Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – The Traits of the Good Shepherd

Psalm 23
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It occurred to me yesterday that there is a great difference between the shepherds that come to shepherding through and because of faith in the Lord, and the “Good Shepherd” who watches over both “local” shepherds and the Lord’s sheep. Now remember what we discussed yesterday that sheep are not blind mindless followers but initial followers of the the local shepherds and the the Good Shepherd.

Here in the psalm passage we learn more about the Good Shepherd. Or at least more about the motif/metaphor that the psalmist employs.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;” (Verse 2)

The Lord as the Great Shepherd does not expect us to be nurtured and nourished by turbulence. We say that times of stress and distress help us to learn to depend on the Lord. But the purpose of the Good Shepherd is to bring peace to our soul. We learn that even if there is turbulence in our lives, the Lord provides a place of calm.

“ . . . he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3)

The Divine that we call by the name of Lord has pledged with all that the Omnipotent Divine has and is to undertake for us. This is what the psalmist means (I think) when he says “for his name’s sake” – although the Divine is not bound by our definitions of “his”.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.” (Verse 4)

I said a few verses back that the Lord creates places of calm. The security and calm of the Lord’s rod and staff is that it keeps danger away from us, and lead us where we should go. I am not talking about the danger that we may face in this world, but the danger to our spirit and soul, that which will survive us after bodily death. Those who follow the Lord may have fears and concerns in this life, but the answer to those concerns is the Lord, who will not abandon us – for the sake of the Lord’s name.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Verse 5)

The Might of the Lord is evident in the face of the dangers we may face, and in front of those who seek to harm us. Our calm and confidence comes from a deep well within us that the Lord has established. We can draw on that when we face the stress and pressures of this world. And we are renewed with the Divine’s calm and peace. As the psalmist says . . .

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.” (Verse 6)

Selah!

I want to share something with you that I came across the day I sat down to write this reflection and post – “As the print of the seal on wax is the express image of the seal itself, so Christ of the express image – the perfect representation of God. ” St.Ambrose spoke it, I do not know when as the source of the quote did not identify it. But I had to think to myself, how could so many people have misunderstand, and continue to misunderstand the nature of God when Christ exemplified it. The 23rd psalm does not say that the Messiah that is to come, or some holy man called by the Lord is the Shepherd – but Lord, the Godself, is the Shepherd who does all of these things for the sheep that have the good sense to follow. I could go on and on identifying the various ways that I feel God has been misunderstood. But that is not my purpose. Beloved reader, look to Christ as the way of compassion and care that the Lord God has always extended to humanity. Selah and shalom!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Gospel Passage – Of Sheep and Shepherds

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” (John 10:1)

The gospel of John has several purposes, beyond the telling of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The writer of the gospel of John sought to establish Jesus’ divinity, and what is here and what is left out often serve that purpose. Biblical commentators, understanding this, pick up the task and assign meanings & messages that I am not convinced were the original intention of the writer of the gospel of John. I am not arguing or disputing their interpretation, but am simply stating that many passages are laden with meanings and extrapolations that point to the character and nature of Jesus Christ. Verse one, for example, is said to mean that Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of being poor leaders, or shepherds, of the Jewish people. And they come to leadership not to care for and tend to the needs of the people but to establish power and authority for themselves.

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (Verse 2)

The person who comes into leadership through the call from the Lord is a true shepherd and will care for those who follow him/her with compassion and understanding.

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Do not think it strange, beloved reader, that the metaphor and motif of shepherds and sheep is used so much. Jesus was using what the people of that place and time knew thoroughly and gave new meaning to common understandings so that complex theologies could be made clear. Ironically, we who live in modern times and are removed from older ways of life come to know and understand these ways of life by studying them in order to have insights into scripture. Or, more interestingly, work the metaphor and motif backwards using the insights and understandings were are familiar with in scripture and applying them to the everyday practices of those people in biblical times.

“So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Verses 7 – 10)

Here is an interesting thing – the biblical commentators I consulted with say that what Jesus means is that any and every person who tried to claim authority over the people (excluding those who were called prophets starting with Noah, Abraham etc) were false and wrong. The implication being that the Pharisees were not good leaders of the people. How then do we reconcile that with those who followed such poor leaders? Were they not sheep? Or just not the Lord’s sheep?

You see, beloved reader, it behooves us to make wise choices as to who we follow. We are not to be mindless sheep, blindly following any voice that calls out “follow me.” Do not think that the Lord’s sheep have no responsible or use no judgment in their actions. It is not just the shepherd who will be judged, but also the sheep for allowing themselves to be lead astray.

