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SUNDAY SCRIPTURES FOR May 8 | God’s grace helps us be bearers of hope to others

Fourth Sunday of Easter | Our inclusion in the Body of Christ is freely given to us, and we are meant to give it as gift

At the beginning of our excerpt from the Acts of the Apostles for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we see Paul and Barnabas taking their seat in the synagogue. This shows that they didn’t believe that the teachings of Jesus and His resurrection would separate them from the synagogue. They took their seats, prepared to celebrate and pray as part of the community. Their encouragement to others was to stay faithful to the grace of God. As God reveals Himself to us, we have a responsibility to respond to that revelation.

Imagine the confusion and excitement that surrounded this new testimony from Paul and Barnabas. They were speaking of the One who had been raised from the dead, and spoke of Him as the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. For those who didn’t believe that, it caused division and sometimes jealousy. For those who did believe in the testimony, it gave great hope and joy.

From historical accounts, we know that there was a separation between the synagogue and the early Church of Jesus. The inclusion of Gentiles in the proclamation of the Good News was very difficult for some of the people of Israel to accept. It begs the question as to whether there’s enough of God to go around for all of us.

Much jealousy and hatred and prejudice come from a sense of scarcity and a fear of losing. Change and inclusion can be threatening to anyone in authority or with vested interest in the status quo. We try to imagine what will happen if more people are included in the Good News. We wonder if it will affect our status. We can begin to see others as enemies or persons who put into jeopardy what we deeply value.

Even though we are given the assurance from John’s Gospel that we are in the hands of Jesus and He will never let us go, it’s hard to trust a promise like that. Part of the difficulty comes from seeing our faith as a possession rather than a gift. We have been given the gift of faith and our inclusion in the Body of Christ. We have not earned that, nor do we deserve it. Since it is a gift that has been given to us, we are meant to give it as gift to others and not feel threatened by the inclusion of others, especially those we think are least deserving.

In the same way that we have Lenten practices that include prayer, fasting and almsgiving, our Easter season should be filled with practices that help us to spread the Easter message of freedom from death and freedom for love. What could be your daily practice that helps you to be ready to speak of Easter joy and gladness to all those whom you meet? Could it be a daily practice of gratitude, noticing the giftedness of your life? Could it be your remembrance of all the ways that you have been brought back to life again through the grace of God? Could it be a practice of developing an eye for those who are hungry for joy and hope? If you would notice who those people are, what testimony would you give to them about the difference that Jesus has made in your life?

Pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that you might have courage and humility to know that God can use you to be the bearer of hope to others.

Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.

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