Lectionary Readings for April 21: Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Rev 7: 9-17 John 10:22-30
"If you are the Christ, tell us plainly!" This is a question we want answered today, a question asked since the beginning of faith.
In John, the 'Jews' ask this question of Jesus at the temple. This "Jews" label can be problematic if the us vs. them aspects of it are the focus. It's helpful to remember Jesus and his followers are Jews too! The question is asked by those opposed to Jesus, in an attempt to trap him. They want him to make a clear, blasphemous statement so they have public justification to go after him. When Jesus says; "I and the Father are one" in verse 30, they pick up stones to kill him.
Jesus' enemies use the question as a trap, but it is a good question. What do followers need to see or hear to erase niggling doubts? The people in John see miracles and hear Jesus speak, and it isn't enough for all of them. Today we describe many miracles scientifically, but just because there is an explanation, is it any less of a miracle?And what about when unexplainable things happen? There is a huge amount science cannot yet grasp or understands poorly. Is God simply a convenient explanation for the gaps in knowledge? That kind of faith lacks integrity.
The Acts passage is the story of Dorcas, a much loved helper of the poor in her community. Peter prays for her, she is raised from the dead, and many people believe. Would we believe if/when something like this happens today? I think our story would be a lot like the one in John. The people have seen and heard Jesus. Many believe, but many simply cannot. What would it/did it take for you?
Psalm 23 is a gorgeous expression of faith. The writer has endured hardship, even the 'valley of death', and yet there is faith, gratitude, and hope. Here there is personal experience of God walking alongside, shepherding, comforting with good use of discipline (the rod and staff which protect, but also keep the sheep in line), and giving hope in both present earthly life and what is to come. Perhaps this helps answer some of the question of what it takes to have faith-it takes a lifetime of experiencing God in the good and the difficult.
I won't comment much on the Revelation piece-except to strongly encourage people to read Nelson Kraybill's recent book; Apocalypse and Allegiance; Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation. It's a great read, interesting, full of story snippets from history and today, has good archaeological photos, and it helps to make sense of Revelation in a way that encourages the church today-and challenges the harmful interpretations and fear-based interpretations that are currently popular. We've got the book in our pastor's library, but it is easily available on-line as well.