All of this will make tomorrow’s scripture passage very interesting to consider. Shalom!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Peter points to the Great Shepherd

Unbeknownst to me, beloved reader, this week had/has a theme that I was not aware of – sheep and shepherds. It makes sense with the Acts passage that stands in for the Old Testament passage. The disciples/apostles were very much like shepherds for the new believers, guiding them and teaching them as Christ taught them. Let us read then what one of my favorite “shepherds”, Peter, wrote.

For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (I Peter 2:19 – 20)

Peter was beaten for his faith. He was also chastised by Jesus several times, but I do not think he is referring to that.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (Verses 21 – 24)

When you think about the missteps that the apostle Peter made when he was learning from Jesus, the lessons have a special poignancy. Christ set an example for Peter, and the other disciples. When they were gathered around the lake after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to pledge himself to Jesus Christ and his sheep not once, not even twice, but three times. To balance out the three times that Peter denied Christ. While Peter had a brief insight into the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, he did not understand the suffering that Jesus had to go through. Now, in this passage, Peter shows he has learned that lesson.

At the Last Supper, Peter did not understand why Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples. In portraying Jesus as willingly taking on our sins, Peter now sees rightly that Jesus was called to a servant role, even though he was the Master and Shepherd of us all.

“For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (Verse 25)

I like to think that Jesus Christ has as much patience with me as Jesus did with Peter.

We have two more days of scripture passages this week, and the sheep/shepherd theme continues. Until that next time, may you heed the words of Peter who learned how to best service and follow Christ. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Old Testament Passage – Wonders & Signs being performed

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42- 43)

“Wonders and signs” – I dearly wish I knew what the writer of Acts meant by that. I (or you) can look it up in the Greek, but that does not tell us what exactly is meant by it. Were they “wonders and signs” that “merely” confirmed faith in God – what I mean by that is words and acts of a vital faith. Or was it miraculous, out of ordinary human experience that even in our modern times would elicit awe? But is wondrous to our modern times is what follows in the writer of Acts description.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Verses 44 – 47)

The early Christians were a vital and cohesive community. They lived and worked together in harmony and common cause. What one needed, another provided without hesitancy or thought for self – at least as it is described. And if that were true, that would be a “wonder & a sign” that something extraordinary was going on. It would be very attractive to those on the outside who were living in need and isolation. You have to understand, beloved reader, these were times when want and need were rampant, and very few people undertook for each other. Such radical community and care was rare and valuable.

The other thing to remember is that it did not last. Yes, perhaps for a healthy span of years, but eventually human willfulness eroded away the community. Thinking of self gradually became more of the norm than thinking of others. If you have doubts of this, read some of the letters that were written to the early Christian communities. The early church was a model of community and care, but that type of community without end. Certainly an example to succeeding generations but not easily replicated. For a time, a tiny slice of heaven but that eroded like fog on a warming day. The “heat” of the self-centered human heart can dissipate too easily the warming cloud of caring intent. So yes, it was a wonder and sign that the early Christians came together in such a community, and a hope that will true Christian intent we can replicate IF we keep Christ and our Lord God at the center of all our efforts. Selah!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Psalms Passage – Walking without fear

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” (Psalm 23)

At different times in my writings I have written on Psalm 23. Most writers who write about spirituality and faith issues have – several times. Sometimes one or another line or metaphor is highlighted. Others times the psalm as a whole is the focus. But there are only some many lines, and so many metaphors etc to be used as the theme. Sooner or later you are bound to repeat. And that was the challenge before me as I sat down to address this psalm once again.

I remembered another time, years and years ago, when I looked at this psalm. At that time I was writing monthly columns and sending them out to a circle of friends and family. It was something I had started doing back when we lived in Indiana, and I had continued doing it when we moved to the west coast. I do not remember why I picked on the 23rd Psalm to write on; perhaps it was appropriate to what was going on at the time. Mind you, this was 10 years ago – ancient history compared to now. Except, once again, I am sending my writings out into the ether-sphere – so to speak. At that time I was using the King James version of Psalm 23, and I suspect that was the motivation for the title I gave it – “Yea . . . Yeah!” Verse 4 in the KJV reads as follows, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” And the RCL does not stipulate one version over another.

So . . . what follows is what I wrote then. I have reused this reflection before, when I was writing a column for the “Third Way Cafe” website which is still in existence and is produced by Mennonite Media. The title for that posting on that website was “From Yea to Yeah!” But that was years ago too, and I no longer post on that website. I am using the same italics font that I use for scripture, simply because I am in a since quoting myself. So sit back, beloved reader, as I turn back years and listen to my “younger voice.”

