Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Fourth Sunday of Easter

The not quite model shepherd

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson
Easter 4 Acts 4
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, Texas 77450

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Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because of the gospel and churches all over will have priests holding up little stuffed lambs or in some cases will have real sheep as a prop. My thoughts this morning are not on Jesus the Good Shepherd but on Peter, the not quite as good shepherd. I find myself wondering what Peter was thinking in our passage from Acts as he stood there in front of the same crowd of authorities that had sentenced Jesus to death.

The problem is that I believe we can all be shepherds. On Wednesday the vestry looked at this passage and I said, “As vestry members you are all called to be shepherds, people who lead. What do you think about that?” I must admit to a slightly uncomfortable silence around the table for a few minutes. The challenge is if we think in terms of Jesus as the Good, the Model Shepherd which is what the Greek actually implies, we find ourselves challenged. Trying to measure ourselves against Jesus is impossible, but I think I can look to Peter as the model for us. Why? Well let’s look at Peter.

What is running through my mind is that final scene in the Gospel of John that I refer to as “Breakfast on the Beach.” This is the scene in Capernaum where the disciples have all gone back to fishing and Jesus appears on the beach. Peter puts on his clothes and jumps into the water and stands with Jesus by a charcoal fire, dripping wet. An image I find quite amusing.

In John’s gospel the last time Peter was standing by a charcoal fire was in the courtyard where he denied Jesus three times as the cock crowed the second time. Now he finds himself next to a charcoal fire and Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” After each response Jesus tells him to feed my lambs, tend my sheep and finally feed my sheep. And even in this scene Peter still cannot quite get it right.  Jesus asks him, do you love me using agape, the love of God and Peter answers with philio, the love of a friend.

Peter, who denied Jesus three times and constantly messed up while Jesus was alive, suddenly is the magnificent speaker. Now he becomes the good shepherd. With this passage he has a coming of age so to speak and truly begins to do what Jesus commanded him at the end of John.

Good shepherd can also be translated to model shepherd. What Jesus is teaching in our gospel passage is more than saying he is the good shepherd. He is saying that this is how a good shepherd acts. So what change has come over our dear friend Peter?

In our passage from Acts, Peter has been brought in front of the Sanhedrin or something like that group. The Message Bible says that anybody who was anybody was there. The Sadducees were involved according to verse 1. Now it is important to remember that the Sadducees were the biblical literalists of the day. If it was not clearly stated in the Torah than it could not be taught or believed. In particular, they rejected the resurrection of the dead that the Pharisees accepted. Peter has been teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and this was heresy from the viewpoint of the Sadducees. (By the way you can remember that the Sadducees did not believe in any life after death by saying they were sad because when you were dead you were dead, no hope after that.)

I believe that those gathered to question Peter thought they were good shepherds. After all they believed that they were protecting the people. Just before this passage it is reported that Peter had 5000 converts in a single day. Now that’s effective evangelism for the early church, but it also presented a real problem for those who were held responsible for keeping the peace by the Roman governor. They could not allow an unruly mob of several thousand trouble makers to create unrest in the city. Rome would not stand for that

Now these literalists are challenging Peter with the question of by what power is he doing these things. This is in part a trap question. They are hoping that he will violate the second commandment and take the name of God in vain. Now we come to what may be the most important part of this passage.

The Message translation says, “With that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose.” What a wonderful image. Impetuous Peter now blurts out something useful. Full of the Holy Spirit we see a new and improved Peter. Peter speaks with a boldness that he never had as a disciple. Filled with the Spirit, Peter is a different person. Here is the answer to what has changed. We are now after Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit and what a difference that makes.

Think of the transformation that this presents. Peter is my favorite disciple in many ways because I relate to him. He constantly makes mistakes even when he is trying to help. Peter who denied Christ three times to save his own skin. Peter who proclaims Jesus as Messiah and one minute later is called Satan because he still doesn’t understand. Peter who in the breakfast on the beach passage from John can’t find the right words to say that he loves the risen Lord still becomes the vehicle for God’s word to be proclaimed. Peter now becomes this eloquent spokesman for the risen Lord! Not only are we the readers surprised but so are the authorities!

The religious authorities are stunned to realize that Peter is an ordinary person. He is not a scholar like Paul, trained in the ways of Jewish law and scripture, but a simple fisherman. Paul is still 4 chapters away in the Book of Acts. All the disciples pretty much fall into this category of uneducated and this astounds this august body of scribes and lawyers. They do not understand where this is coming from, but we know.

There is an old phrase that applies here, “God does not call the equipped, God equips the called.” Peter filled with the Holy Spirit is able to do things he could never do on his own and that is how the Spirit works. Peter by himself cannot do what needs to be done, but filled with the Spirit all things are possible.

This power of the Spirit is what gives me great hope for this parish and the ministries that the Spirit is calling us into. The Spirit is equipping people for ministry in this parish

As the Message translation said filled with the Spirit, Peter let loose. The Spirit is being let loose in our parish and in the church in part because I believe we have moved to a place where more and more of us are open to welcoming the Spirit into our lives. Like the change in the disciples from the end of Luke into the beginning or Acts we are called to come out from behind our locked doors. I see more and more of you opening up and being willing to at least dip your toe into the waters of the Spirit.

Imagine what you, imagine what we, can do when we tap into the power of the spirit with open hearts and open minds. The mission and vision that the Spirit is presenting to our parish is one of great challenge. Moving forward in a world hostile to people of faith is one that will require us to be open to the Spirit. We cannot do this by ourselves.

What this truly means is that filled with the Spirit we can and will move ahead. Filled with the Spirit we will be empowered to spread the gospel. Who knows filled with the Spirit maybe we like Peter and the early disciples will reach hundreds maybe even thousands of people who seek God. Ultimately what people are seeking when they walk in the door of any church is an experience of the mystery and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is something we have to offer.

Filled with the Holy Spirit anything is possible.