Sermon Easter 4 May 7, 2017
Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:19-25 John 10:1-10
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
In our reading from Acts today we hear of the next stage in the lives of those newly baptised Jewish Christians, who were from all over the known world, and who had come to realise their guilt in the death of Jesus and consequently sought the new life baptised into His Name. They were looking for the ideal life worshiping together, doing charitable works and sharing everything in common without jealousy or regret. That was their ideal world, no one was in need, every one trusted everyone else and they had a mutual love of God and of each other – sounds like heaven on Earth.
But it wasn’t long before human nature, encouraged by Satan, took over and people started to nibble at the margins of righteousness. We need to be ever mindful of our weaknesses. Baptism is no magic formula for sinlessness. Instead it is a testament to our belief in the divinity of and the salvation in Jesus but it does not give us His qualities. It is up to us to struggle against the temptations that the Devil is so adroit at putting in front of us. For that reason, being baptised, we shouldn’t stay away until our Confirmation or worst of all until our Funeral. We need the other sacraments too, especially Holy Communion. Baptism is the start, Communion is the fulfillment, of the promise of baptism and it nourishes our Faith.
In later centuries the principles of common ownership and common welfare enjoyed by the first Christians would become the core of the monastic movement, where men and women for one thousand years and more lived peaceful and productive lives together. It seems illogical but the cloister offered liberation to the ordinary man and woman, liberation from the oppressions of a feudal society. The men’s labour wasn’t exploited by the lord of the manor and women weren’t forced to survive in oppressive marriages exposed to the very real dangers that attended childbirth. Their common labour sustained their bodies and their common worship sustained their souls. Heaven ! But in time they too succumbed to the darker sides of human nature, we all do, they accumulated wealth and power, and forgot about the needs of others and so their heaven no longer was real, they started to Sin, they needed reform, and it came, and a new better order of monastic life took over and exists to today. The lesson ? Even the devout can weaken in the face of temptation and need the sacraments. No one is too holy nor too lost to not need the regular and frequent sustenance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus uses the metaphor of the sheepfold to describe the Church. He is the shepherd who leads us into the Church. Those who follow Him into the Church know Him, know His Voice, that is, know His teachings, know the promise of Salvation offered by Him, and know what is required of us.
Two of the things I really like about Jesus are that He is a Realist and He is always ready to forgive, once we confess our shortcomings. Because He shares our human nature He knows what we are like – happy to follow the rules until we don’t want to anymore because they get in the way of the life we want to lead or to which we think we are entitled. Those are the people, Jesus says, who jump over the fence to get into the sheepfold. They are all dressed-up but have nowhere to go when they get inside. We have to make sure daily that we are not one of those who hopped the fence. There are no shortcuts to Salvation, nor exemptions, even for the clergy or the pillars of the Church, we are all equal in the sight of God and should respond fully to His Call. Of course that is not easy, nothing is but bolstered by the joy we receive at baptism we have something good to build-on, we are off to a really good start. Keep it going.
When we keep it going, we are faced with challenges. We thank God we are not called upon to suffer for our Faith the way other Christians around the world are, but we are called to live a Christian life, which may require us to sacrifice an opportunity that would not be in accord with our Faith. We have to be ever mindful of how we spend our time and our money. In the pile of questions about living an ethical life, a current one is, should we invest in marijuana production – profits are going to be huge and that would be good stewardship ? It’s going to be legal but does pot stand up to the smell test of morality or the principles of a Christian life ? The same goes for lots of other products and businesses you could name. What is right in this world of expanding opportunities is always the question ?
Our readings confirm in several ways that Jesus the Lord is our Shepherd. If we follow the Shepherd’s Voice we will be ok in this world, we will pass through the gate into the sheepfold legitimately. Knowing His Voice and what He calls us to do is not fully understood by being baptised alone. We need a lifetime of commitment, learning and understanding Scripture and applying it to our lives. I wish I could say that the waters of baptism gave us all we needed to know but they don’t they merely set us on the right path. Even when we arrive at the Pearly Gates, we will still have things to answer for. Christianity isn’t just about ceremonies and weekly attendance, it’s about living our vows, the vows we pledge at our Baptism. Having said all the things we are going to do it’s up to us alone, to do them. When we get to the Gate I am pretty sure they will be trotted out; did we teach our children the Christian way of life properly; did we take the Sacraments frequently; did we turn away from bad things; did we love God; did we love our neighbours; did we seek justice for all and sustain the life of this good Earth ?
One important characteristic that we can all share is to say what we mean, and mean what we say. We are to take our baptismal vows seriously. So when we leave church today, don’t forget those vows, but go and do them. That is what the voice of Jesus is saying to us. And above all may God bless you as you live out your baptismal commitments to God today and every day hereafter. Amen. Alleluia !