Thinking Towards Sunday –25 April, 2010; “C” – Easter 4

This week’s lectionary readings:
Acts 9:36-43 //  Psalm 23 // Revelation 7:9-17  //  John 10:22-30

 

Here is a link to the readings: NIV  //  NRSV  //  The Message

 

Have you ever been disappointed? Angry? Frustrated? Scared? Hurt? All these are human emotions and all of us experienced them at one time or another.

 

It is in those time, when we are disappointed, angry, frustrated, scared or hurt that we pray, “When Lord…? Jesus, when will all that end…?,” whatever “all that” may be at the time?

 

In contemporary Judaism, the biblical Feast of the Dedication is known as Hanukkah. Festival of Hanukkah commemorates a military and religious victory. Under the leadership of Judas Maccabee the Jewish nation revolted, defeated their Greek conquerors, and rededicated the temple in 164 BCE. Feast of the Dedication commemorated the suffering of the Jews under the Greek Empire, and celebrated their victory over invaders as well as independence from foreign rule.

 

Can you imagine frustration and anger that the sight of occupying garrison, stories of unjust and cruel suffering at the hands of Romans and constant crucifixions stirred up among the people of Jerusalem as they celebrated the Feast of Dedication and contemplated the story of their independence and victory?

 

Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that God is doing something new and different from what people became accustomed to. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus worked diligently and purposely to "build"/“make” disciples and followers of God who were able to think for themselves and to recognize God’s presence around them. Jesus consistently challenged his followers to observe, to listen and to think about what God was doing in the world around them.

 

Illustration: In the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5-7) we heard Jesus saying several times, “you have heard (or ‘it’s been said’) … but I tell you…”

 

Illustration: When John the Baptist was imprisoned, he sent a messenger to Jesus asking, “are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2-3, Luke 7:19). Jesus did not respond by performing a miracle; instead Jesus enumerated all the wonderful things that John witnessed God do.

 

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard people of Jerusalem asking Jesus, "When will our humiliation end? When will the healing come? Jesus, can you help us or not? Are you the new hero who would drive out the hated Romans? Did you come to bring freedom and independence? Jesus, are you the Messiah or not?" Knowing and understanding what was happening in Jerusalem at the time, knowing that it was happening during the time of the Feast of Dedication helps us to recognize the frustration, the anger, the fear, and the anxiety of people who were asking these questions of Jesus.

 

When we are frustrated, when we are hurting, we want clear and definitive answers. People around Jesus wanted him to speak about military strategy and weapons. People around Jesus wanted him to speak about freedom from oppression. People around Jesus wanted him to assume military and political leadership. People around Jesus wanted him to do what they were expecting him to do: bring military triumph to the land of Israel and reestablish independent Jewish state.

 

From what the people of Jerusalem could observe, Jesus did NOT look or spoke like a military leader. Jesus spoke about being a "Good Shepherd" … Jesus spoke about sheep… Jesus spoke of self-sacrifice… All that talk about sheep and eternal life must have seemed so irrelevant, so cryptic, vague, offensive and evasive to those who hoped for tangible actions and results.

 

Last Thursday (21 April 2010), Bishop Johnson hosted a Town Hall Meeting for the Wilmington District. We saw presentations on the state of our beloved church (If you are interested, here is a link to a page on pen-del.org website with the presentation).

 

Realities of the current state of our conference are frustrating. Bishop Johnson presented following statistics on Thursday. Out of 448 churches in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference:

} 101 have less than 50 members

} 360 use less than 5% of their budget for missions (That indicates that we are not in tune with what God is doing in the world today)

} 64 use 85% of their budget for clergy support and building costs (that leaves very little for evangelism, outreach and mission. No wonder our church memberships are shrinking)

} 278 (62%) had no net growth in membership

} 153 (34%) had no professions of faith

 

Temptation is strong to cry, "Jesus! You have promised, ‘I will build my church’ (Matt 16:18 NIV). When will you send people into our magnificent buildings? We are your church, when will you send your revival in our midst?"

 

The truth is that Spirit of our Living Lord is active in the world around us. Today’s Gospel reading reminds us that when we come to God with preconceived notions, our expectations are not in tandem with what God is doing, and our expectations are not met. We cannot force God to do our bidding.

 

There are generations of men and women who are excited about Jesus, who value their spirituality and connection to God while being, disenchanted with the Church. Not surprisingly these persons do not attend church. They are disenchanted with the Church because we (the church) became fixated on our expectations and find it difficult to be flexible and adaptable with the changing times. We spend inordinate amounts of time maintaining what we already have (buildings, programs and habits) instead of being the instruments of God’s grace and love to the world around us, instead of discerning what God is doing in the world and becoming excited and ignited by the Holy Spirit.

 

Our hope lies in the fact that we serve the Living God who IS present in the world around us, who IS doing something in the world that we live in. Healing and restoration comes when we take the time to discern what God is doing and when we make a conscious choice to join God in God’s mission, when we make a conscious choice to be instruments of God’s love and grace to the world around us.

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