Through my readings and study, I have come to understand that the phrase “valley of the shadow of death” does not just mean death itself, but also a place of deep gloom where “evil” seems to be all around. Think of a valley so deep that sunlight cannot reach it, and so narrow that there is no easy path. One must constantly step around or on top of stones that have fallen down from the high cliffs above. And the sides of the cliffs rise up so steeply that there is no way to climb them, so one must walk through them. And the surrounding rocks echo one’s own small footfall until you become afraid of the sound of one’s own steps. This is what I imagined when I read about “the valley”. But the Psalmist says, “I will fear no evil”. Not fearing the evil that is real or the evil that is imagined.

There is a section in one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia series where the main characters are walking through such a valley following Aslan. At first only one of the characters sees him and it is only through her persuasion and perseverance that the others continue. Eventually they all see him and are led through the valley safely. The Psalmist says, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Sometimes the “rod and staff” are physical objects. Sometimes they are people who are traveling the same way or the same path. And sometimes the rod and staff are feelings inside that tell you that you are not traveling alone.

For me, it does seem there is no way to avoid the “gloomy place” I am in. I must walk through it. The sides of my predicament are high. There is no way to climb over it or avoid it. And yes, sometimes I am “spooked” by my own footsteps. I have pondered much on my situation, and as new insights come, I tremble. But I know I am not walking this path alone. There are people along the way who are giving me comfort and strength. I have my Bible and my books of Christian meditations. I have the writing of this column to give voice to my inner thoughts, and to help me process it all. And I have the solace of the Lord that cannot be felt or touched, but is most assuredly there.

Many of us at one time or another have walked through such a valley. Perhaps it has been an actual death of a loved one. Perhaps it has been the death of a hope or dream. Or the death of a relationship. Perhaps it has not been death at all, but a dark place in our lives that we have had to work, and walk, through. Each of us has our own fears and times of testing. That is probably why this psalm is so well known, because it speaks precisely to those times. But this psalm does not say we can avoid these times or that we will be easily whisked through them. It says we need not fear, and we will not be alone.

So let our “yea” turn to “yeah!” Let us rejoice in all of the assurances that are found in Psalm 23. And, let us rejoice that our Lord is the good shepherd that will never leave us or let harm come between us and his love for us. For we are not promised that no harm will befall us, that there will no “valley of the shadow of death”. The promise is the comfort, the solace, the knowing that we will come through the darkness into light. And that light is the Lord our God who watches over us, always! Yeah indeed!!!!

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The substituted Old Testament Passage – The Word spreads and believe grows

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.” (Acts 9:36-43)

The book of Acts, beloved reader, at times functions as a listing of signs and wonders establishing the founding of the early Christian church, and what brought many to faith. Even today, when something amazing happens people flock around eager for the details and ready to believe. It is not just issues of faith that spread like this; stories of lotions and medications that heal fly around the internet, newspapers, magazines . . . and people believe it whole sale!

Now, you ask, did I just compare the spreading of the gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ to spreading of stories on the internet?! Well, yes, I guess maybe I did. Am I saying the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel nothing more than an infomercial, you ask?! No, not exactly . . . . but would that be such a bad thing? I may have to think about that.

We may call the bible “The Holy Book” and say it was divinely (or Divinely) inspired. It is filled with the stories of ordinary people coming to faith, or fleeing from faith, and some being dragged back to faith (I could go on, but I hope you are getting my point). The bible was never meant to be placed on a pedestal and never be consulted or used except for special and specific occasions. It is an instruction book for daily life. Which is why I am bothered a bit about people coming to faith simply because of the miracles they hear that are associated with some people’s faith story. The story of Tabitha/Dorcas is a good example.

Did those people come to faith simply because someone was raised from the dead? Or did they hear about the good woman that Tabitha/Dorcas was and came to faith because of her example? Infomercials are notorious for having slightly exaggerated information designed specifically to draw one in so they will believe and buy. The Christian faith should not be like that, because (trust me on this one beloved reader) one’s faith does not necessarily produce miracles that get one out of difficult situations. And a faith based on the telling of miracles may not survive a testing from persecution and suffering.

It is no secret that for many in our modern world life is tough. And faith can help one get through. The true miracle of faith is that we get through difficult situations in life WITHOUT miracles! Something to consider as Easter gets further away. Shalom!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Shepherding and being Shepherded (The Psalm Passage)

Did you see this one coming beloved reader?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

I first learned/heard Psalm 23 in the King James Version. The New King James Version does not have the “right” sort of feel for me. And as I considered why, I realized it was because the older English makes you slow down to put your tongue around the words, and helps you to stop and think about what they few verses are saying. I do not know if the writer of Psalms knew what he/she was creating when these verses were inscribed so long ago.

“The Lord is my shepherd . . “ Keep in mind what a good shepherd does for the sheep. Not only food and drink, but nurture and care. We do not need to fear when the Good Shepherd is with us – no matter what happens.

