegeville Writer’s Workshop, and the Hendix Institute for Clergy Civic Engagement, he also started the University Church Network, a collaborative resource for churches on or adjacent to university campuses. Nathan has been blending a family since July of 2017 with his wife Myranda, and enjoys the company of four chidren, a dog and a cat.