May 3, 2020
Acts 2: 42-47
John 10: 1-10
The first lesson is from Acts 2 and it depicts the early Christian church and how they operated. One notes the worship, the breaking of bread, the devotion to the apostles’ teachings and the fellowship and the charity. This is a very clear picture of what they did and it was certainly counter-culture in their time.
This passage presents a summary filled with generalizations, yet several details prove instructive. The community of faith in Jerusalem lived a multifaceted witness, one not restricted to a single place or mode. This witness manifests itself in houses and in the Jerusalem temple. It benefits its members and earns the admiration of outsiders. The community exists not for its own sake, but to care for its most vulnerable members and to be a means by which God extends salvation to others.
This passage from Acts does not celebrate community or the church for its own sake. The community of faith exists as an extension of Jesus' commitment to bring salvation to the world and in light of the gospel, the extension of Jesus as the good shepherd who is in relationship with his sheep.
To some degree this reminds me of my experience during my sabbatical in Tanzania in 2004. A couple of years earlier I had established a relationship with Pastor Frank Mosha and when the opportunity for my sabbatical came, I arranged a 7-week trip to Northern Tanzania, staying and pastoring at Naibili Lutheran Church in the village of Makiwaru. Makiwaru was located about halfway between the cities of Moshi and Arusha. One of the things I discovered was that The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), in the Northern Diocese was a church that existed to bring salvation to the world through their commitment to Jesus. They did this in several ways but mostly it was in ministry to their community.
Naibili Lutheran Church parish had all kinds of ministries in their neighbourhoods that were of benefit to people in the area. They ran orphanages, schools, Bible studies, worship, women’s group, to name just a few.
Naibili Lutheran engaged in partnerships with Lutherans around the world and with Non-governmental agencies (NGOs for short).
Their ministry drew the admiration of people around the neighbourhood and the country.
The people in the congregation and in the diocese were always asking the question, “What ministry are we doing and what can we do, in our neighbourhood and community?”
And they were doing all of this in an uncertain world
Their world was uncertain because of poverty, disease, lack of food, lack of a social safety net, lack of sanitation, lack of adequate health care, to name just a few factors. As if that wasn’t’ enough!
In the midst of their uncertain world, these people clung to Jesus.
I vividly remember a conversation I had with Jeremiah Mtui who owned the guest house where I was staying, in the village of Makiwaru. One night after dinner I asked Jeremiah why he was Christian and why he and others in Naibili parish and in the village, had such a strong and abiding faith. His response was simple: “Because Jesus cares.”
Jeremiah went on to list all the ways in which the people of that village and in his country, were forgotten people. The government had forgotten them and did not care about them; the international community so far as he could tell, had forgotten them or did not care about them.
But, Jesus cared; Jesus did not forget them. the evidence for this came through the ministry of the church from Europe and North American, as well as NGOs. Anything that happened which was good, like the fresh water well system and taps in their community, all came about through the Christian church in Europe or North American, or NGOs. When they saw all these wonderful gifts, it said to them that Jesus cared and had not forgotten them.
Of course, they felt they had to respond as Christians and as a Christian community. The response was ministry. So, by doing ministry in the community, not just within the 4 walls of their church building, they were proclaiming to others, that Jesus cared and had not forgotten the vulnerable and those in need.
We can see this in today’s gospel reading from John 10. According to Pastor David Lose in his blog, “In the Meantime” (in italics):
“Jesus is the one who offers life and seeks the good of his sheep. That will be expanded in the verses that follow, as Jesus contrasts his willingness to lay his life down for the sheep with that of the hired hand who runs from danger. Again, this feels like a lot of explaining to get across a relatively simple point. So why all the words? I think it has a lot to do with the particular and difficult circumstances of John’s community. In the chapter before, Jesus told the story of the man born blind and the threat that those who confess Jesus as Messiah will be expelled from the synagogue (9:22, 35). A number of scholars have suggested that this chapter is a narrative retelling of what actually happened to John’s congregation (see, in particular, Raymond Brown’s Community of the Beloved Disciple). That sense of being displaced, uprooted, adrift in a threatening world, may help explain why Jesus is at such pains to promise that he is the good shepherd, that he will provide protection and sustenance, that he will lay down his life for his charges. They need to hear, in short, that they have not believed and suffered in vain, and that they will not just get through these difficulties but experience life and joy to the fullest. That’s Jesus’ promise to his disciples then and now. Because in addition to the constant assurance that Jesus is the good shepherd and gate, Jesus also repeats regularly his confidence that the sheep will not follow anyone but their shepherd. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. The sheep will not listen to thieves and bandits and will run from strangers.
This is Jesus’ version, of “You’ve got this,” rooted in the prior, crucial affirmation, “I’ve got you.” And it feels like an important word, as Jesus makes a promise both about what he is doing for us – protecting, providing, caring, sacrificing, and giving life – and also a promise about how we’ll respond – trusting, listening, embracing, thriving. It came as good news to a community adrift, afraid, and unsure about the future in the first century… (http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/easter-4-a-the-other-half-of-the-promise/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28...In+the+Meantime%29
This is Jesus’ promise to the early Christian church, his promise to Naibili Lutheran parish of Northern Tanzania and this is Jesus’ promise to US. How does this promise get lived out? What does this mean for us?
LOTS. So much has changed around us during these times of Covid-19. The changes are encompassed in things known and unknown, things discovered and undiscovered. We all talk about the changes perceived and we also talk about “the New Normal.” That is now, but what about POST-PANDEMIC?
Post pandemic I think things are either going to continue to change or some of the changes we have experienced, will remain. I have begun to talk about some of these perceptions and you can get a glimpse of that in our May Epistle, our May newsletter where I talk about the possibilities, the potential challenges and opportunities. I will not rehash that article; you can read it on our website: https://www.stpaulslutheranchurchmapleridge.org/.
When you go to our website, you will see the Menu bar. On the Menu bar click on “About Us,” and then scroll down to Newsletters.
The musings in my newsletter article are not prescriptive, but descriptive; it is meant to open up the conversation of what we may look like and what we may do as a church going into the future. Of course, going into the future, there are going to be things known and unknown, things discovered and undiscovered and some kind of “New Normal.”
As we forge ahead, as God’s people representing the reign of Christ in our time and our place, we need to be mindful of the experience of the early Christian church and the experiences of other Christian communities such as Naibili Lutheran parish of Tanzania.
The ministries of those faith communities were inside AND outside, benefiting each other AND the neighbourhood. Their ministries were conducted in times of uncertainty and stress. BUT, their ministries were conducted with the promise of Jesus which was so eloquently described by Pastor David Lose, “You’ve got this BECAUSE I’ve got you.”
Because of what Jesus is doing for us – protecting, providing, caring, sacrificing, and giving life – there is also the promise about how we’ll respond – trusting, listening, embracing and thriving and I would add, benefiting our community.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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Reverend Roland Ziprick