I said Wednesday that I am approaching my theme from a backward perspective – saying what we should do; and then saying how God/Christ does care. It is out of realization and appreciation for what God/Christ does for us that we should do for others. We may do “shepherding” not as perfectly as God or Jesus Christ does it, but we read in I John 3:16-24 “that we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” And that in John 10:11-18 that it is the good shepherd who takes better care of the sheep than the hired hand. We are not called to be “sometimes Christians” depending on whether it is good/profitable to us. We are called to be Christians in service to humanity.

But as we work and struggle to be all that God calls us to be, we are comforted by the fact that God and Christ are our Good Shepherds and that we are cared for while we do God’s work. May you beloved reader feel the Good Shepherd’s presence in your life as you minister and shepherd others. Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Thoughts on Shepherding (The Gospel Passage)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Hear the echo of I John 3:16. There have been various explanations of what it meant in Jesus’ time to be a shepherd, and that metaphor has been used in illustrating shepherd people as a mentor, leader, or one who encourage and supports. But consider for a moment laying down your life for one as clueless as a sheep.

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” (Verses 12-13)

When you care for people, beloved reader, are you like the hired hand? Or do you emulate the Good Shepherd?

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (Verses 14-16)

The writer of John might have been thinking of Jews and Gentiles, or just generally wanting to be inclusive of all readers. We can take it to mean people close to us and people throughout the world. For I tell you, no one is to be left out of God’s flock.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” (Verses 17-18)

The writer of the gospel of John wanted to confirm and promote Jesus’ spiritual nature. But that is not the issue/aspect that I want to highlight. Would you be willing, beloved reader, to lay down your life of your own accord? Being human and frail, our life can be taken from us and we have not the power to take it back. But we can give over our life to Christ, and Christ has the power to return it to us. What choice will you make? Will you be better than a “hired hand” in tending God’s inclusive flock?

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Real Love; it is expected (The Epistles Passage)

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (I John 3:16)

The theme for the rest of the week, beloved reader, is what God and Jesus Christ have done for us. And knowing what the Divine has done, what we should do for one another. However, I am stating my case a little backwards. I am first, through the scripture passage, asserting what we should do for one another.

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister[a] in need and yet refuses help?” (Verse 17)

And then, as the week goes on, I am going to show the depth and breadth of God’s love. And if someone has NOT responded to their fellow member of humanity in a kind and compassionate way, then the guilt and shame should be theirs.

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (Verses 18 – 20)

We can never, however, show as much and compassion as the Divine can. That is because we are not pure love, as God is. And we have not the purity of the power of love that God has. But if we are determined to love and show love to the best of our human ability, we will satisfy the will of God. And the Divine knows this. As the writer of I John said,

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.” ( Verses 21-2)

Love and showing love is a planned deliberate act. We talk about “falling” in love. What we really mean is that our hormones and emotions get charged up and, as they say, romance is in the air. But true love is hard work; it is putting the other first. It is laying down and laying aside our agenda. But love is tough. It seeks the good for the other, no matter the cost. God showed that kind of love. Christ showed that kind of love. And the Spirit promotes that kind of love. It is this love that we are called to and to show for one another. It is not easy. No wonder we can’t consistently get it right. But we can try, and trying with all of our body, soul and spirit will satisfy our Lord. May you do so! Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter – Stories of bravery and testimony (The Acts Passage as a Substitute for the Old Testament Passage)

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John [not the disciple], and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:5-12)

The disciples’ actions had consequences, not just for the people they helped and ministered to but for the disciples themselves. Sometimes those consequences were openings to bring testimony and witness to their risen Lord. But sometimes those consequences were persecution and death. The stories of the early Christian church are filled with testimony and witnessing, and the believers being persecuted and put to death. They counted it as expected, since their Lord was also put to death.

This passage from Acts chapter 4 follows soon after the healing of the crippled, and that is the man that the “rulers, elders, and scribes” were inquiring about. The verses following verse 12 complete the story, and Peter and his companions were warned and threatened not to speak or teach about Christ any more. But we know that Peter and the other disciples did not heed that warning.

Are you as bold and brave, beloved reader? Would you be able to stand up against warning and threats from you civic leaders? Many Christians have, and such stories are a vital part of the stories of faith. It is especially poignant when it is believer against believer, where there is a division in the faith. There were some signs of that in the various early churches, just as there is a history of being bold and brave in teaching and preaching, there is a history of differences of opinion. The early church struggled with that issue, and those stories may be part of future lectionary readings.

May you, beloved reader, hold firm to your faith in the face of persecution and when given opportunities to give testimony may the Holy Spirit fill you! Selah!