The Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday (Year C), 12 May 2019

May 12, 2019 | by Bruce Epperly

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Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23 Revelation 7:9-17 John 10:22-30

“Good Shepherd” Sunday

On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we reflect on the miracle of the Shepherd’s care. A “miracle” is something astonishing – a burst of divine power or inspiration – that awakens persons and communities to new and unexpected energies and possibilities. We don’t need to worry about the mechanics of the miraculous. We need simply to remember that we live in a wonderful, enchanted, world, filled with more possibilities than we can imagine. Platform 9 ¾ Kings Cross is found in the midst of a morning’s commute. The wardrobe to Narnia appears on a dull rainy day. God’s possibilities – God’s aims at beauty and wholeness – are revealed every moment for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Awakening to holy – opening the “doors of perception” – can heal our cells as well as our souls.

The passage from Acts 9 is all about a miracle. The gifts of the Spirit are alive and well in the Christian community as Peter continues the miraculous ministry of Jesus, healing the sick and raising the dead. What are we to make of it? Was Tabitha really restored to life? She has obviously been dead for a while – long enough to be washed and for Peter to arrive. Yet, according to Acts 9, she – Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus – is raised from the dead. Medical science would argue against it. After all, wouldn’t lack of oxygen precipitate brain death, and permanent damage? Defying our understandings of medical science, Peter revives her. The life-transforming ministry of Jesus continues. We don’t need to focus on the mechanics of this healing or Jesus’ resurrection, but we need to be open to new life where death is present.

All is miracle writes Walt Whitman. The “natural” world is more marvelous than we can imagine – the grandeur of the universe from a burst of energy no larger than a fingernail, the big bang; the conception and growth of a child; the overcoming of trauma; the healing of grief; the recovery from “terminal” illness. When the doors of perception are open, God can perform wonders in our lives. God’s aim toward wholeness is part of a synergy of call and response, and openness and transformation. As Thich Nhat Hanh asserts, “Everyday we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” A reenchanted world does not violate the predictable laws of nature but energizes our perception and experience of the miracle of this present moment.  (For more on the healings of Jesus and the early church, see Bruce Epperly, Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel and Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a Twenty-first Century Gospel.)

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved passages in scripture, read in hospital rooms and memorial services. The Psalm affirms the ever-present companionship of God. The Psalm is clear that we can’t avoid life’s challenges; we must walk through them, facing enemies and the dark nights of the soul, trusting that God is our companion. God is never aloof or impassible, but always near, feeling our pain and joy, our anxiety and confidence, and willing to make a way toward the future, injecting possibilities where we may see dead ends.

John’s mystical vision, described in Revelation 7, reveals the scope of salvation. Countless souls give praise to the Living One, the Lamb of God, whose sacrificial love transforms the world. The angelic and human are joined in praise. There is a “wideness in God’s mercy” that encompasses every soul. Those who recognize the power of Christ gain new and creative powers, most importantly the power of praise that connects us to God’s lively healing and loving energy.

John’s Gospel joins salvation and Christology. Here, salvation is eternal life, that is, wholeness and openness to God in the midst of our lives, not post-mortem speculation. Everlasting life is found in our relationship with God in the Holy Here and Now that gives us confidence that in life and death “it is well with our souls.” Jesus calls on everyone and those who hear his voice and respond are blessed with abundant life and eternal confidence. Sheep, conscious of the Shepherd’s companionship, they are victors in the midst of strife.

Jesus briefly describes his own identity. “The Father and I are one.” This is a relational unity with theological and metaphysical implications. This is a oneness of purpose and vision. Jesus is fully congruent with God’s vision for his life; Jesus embodies moment by moment God’s aim at wholeness for himself and the world. In the words of a church father, “the glory of God is a person fully alive.” Jesus is fully alive, and thus one with God, revelatory of divinity in our fleshly world. Jesus awakens his sheep to his presence and invites them to do “greater things” than they can imagine. This passage is not about exclusion; no one is excluded from their “sheep-like” identity; it is about openness and choice. For all, Jesus “stands at the door and knocks.” In saying “yes,” new energies come into our lives, giving us greater courage, strength, power, and love to change the world.

Today, let us awaken to wonder; the wonder of our being and the wonder of all being. We are greater than we can imagine. Aligning with God’s visionary energy, we can experience intensity, beauty, and wholeness for the present, future, and the world around us.

Rev. Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., serves as Senior Pastor at South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, Massachusetts. Prior to moving to Cape Cod, he served on the faculties and of Georgetown University, Claremont School of Theology, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. He also served for nearly twenty years as Protestant University Chaplain at Georgetown University and for seven years as Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Bruce is currently a professor of spirituality, ministry, and theology in the doctoral program at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C. He is the author of fifty books in the areas of process theology, spirituality, ministerial excellence and spiritual formation, scripture, and healing and wholeness, including The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World; Tending to the Holy: Practicing the Presence of God in Ministry; Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; and Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims.