Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter


Prayer

Holy and Almighty God, Creator and Lord,
maker of the world and everything in it,
you are never far from each one of us.
We still ourselves in your presence desiring to know you,
The One who gives us life and breath.
Open our eyes, our hearts and minds to recognize your presence;
dwell with us, and abide in us.
We live because of you.
We hope because of you.
Maker and giver of all,
forgive us when we are too preoccupied to notice your presence in our lives:
when we walk through this world
failing to see the wonder of you upholding our lives and all creation;
when we walk through our lives
failing to see you abiding with, within, and around us;
when we walk through holy moments
failing to savor your presence, instead feeling abandoned in the vast sweep of life
as each day rushes at us with its demands.
Open our eyes to your presence, Gracious and Loving God,
that we may lean on you— for you uphold all of creation
in tenderness and power.
This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom we live,
and the Spirit of Truth who abides in us,
Amen.


1 Peter 3:13-22

Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.  Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  But do this in a gentle and respectful way.   Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.   Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.

So he went and preached to the spirits in prison—  those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.  And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.

John 14: 15-21

“If you love me, obey my commandments.   And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.   He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.   No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.   Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live.   When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.   Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”


Reflection

Today's readings from the lectionary have something to say about suffering...  Peter, quite clearly, is trying to encourage his readers that they should not fear suffering for the cause of Christ.  But, he does want them to be sure that they are suffering for the right reasons... for doing good and not as a consequence of doing evil.

Maybe that is something we need to hear in today's context.  All around the world, people are facing persecution for their faith.  In many countries, claiming the name of Jesus is enough to cost you your liberty, even your life.  And there are sometimes when we, here in the West, might encounter forms of persecution as well.  But I do wonder sometimes whether what we experience is less persecution for the name of Christ and instead is natural consequence for our uncharitable words and actions.  Could it be that we encounter hostility because we have been unloving in our words and actions?  It is certainly something to ponder...  Peter's letter seems to recognize the same dangers as his words about enduring suffering comes immediately after his words to not return evil with evil, but to bless those who do bad things to us.  (Sound familiar?)

In the Gospel according to John, we read this familiar passage about how we show love for Jesus by obeying His commands; and Jesus' promise to provide/send the Comforter who will never leave us alone.  As we read this passage, it is helpful to place it into context...  Jesus is facing his crucifixion and is bracing His disciples for this calamitous event.  "Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither be afraid..."

Knowing that His life is being laid down, He prepares His followers for this event by encouraging them to hold fast... to not give up because of the perceived persecution.  And His words tell us many things...

First, and something that Peter will echo later on, Jesus suffering is accomplishing something greater... something for you and for me.  And I find myself wondering if the persecutions that we encounter... can they also be a way that God reaches out to bless and redeem others?  I can't help but remember Paul's words that "God uses ALL things to accomplish His good..." sometimes referred to as the "All Things" plan of God.  This is not to say that all things are good...  but all things will be used to bring good to pass...

Secondly, Jesus says that He will send us the Advocate, the Comforter who will never leave us.  Jesus says that He will not leave us as orphans... alone to face things by ourselves.  And for me, this is both a great comfort, and also a great challenge.  It is a comfort to know that God (who can and will use my suffering to accomplish good) has not left me to go through is alone.  But it is also a challenge in that it requires me to still myself, to wait in the midst of suffering, and to lift my eyes and look for God's presence.

When persecution strikes... when troubles surround... I typically find myself focusing on the source of my pain.  I want to understand it.  I want to fix it.  I want to escape it.

But God, Jesus, invites us to wait in the midst of it, looking to Him for our salvation.  This is definitely counter cultural!

Thirdly, Jesus reminds his disciples that those who obey His commands are those who Love Him, and are the ones who will see Him.

One of my favourite writers is George MacDonald, a 19th century preacher and writer.  Much of his writing deals with knowing the heart of God, or knowing Christ.  And the point that he returns to again and again is this:
“If you do not obey Him, you will not know Him. You will tell me, some of you, that I am always beating that anvil–that obedience to Christ is Christianity. Let me die insisting upon it. For my Lord insists upon it. And I have come to understand that it is true. It is not enough to do a thing even because Jesus Christ tells you. You must obey Him, and then you will know it to be true. And you will know that He said it because it was true. And you have learned it or you are mere hangers-on of the kingdom of heaven.”
– George MacDonald. From the sermon “Know Christ” preached in the West Croydon Congregational Church

Jesus is pretty clear:  Love is demonstrated through obedience.  In fact, a few verses later, Jesus will declare that His love of the Father is also shown through obedience:  

“I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. 

We show our love for God, for Jesus, but listening for, and doing, His commands.  All of them.  Even though they hurt, or cost us... or lead to persecution or death.  

No, this is not a comforting message.  It is not an enjoyable message.  It is a scary message.  But, there is something else besides... God, Himself.  That is what it means when it says "Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them."

Obedience
By George MacDonald
(1824-1905)

I said: “Let me walk in the fields.”
He said: “No, walk in the town.”
I said: “There are no flowers there.”
He said: “No flowers, but a crown.”

I said: “But the skies are black;
There is nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back –
“There is more,” He said; “there is sin.”

I said: “But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered: “Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone!”

I said: “I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say.”
He answered: “Choose tonight
If I am to miss you or they.”

I pleaded for time to be given.
He said: “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem so hard in heaven
To have followed the steps of your Guide.”

I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town;
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”

Then into His hand went mine;
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light divine,
The path I had feared to see.


Pastoral Prayer

Lord of love, you have asked us to keep your commandments. 
In your life you demonstrated the power of love to effect healing, 
redemption, and hope in the lives of all your people. 
Yet we are so unsure of the gifts that you have given us for ministry
that we wonder if we can really do what you want us to do. 
We are a strange mixture, Lord. 
We are arrogant in our demands of your mercy 
and timid in our awareness of the blessings and gifts you have given to us. 
That’s why we bow before you, wait for, and call out to you today. 
We really want to sense your presence and receive courage
so we can truly be your people in this world that you have loaned to us. 
Remind us when we bring names and circumstances before your throne of Grace 
that we also bring our own needs and concerns. 
Lay your healing hand upon our hearts and spirits. 
We place our lives and our trust in you, O Lord. 
AMEN.



Benediction
             Go now into the world,
    inspired by the extravagant love of God.
    Live generously, with open hands,
    loving one another as if your lives depended on it.
    Be good stewards of the gifts you have received,
    so that God may be glorified in all that you say and do.

        And may the abundant love of God surround you,
        may the extravagant grace of Jesus Christ sustain you,
        and may the constant presence of the Holy Spirit
    inspire and encourage you in every good deed and word. Amen.

 

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