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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 4/25

“Alleluia!  He is risen!” we proclaim on Easter Sunday and it’s fresh, it’s real, it feels good.  That feeling of new life and hope is in the air and we celebrate.  On the fourth Sunday of Easter though, maybe not so much.  Last week in the gospel the disciples had gone back to work, back to fishing, back to what was familiar and normal and most of us probably made that move way before that, settling back into the ordinary of our lives after the celebration of Easter.  It’s great to celebrate, but you can’t stay there forever; life goes on.  In church though we do celebrate Easter for seven Sundays (actually every Sunday of the year is intended to be an Easter celebration) but especially on these seven Sundays we continue to get reminders of new life, of how God, in Christ has transformed the world.

Today that reminder doesn’t come so much in the gospel as the gospels for these last four Sundays of Easter no longer make direct reference to Easter and the resurrection.  Today it’s in the first lesson from Acts where we get the miraculous move from death to life in the story of Peter raising Dorcas or Tabitha from the dead.  It’s the kind of story though, that we might have trouble with because, we say, that kind of thing just doesn’t happen.  On Easter we accept it, but that’s about Jesus; Jesus is different.  But when we hear about other Bible stories where dead people come back to life it’s a little harder to accept.   

Some can accept the possibility of such miracles and joyfully embrace the wonder of it, others though are more likely to ask, “Did this really happen?” or “Could it really happen?”   I would suggest though, that rather than simply accepting it as a miracle and being amazed my it, or rather than letting those “did it really happen” questions bog you down, we do better to focus on the claim the story makes however you read it, that claim being that God’s power has transformed and continues to transform the world, that God’s power can perform wonders beyond our settled ideas of what is possible, that God’s power is and can be decisive for the life of the world.  So my intent here is not to explain this event or to explain it away, but only to witness to the claim it makes concerning the power of God, a claim that is quite consistent throughout the Bible.

What we tend to do when texts like this show up on Sunday morning, or even when we encounter them in our own reading of the Bible is to consider them in isolation, one story at a time.  When you look at the broader picture though, you find that such texts don’t exist in isolation, but are part of a much larger biblical narrative; in a variety of times and contexts the claim of this story from Acts about God’s transforming action, about God’s ability to bring life to situations of death, that claim has been made before in other stories as this ability to transform life is perhaps the core claim the Bible makes about God. 

So for example—if we work backwards—behind today’s story is the one from Mark, chapter 5 when Jesus raised a little girl from the dead using the words “Talitha cum,” which mean “Little girl, get up!”  Jesus’ words were words that transformed that situation from death to life, and the words of Peter in today’s story echo Jesus and also transform death to life when he says, “Tabitha, get up!”  Talitha, Tabitha??  In English and Greek only one letter is different.  Merely coincidence, or are we supposed to connect these events and conclude that the power of God as it had been revealed in Jesus is still present in the work of his disciples?

Going back further, behind the narrative about Jesus in Mark, in the Old Testament we have Elijah in 1 Kings raising the daughter of the widow of Zarapheth and in 2 Kings Elisha raises the son of the Shunammite woman.  Again you have the power of life present in the words of these prophets, these men of God, their words being able to overcome the power of death in this world.  From there we can go all the way back to the beginning, to the creation narrative of Genesis 1 when God’s own words, “Let there be light!” begins to bring order to the chaos of the world that had been a formless void and of course life in many forms follows quickly from that.  You can see that from the beginning there is this pattern that repeats itself where the power of God for life and for transformation is at work and continues to be at work.  It’s an overarching theme of the Bible that is repeated time after time.

The book of Acts is the story of what happened after Easter, after Jesus was no longer around in human or resurrected form and it was important for the early church to know that while Jesus himself was gone, the resurrection power of Jesus was still around, now entrusted to those who followed him.  The transformative power of God had been around from the beginning and stories like today’s offer dramatic witness to the fact that such power was and still is available, witness that Jesus’ resurrection changed things and continues to change things.  The claim concerning God’s ability to bring life out of death is still true.

As we move toward the halfway point of the 50 days of Easter we need reminders of this power of God to change things.  Like I said, “Alleluia, He is Risen!” rings hollow after awhile unless we’re reminded and make no mistake, the agents of death and despair in the world want it to ring hollow because then things stay the same, nothing new is possible.  And you also know there are lots of people for whom death and despair is their reality, or if that sounds a little too harsh you could say that resignation is their reality; they don’t see or don’t believe in these narratives that announce new life, narratives that offer hope of new life.  They don’t hear the voice of the shepherd, and we wonder why, or we wonder how we can help them hear the voice.

Today is commonly known as Good Shepherd Sunday.  The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, the Psalm is always the 23rd, there’s always some sheep, shepherd imagery from John’s gospel.  Today’s text from John provides some food for thought relative to those who don’t hear the voice of the shepherd, particularly as it relates to a development at our council meeting last Monday.

Today’s gospel is an encounter between Jesus and some of the religious leaders who say to him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  Jesus replies, “I have told you, and you do not believe,” and he goes on to say, “You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep,” and I find that to be the interesting part of this.  “You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”  What that does is to put belonging before belief.  It’s not “Because you believe, you belong,” it’s “Because you belong, you believe.” 

Belonging comes before believing.  Relative to evangelism and outreach, that is instructive.  Our tendency can be to think that people don’t belong to a church because they don’t believe but this text says they don’t believe because they don’t belong.  “You do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep,” shifts the outreach emphasis in the direction of getting people to belong as opposed to getting them to accept a bunch of doctrine before they belong.  Belonging, we trust that they will hear the voice of the shepherd and then, the belief, the relationship with God, with Jesus will follow from that.  But first you have to belong.  

Last Monday at the council meeting we heard a presentation on the possibility of Bethany doing some advertising on TV6 to help spread the word about who we are, advertising that would be geared to belonging.  Since I’ve been here, which is pushing seven years now, I’ve thought that this church has a lot to offer in how we approach the Christian faith and that there are people out there who would be here if they knew, but how do we get the word out?  Advertising on TV would be a way to get the word out.  It’s expensive, in the neighborhood of $10,000, but we’ve got the money in Memorial and other funds to do it if we want to.  Some will say, “How do you know it will work?”  The answer is, we don’t know and we won’t know unless we try.  What we do know is what is happening and will continue to happen if we do nothing.  We have tried that.

You’ll hear more about this.  The council is considering the possibilities and we’ll see where it goes.  We’ve all heard the voice of the shepherd; we hear the hope and possibility in stories like Peter raising Tabitha.  We believe in the hope of Jesus.  But there are many who do not believe, because they do not belong.  How do we get them to belong?  How do we get them to hear the voice?        

Rev. Warren Geier           


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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