Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

If you could share a meal with any famous person – real or fictional / living or dead – who would it be and why?

Whose Voice Are You Listening To?

Recently, the board of Twitter agreed to an offer from Elon Musk to buy the social media company for around $44 billion.  When the deal is completed, it will put the world’s richest person in charge of an incredibly influential platform.  With nearly 400 million users, Twitter has helped to transform not only the news business but how influencers like celebrities and politicians reach their audiences.

In a statement announcing the deal, Mr. Musk said, “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”  Yet along with the positive aspects of social media, there are aspects that are not so positive.  

In the case of Twitter, for example, some have expressed concern about the potential impact of having such a powerful social media company privately owned and controlled by a single person.  Like other platforms, Twitter’s algorithms and systems tend to amplify the most incendiary voices, hateful speech, and disinformation. And there is a growing body of evidence that overuse of social media can lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, particularly in students.

Discussion Questions

  • What social media platforms (if any) do you use?  What do you enjoy most about these platforms?
  • Name are some of the positive things about social media?
  • What are some of the negative aspects?
  • How would you rate the impact of social media on how you feel about things? 
    • When I think about the future, social media makes me feel a) more confident  b) less confident  c) no impact.  Why?
    • When it comes to who I am – my own sense of self – social media makes me feel a) more confident  b) less confident  c) no impact.  Why?
  • What limits, if any, should we place on what is posted on social media platforms?

Fourth Sunday or Easter

Acts 9:36-43

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

“Hindsight is 20/20,” the old saying goes, meaning that it is easier to see the meaning of things when you are looking back.  Perhaps that is why today’s gospel reading is a flashback to John 10, a time well before Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It is as if to say, now that we have encountered the Risen Jesus, we are finally ready to make sense of what he was saying.

The setting is the Festival of the Dedication – a holiday more familiar to most of us as Hanukkah.  Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following a successful revolt against the rule of Antiochus IV by a group of Jewish resistance fighters, led by Judas Maccabaeus.  Through this remarkable achievement the Jewish people not only enjoyed a fully independent kingdom for many decades, but Judas and his family were made kings.  

This history helps us understand the question put to Jesus as he walks near the Temple. “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  Given that, in Jesus’ day, the Romans were in charge, many hoped that God’s “messiah” would do something similar to the Maccabean revolt. That is, they were looking for someone to defeat the Romans and reestablish their nation as an independent kingdom.  Adding to their anticipation were Jesus’ own words.  Earlier in John 10 he talked about being the “good shepherd.” In the scriptures  “shepherd” was frequently used as a symbol for the Davidic king.

So then, is Jesus the Messiah, Israel’s true king?  He does not come out and say it in so many words because, as the cross and resurrection show us, being “messiah” and “king” means something different to Jesus than what people are expecting.  Nevertheless, Jesus indicates that both his words and his actions should lead people to the correct conclusion about his identity. If not, then it is because they do not belong to Jesus’ sheep.  “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says.  “I know them, and they follow me.”  

And here, you see, is where it becomes vitally important that, of all the voices one might choose to listen to, we listen for the voice of Jesus.  For, as Jesus goes on to explain, those who hear his voice and recognize it as the voice of their Shepherd will be safe forever. Because of Jesus’ union with God, nothing will be able to separate his “sheep” from him and his love.  Indeed, nothing will ultimately be able to harm them, not even death.

Discussion Questions

  • When it comes to social media, how do you decide who to follow?
  • How about when it comes to how you live your life – who or what are your most important influences?
  • What do you think it means to “hear Jesus’ voice”?  In what ways are we able to “listen” to Jesus?  
  • Do you think Jesus ever listens to us?  Why or why not?
  • How can Jesus’ resurrection help us to have confidence about his promise, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish”?  When it comes to your own life and future, how does this promise make you feel?

Activity Suggestions

  • “Listening to the Shepherd”  Set up sort of a “minefield” of small obstacles.  Things like small pillows, tennis balls, bean bags, shoes, etc. all work great.  Invite participants to get into pairs, with one of them being the “shepherd” and the other one being the “sheep.” The sheep is blindfolded and stands on the opposite side of the obstacle course from the shepherd. The object is for the sheep to navigate the course without stepping on the any of the obstacles by listening to directions from the shepherd.  Variations might include having all the pairs of participants run the course at the same time (thus resulting in lots of different voices shouting different directions) or of having one pair try to successfully navigate the course while all the other participants are shouting contradictory instructions.  Reflect on the experience:  What was it like to have to rely only on the voice of the shepherd to make it safely through the obstacles?  What helped you to focus on the shepherd’s voice when all the other voices around you were telling you different things?  How do you think this activity relates to following Jesus?
  • “Encouraging Words”  Invite participants to share with one another verses or passages of Scripture that they find particularly helpful or encouraging.  Perhaps collect them in a list that can be shared with everyone later.  Here are a few possibilities from John’s gospel to get you started: John 1:1- 5; 3:16 – 17; 6:35; 8:12; 10:11; 11:25 – 26; 14:1 – 3; 14:27. 

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safely, even through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice and help us to follow you into all that makes for an abundant life.  Continue to reveal your love and grace to us this Easter season and open our eyes to your living presence among us.  Amen.