A sermon for Easter 4: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10
My studies this week lead me to a slightly different reading of the 23rd Psalm. It goes like this.
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 God “keeps me alive (LeMon) and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the darkest valley, (Mast; Harrelson) 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 Only goodness and mercy shall pursue me (Lewis; LeMon; J. Clinton McCann) all the days of my life and I will continually return to Yahweh’s presence, my whole life long. (LeMon)
We hear way too much about Jesus the Good Shepherd, LLC. Long ago they secured the 4th Sunday after Easter’s imagery. Then they laid siege to stain glass windows, and murals, and painting, and sketches and all thing images. And they are wonderfully transformative. However, today, Jesus does not say he is the good shepherd, Today, Jesus says he is the gate for the sheep (J. Clinton McCann). Jesus is the gate into the sheepfold for the safety of the flock. Jesus is also the gate out of the sheepfold so the flock can go out into the word as stewards of Jesus’ ministry (Hoezee). Jesus is the way the flock has abundant life (Lewis). The Jesus gate is not to exclude people (Johnson). The Jesus Gate is the way the flock goes into the world and shares the news of abundant life with all the world.
What is the abundance life Jesus offers us? There is a dangerous belief that wealth, health, riches are a divine blessing that comes from right belief (Lewis). This is nothing like John’s definition of abundance in his Gospel story. John defines abundance as
- Jesus as life, and the life was the light of all people (John 1:4)
- the divine gift through whom that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:1)
- the resurrection through whom even those who die, will live” (John 11:25)
- knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent (17:3)
- hearing the Gospel stories “so that you may believe… and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Abundance is the interdependence of care, and it is driven by knowing God wants all the world, all of us, all of you to thrive (Epperly). Abundance is a divine gift for the whole community right here and right now; not sometime out in the future in some unknown place (J. Clinton McCann).
Part of understanding divine abundance is remembering today’s Gospel story is the continuation of the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. When we finished reading this story, a couple of weeks ago, the Jewish religious authorities have driven the man out of the village. Jesus pursues him, into the dark valley of rejection, and when he meets the man the man confirms his return to God in Jesus. The religious authorities are behaving like Old Testament Kings, who did not seek the common good for all of God people (Johnson; Harrelson; O’Day). The first three verses of this morning’s Gospel tell us who the shepherds are not (Harrelson). So maybe we can learn something about abundance by naming the things that it is not. For that, we can go back to the 23rd Psalm.
Though I walk through the darkest valley I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
reminds us that even though we face real threats, we should not fear them; because verse 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.
reminds us the shepherd’s provisions are enough (J. Clinton McCann) They’re abundant. This reassures us that we do not fear anything. We don’t need to fear others; we don’t need to fear immigrants because all of us, all of them are part of the flock, part of the divine community. We should be wary of principalities and powers that seek to gain power over us, by dividing us, telling us resources are scarce. There is an abundance of resources. There is even an abundance of government resources; it is simply how they get divided up and used that creates the images of shortages.
Last year the State of Arkansas Legislature passed a $100 million tax cut. This year they passed a $50 million tax cut. After the general legislative session was over this year, it was announced there is a $70 million shortfall, and therefore this year’s budget will but cut. The cuts come from category B items, where are lesser important items. Here is what is in there: a Medicaid allocation of $88 million; $23.7 million for the Department of Education, $5.2 million for the merit adjustment fund; $4 million for the Department of Correction; $3.5 million for the Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Services Division; $2 million for the Department of Higher Education; and $1.5 million for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (Wickline). Mr. Governor, you can keep my $25 a month to heal the sick, pay the counties fees due for state prisoners, to improve care for the mentally ill, to improve teachers’ pay and benefits, to improve colleges and technical education and to continue to develop Arkansas economy so it can provide all our neighbors with full-time sustainable wage jobs.
I mentioned the $50 million tax cut passed this year. Again, just after the session closed it was announced there is a $43 million shortfall for next year’s budget, and there will be spending cuts there. To my knowledge, the special session, that is going on now has not and will not address these issues. What they have done is to pass legislation that requires officials to request a Federal waiver to reduce the income cap Medicaid eligibility. It will be lowered from 138% of the Federal poverty level to 100% of the poverty level. For a single person, Medicaid eligibility drops from $16,243 annual earnings to $11,777 or $981 a month. If you make more than $981 a month, you will no longer be eligible for Medicaid. The plan is for these people to be moved to the Insurance Market Place. Not a bad idea. They will be eligible for premium tax credits, and their premiums will be limited to 2% of their annual income, about $235 a year or $20 a month. Sounds kind of reasonable.
The average one bedroom apartment rent in Blytheville is $351.00; so now we have $630 a month; and out of that we have to pay utilities, car expenses (because if you are AR Work you have to be looking for a job, or have a job or be involved in some sort of state defined activity and that are, which is not a bad idea, but you have to have transportation to get there) and you have to buy groceries and all that other sort of stuff. (AverageRent). You can see how an additional $20 a month can lead to very difficult decisions; do I eat? do I buy my medicine? do I put gas in the car, do I pay the water or power bill? The plan descriptions I have read say nothing about copays or deductibles which insurance marketplace policies all have.
Here is my question: Through our elected officials are we behaving like the Pharisees who chased the newly sighted blind man out of town? Are we behaving like Israel’s Kings of old who continually took advantage of the people, the flock, they were anointed to tend?
Abundance is not who’s first? It is not America first; it is not Blytheville or Osceola first; it’s not or Arkansas first; it’s not even Christians first. Abundance is about the mutually interconnected community that holds all our needs together in a loving balance. It is a balance, that is something like quantum physics; which teaches us, the basic building blocks of the universe are particles that only exist in relationship to each other. And if you break that relationship, which physicist can do, both particles disappear. At the most fundamental level of being, I need you, and you need me, and each of us needs everyone else. If any of these relationships are broken, we all are less for it.
There is an amazing abundance in the sheepfold, opens to us. It looks a lot like a tangle of relationship each with the other, each knowing that God lovingly created them from the dust of the earth, and loves them and desires for everyone to prosper. There is an amazing opportunity in the world outside the sheepfold Gateway-Jesus sends us into, to share the resurrection story of abundant life for all right here, right now. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to share directly. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to be actively involved in changing ill-directed trends in our community’s life. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to tell elected leaders what we believe, knowing they will not like it. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to vote. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to love the one next to us by letting them know they are beloved of God and welcome into the sheepfold. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to shout out:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again.
“average-rent-in-blytheville-ar.” n.d. https://www.rentjungle.com. 6 5 2017. <https://www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-blytheville-ar-rent-trends/>.
Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 7 5 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 5 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Frank. “The One I Feed, Easter 4 (A).” 7 5 2017. Sermons that Work.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 3:1-17. 7 5 2017.
- Clinton McCann, Jr. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.
Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on John 10:110. 7 5 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
LeMon, Joel. Commentary on Psalm 23. 7 5 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Abundant Life.” 7 5 2017. Working preacher.
Mast, Stan. Easter 4 A Psalm 23. 7 5 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/>.
O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Wickline, Michael R. “State to cut budget 70m.” arkansasonline.com 29 04 2017. <http://m.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/apr/29/state-to-cut-budget-70m-20170429/>.