(Year B) Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; John 10:11-18; I John 3:16-2
Theme: The authority of Jesus, the Good Shepherd
Message: The Good Shepherd laid down His life – we are invited to follow His example
The preacher is faced with an embarrassment of riches this week. But before turning to this week’s texts, it is wise to peek ahead to next week and note the gospel reading includes another “I am” saying of Jesus – “I am the vine”. The preacher might choose to make this week’s and next week’s “I am” sayings into a pair of sermons.
The concepts of “name” and “authority” link these texts together. Acts 4:7 makes the link evident: “By what power or what name did you do this?” From where does the authority come? Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter responds – it was “by the name of Jesus” that the lame man was healed. The name of Jesus changes things, brings transformation, heals, forgives, and saves. There is no other name, he goes on to say, “by which we must be saved.” I John 3:23 links believing in the name (the authority) of Jesus with the call to love one another. Believing in the name, leads to performing acts of kindness like healing the lame man (see Acts 4:9).
It would be possible to preach the I John passage as a call to love and leave our hearers with a great deal of guilt over their inability to “love one another.” Which is why I John 3:24 is so important, the Holy Spirit lives in us giving us the power to love this way (and the healing of the lame man is an example of what happens when the Holy Spirit moves in us.)
I John is under no illusion about how challenging this is, describing the loving of others that is in view as “laying down our lives”. Jesus in his discussion of himself as the Good Shepherd noted that he laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15, 17, 18). He has the authority to choose to lay it down – and the authority to take it up again. He freely gave his life in love – and we are invited in I John to also freely lay down our lives “with actions and in truth” (I John 3:18). Following Jesus’ pattern means facing death – either actually (martyrdom is a possibility in many parts of our world) or metaphorically (death to the self, death of our agendas). Peter and John as they stood before the Council recognize the risks inherent in “loving one another” (Acts 4:9).
Here, then, may be a place to link in Psalm 23, not with the obvious sheep theme, but by broadening the understanding of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” The promise is that the Lord, the Good Shepherd, is with us even in those moments when we lay down our goals, ambitions, comforts, etc. to love one another. And when asked on whose authority are we throwing away our lives, the answer is “it is in the name of Jesus Christ.”
If the preacher is focusing on “I am the good shepherd” – the direction of the sermon will go a different direction. Among the questions that could be asked are: How are we to live in the light of the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us? What does it mean know the good shepherd (John 10:14)? Who are the other sheep “not of this sheep pen”? They will be joined with the sheep of this sheep and become one flock. It seems obvious this is a foreshadowing of Jews and Gentiles becoming followers together of Jesus Christ. Who in the places where we live would shock us if they walked into church? Bikers? Gang members in their colours? Blacks into a white church? Whites into a Black church? First Nations people in a Newcomer/settler church? Pentecostals and Presbyterians together?
“Now, although the flock seems to be divided into different folds, yet believers who are scattered throughout the world are encircled in common bonds, in that the same Word is preached to everyone and the same sacraments are used, and they have the same order of prayer and everything necessary for the profession of faith.” John Calvin
“Note how God’s flock is collected. It happens when there is one shepherd of everyone and when his voice is heard. These words mean that only when the church submits to Christ alone, obey his commands, and listens to his teaching is she in a state of good order.” John Calvin
“It is only by the Holy Spirit that a man like Peter is able to speak before such an assemblage of the powerful.” William Willimon
“Love requires more than idle talk or exalted theology. I demands simple acts, which anyone can see, that meet the needs of brothers and sisters in distress. Any expression of love that fails here is not only empty but blasphemous.” Steven Smalley
“The joining of belief and love in a single command shows how inextricably connected the two are in John’s mind. Belief comes first because it is the basis for love, but love is the only expression of true faith.” Steven Smalley
Music: The King of love my Shepherd is
Savior, like a Shepherd lead us
I come with joy to meet my Lord
His name is wonderful
My hope is built on nothing less
Brother, sister, let me serve you (The Servant Song)
Christ is made the sure foundation
Help us accept each other (Fred Kaan)
A single unmatched stone (Thomas Troeger)
My Lord, what love is this (Amazing Love) (Graham Kendrick)
Prayer of Confession:
O Lord, you desire truth in our inward being;
teach us wisdom in our secret heart.
Send out your light, send out your truth,
and let them lead us to our home.
Take from us the weight of our sin,
that room might be made for the spirit of truth.
If we prepare a dwelling place, that spirit will abide within us,
and the truth will set our spirits free.
Then shall we love not only in word and in speech;
then shall we love in deed and in truth,
and by this know that our service is faithful.
O Lord, you desire truth in our inward being;
teach us wisdom in our secret heart. Amen. — from The Worship Sourcebook
Merciful God, creator of the peoples of the earth and lover of souls,
have compassion on all who do not know your voice
as revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Let your gospel be preached with grace and power
to those who have not heard it.
Turn the hearts of those who resist it
and bring home to your flock those who have gone astray,
that there may be one flock under one shepherd,
Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. — from The Worship Sourcebook