• Steven Marsh

Connecting–True Christian Behavior Under Pressure: a Reflection on John 10:11-18 and Acts 4:5-

Either the church is able to point to signs of healing power at work in the world because of what has happened in Jesus Christ or the community is without evidence for its claims. In a 2008 report,

Researchers for Pew’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey analyzed the religious practices of more than 35,000 U.S. adults and found that they generally embrace their own faith while respecting—and sometimes even practicing—aspects of other religions. “Many religions—maybe even most—can be perceived as having an exclusivity clause: We’re right and therefore everybody else is wrong,” said John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum. “What we’ve found is that many Americans apparently don’t invoke the exclusivity clause.” Researchers did not track which other faiths people might say lead to salvation, so a Protestant or Catholic might be thinking of, for example, fellow Christians like the Eastern Orthodox, or non-Christians like Jews or Muslims. Either way, respondents seemed more focused on pragmatism than conversion. “While Americans may have firm religious commitments, they are unwilling to impose them on other people,” Green said. “It may be a kind of attitude that works very well on a practical level in a society that is as diverse religiously as the United States.”[1]

A focus on pragmatism rather than conversion will not leave evidence that God is at work.

After spending the night in prison, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jewish nation, consisted of seventy-one elders, including the high priest. John and Peter had been arrested for speaking about the power of the resurrection of Jesus. They had performed a healing. The small band of disciples at the time of Jesus expanded to 120, then 3,000, and to 5,000 at the time of Peter’s examination by the Sanhedrin. The healing of the crippled man and the preaching of Peter threatened pragmatism. The question, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”is reminiscent of the question the high priest and elders had asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”[2]In Judaism, there was no higher earthly authority than the high priest and Sanhedrin. Peter spoke with authority when he told the Sanhedrin that the crippled man is in good health because he was healed by the name of Jesus. He did not fear death. Peter knew that he must, this time, not deny truth, but proclaim it. There is power in the name of Jesus. The name of God brings healing. The Greek word sozo, from soteria, means salvation. Peter challenges the Sanhedrin’s pragmatism. Evidence that the Christian faith adds value to life is important.[3]

John 10 indicates that Jesus exists for the “other” sheep too. There is one flock. “Others” are the poor; those on the margins of society; some practicing Jews, Muslims, and Hindus; the rejected; the unchurched; the dechurched; the spiritually sensitive; and the incarcerated. We might not like the “others,” but it is true. They too could recognize the Jesus’s voice. As sheep we humans wander and go astray. Jesus, using the words “I am,” meshes his mission with the purposes of God. “I am” is the name of God. We must listen to the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd. As the good shepherd, Jesus’s voice will bring order, truth, competence, faithfulness, and evidence of God at work to our experience. Jesus, the good shepherd, gathers the flock.[4]

A missional church is one where “bearing witness” is the heart of the church’s ministry. “Bearing witness” is all about being the best neighbors. That is, followers of Jesus are engaging, not withdrawing when it comes to life’s greatest challenges. We engage the challenges of poverty, immigration, and homelessness. We see the needs of others as a priority. As followers of Jesus, we are called by God to be people obsessed with loving God and loving others. Connecting with God and others in true Christian behavior, which is all God’s doing, not ours, produces evidence, because it brings about resurrection. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes, “Life driven by our desire for security, pleasure, and power dims the Light within us and introduces unnecessary mental and emotional sufferings, which are often misconstrued as spiritual trials or the inevitable growth pains of life in the Spirit. This is erroneous discernment. They are born of our will, not the will of God.”[5]

Pragmatism is born of our will. Conversion is born of the will of God. Let us engage, not withdraw from “others,” our neighbors. Therein lies the context for acts of conversion, healing, and salvation to occur. When we act lovingly, the love of Jesus exudes from our words and actions. Evidence indicates the practice of being the best neighbors.” Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! True Christian behavior demonstrates resurrection in that death never has the last word or action.

[1]Adapted from a preachingtoday.com post citing an article by Adelle M. Banks, “Pew Report Shows Americans Are Religious in Unpredictable Ways,” Religion News Service, posted on http://www.christianitytoday.com (6-23-08).

[2]Matthew 21:23.

[3]Insight gained from Karen Baker-Fletcher, Thomas G. Long, Paul W. Walaskay, and Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 430-435.

[4]Some ideas in this paragraph were gleaned from Barbara J. Essex in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 449, 451, 453.

[5]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 77.

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