Reflection for Easter 4 – Good Shepherd/vocations Sunday – Penny Ashton

Link to video file – apologies for the quiet volume.

Acts 4: 5-12

God chooses the most unlikely.  I am reminded of that every time I sit at my computer and try to find out what God has to say to us in this part of the service.  We have often told to Tiny Church the story of how Samuel was sent to Jesse while Saul was still king, for the purpose of anointing one of Jesse’s sons to succeed Saul as king.  The story is used to illustrate to the children that you don’t have to be handsome or strong to be chosen by God, as God is primarily interested in what is in your heart.  David was so very much the unvalued son, that Jesse did not even bother to call him in from the fields where he was minding the sheep to show to the prophet, and he was only fetched later when Samuel had rejected all his other sons.  The standing of a shepherd in Judean society was about as low as you could get – and yet the picture of the shepherd as role model of good leadership runs right through the whole Bible and is used for kings and prophets, both good and bad.  Even in the days before Jesus, God was demonstrating that mankind has a knack of making the wrong choices of role model.

Returning to our story in Acts, our reading starts in the middle of the story, and if you would like to put the whole story together, it is worth reading Acts 3 and the first few verses of chapter 4 to find out what lead up to this.  The prisoners referred to in v7 are Peter and John, who are probably not looking or feeling at their best as they have just spent the night in prison. You will need to read chapter 3 to find out why they were in prison, but it does go to show that you never know what might happen when you set out to do something as apparently harmless as going to church to pray, and pausing on the way in to talk to a man who is begging.

The list of people that they were required to answer to is a daunting one.  The office of high priest had been instigated as a hereditary one in direct line to Aaron – brother of Moses, but by this time it was no longer passed on in this way, but was in the control of a few powerful families.  You will remember that Annas and Caiaphas also presided over the trial of Jesus – Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas and had been high priest before him, and it was not uncommon for previous high priests to remain in the inner circle as powers behind the throne.  And so it was to the highest and probably the most learned men in the land that Peter makes his very spirited defence – surely being aware of just how much danger he is in.  The only power that these men did not have was to sentence someone to death, although as we saw with the trial of Jesus, they were in a powerful position to influence the Roman governor.  To find out what happened afterwards, you will also need to read on from v13, but it is clear that despite his comparative lack of education, Peter had relied on the promise that Jesus had made for just this type of situation which is recorded in Matthew 10:19 and in Luke 12:11 that when brought before the authorities, he would be given the words to say by the Holy Spirit; and in so doing, he had thrown them into confusion.

The verse that Peter quotes from Psalm 118 returns us to the theme of God choosing the most unlikely.  Had you or I been in a position to choose, it is unlikely that we would have decided that the best place for His son to exercise his ministry would be as an artisan builder in a rural backwater, a very insignificant part of the then mighty empire which governed most of the known world.  Surely it would have made more sense to us to have Jesus placed near the seat of power, as Moses was in his childhood.  And yet we are still here today, and while the name of Jesus is known throughout the world, I doubt if many people could name many of the roman emperors – I know I couldn’t.

Returning to our theme of vocations though, when I preached on this Sunday last year, I gave you the Church of England definition of vocation and challenged you to find yours.  It is worth repeating here:

‘Vocation means what you are called by God to be and do.

For some, this is a specific calling to ministry. For others, it could mean serving God through faithful discipleship in everyday life.  Everyone has a vocation. Find yours.’

Also on the website under the heading, ‘No Ordinary Ministry’ it goes on to quote from Isaiah:

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!”

    Isaiah 6:8

It is from that verse in Isaiah that we get our hymn ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’, with its chorus beginning ‘Here I am Lord’.  I have to confess that I find that hymn, and the one that starts with the line ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee’  quite difficult to sing with total honesty!

Both our churches in Wincanton and Pen Selwood will be holding their Annual Parish meetings in the next few weeks, and in both churches there are vacancies for people to serve in a number of roles, including PCC members, Deanery Synod representatives and Churchwardens.  It is vital that at this time we all spend serious time in prayer to find out if God is asking us to serve Him and his church in a new way – possibly in a way that we would never have considered before.  We must also pray for those already serving, and for any who are considering volunteering, that they will be upheld in any decision, and given assurance that they are doing the right thing.  We are all encouraged to take an active part in the life of our churches in our New Testament reading for today which is from 1 John 3: verses 16 to the end of the chapter.  In v18 John says: ‘let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’  If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be putting together services and preaching to you, I would have laughed at you, but I was delighted to learn recently that thanks to the wonderful support I received from both churches and from Alison, my licence is to be renewed for another 5 years.  I would also have not believed what a joy it has been to me to be able to serve in this way, and in this time I am sure I have received much more love than I have given.

Could you be missing out on a similar joy?  When Peter and John were eventually released, they returned to their fellow believers, and having told them everything, they all burst into a spontaneous prayer of worship.  In John 15:11:Jesus says to the disciples: ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’  Let us all decide now to spend some time in serious prayer to find out whether God has a plan for each of us that will make our joy complete.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995