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Bible Study: Easter 4 (C) – 2016

April 17, 2016

Psalm 23

There is an odd practice of referring to psalms like this one as evidence of the obstinacy or sinfulness of humanity. “Humans are like sheep,” goes the argument, “stubborn, unintelligent, and in constant need for a shepherd (God) to prevent them from hurting themselves.” Psalm 23, however, doesn’t naturally lend itself to such a disparaging view of humankind. Instead, the metaphor of sheep and shepherd is meant to evoke the kind of contentment among its hearers that enables them to confess with the Psalmist, “I shall not want”; the providence of God for his flock puts them at ease, they are not lacking anything. The imagery shifts from God as shepherd to God as host, one who “prepares a table” and provides more than enough to drink. This God’s care for his people engenders the author’s hopes for the future, and encourages his commitment to continually worship in the Temple “all the days.”

  • Would you be able to characterize your relationship with God in these terms?
  • How does God’s providence empower you to live today, if you were to really begin to believe it?

Acts 9:36-43

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when I say that we are living in an age that has thoroughly rejected miracle stories (unless, for some reason, they involve a child, a near-death experience, and a heavenly vision!). Perhaps in encountering Peter’s miracle as moderns, our belief might be aided by zooming out a bit and to see part of what the act might mean, instead of merely trying to grit our teeth and believe it’s resurrection claim (though this may be where some of us have to start). In Tabitha’s very real resurrection we see the revolutionary restructuring of the social order that the Church is called to perform and embody in the world. Tabitha has given her life to supporting a group of widows, those on the bottom rung of the strata. She dies, and the world carries on as it normally does. But that is not how things go in the kingdom of God. God cares for the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He exalts the lowly and meek. Like the prophets of old, Peter demonstrates that care for the “least of these” is among God’s chief concerns. Pope Francis recently hit the nail on the head, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

  • In what ways has your parish been called to show forth God’s power and care for the marginalized around you?
  • In what ways have you personally been called to show forth God’s power and care for the marginalized around you?

Revelation 7:9-17

Like Psalm 23, this apocalyptic picture features God in the role of shepherd, where God “shelters” God’s people, eternally assuaging their hunger and thirst, protecting them from the scorching heat of the sun, wiping away every tear from their eyes, and leading them to the springs of the waters of life.

Unlike Psalm 23, those whom God shepherds have “come out of the great affliction,” they have endured the sufferings common to those living under the reign of the beast in John’s vision. Christians reading this weeks lectionary texts together (Ps. 23, Rev. 7:9-17) are reminded that God’s provision for them (and God’s ultimate defeat of their oppressors) does not necessarily exempt them from suffering in this life. Most of us will not face the kind of societal ostracization or violence as John’s audience on account of our faith in Christ, but whatever our circumstances, it should come as a great comfort to us that God’s restoration of all things has already begun.

  • Since our lives will not always be as comfortable as Psalm 23 or as tumultuous as Revelation 7, how do we go about trusting in God’s provision for us in the in-between?
  • If you have faced one or both of these extremes, how was the Lord present to you in those seasons of life?

John 10:22-30

Like Psalm 23 and Revelation 7, John once again shows us a picture of the Divine Shepherd, but this time, that picture includes Jesus, who is one with the Father, from whom he received his “sheep.” Jesus’ opponents on Solomon’s Porch do not belong to his flock (they don’t believe in him), and thus cannot understand his words or deeds. Jesus’ flock hear his voice, know him, follow him, receive eternal life from him, will never perish, and cannot be snatched out of his hand. “Wolves” may come, but the Good Shepherd protects them; God fights off their enemies. This is not to say that Christians are immune from apostasy (leaving the flock of their own accord), but it does emphasize God’s protection for God’s sheep, be they persecuted for their faith in the first century, or “swayed by every wind of doctrine” in the twenty-first.

  • Where in your life do you struggle to believe that God protects you in these ways?
  • If you have ever been tempted to “leave the flock,” how did you overcome that temptation?

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Christopher Sikkema


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