Sunday, May 7, 2017

Easter 4A, 2017: Listening for the divine voice like crazy Christians

I had the true privilege of supplying at Trinity Episcopal Church in Spruce Pine, NC. Below is my sermon in audio and text for Easter 4-A.

Lectionary: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

If the above player doesn't work on your device, please click HERE:

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

When my daughter was little I was the Brownie troop leader. As an expert in the field of abuse prevention, I was called upon every year to help teach the children how to stay safe. I used to begin by telling those little ones that there are some grown-ups who may try to trick them and do them harm, and because they are grown-ups they can trick them.

Then I would do this demonstration (asks for a coin) and ask them as I ask you: If you get it – don’t say anything until I explain the trick. Tosses a coin. Heads I win, tails you lose. Call it! (explains the children’s response) These Brownies, however, had a community of family and friends who were committed to helping them stay safe - good grown-ups – who want to protect them from the grown-ups who intend to do them harm.

I want to make a plug here for the Safeguarding God’s Children, People, and Church curriculum.
If you haven’t been trained, PLEASE DO. If your certificates have expired, PLEASE RENEW. People who perpetrate harm aren’t easy to identify. They don’t look like perpetrators and they often seek out and hold positions of trust that give them access to their victims. Positions like: teachers, youth leaders, police officers, pastors…

In today’s gospel story from John, Jesus makes these same points, but most of us today don’t have much real experience with sheep or shepherds, so here’s a little background about sheep, shepherds, and sheep-gates. In those days, sheep roamed freely during the day, but at night the shepherd would gather the flock and bring them into an enclosed area, so they would be protected while they slept.

Most shepherds would put planks across the gate to keep the sheep from walking back out during the night. But the really devoted shepherd would lay himself down across the gate and sleep there. That way no sheep could leave, nor a predator enter, without him knowing. Of course, lying across that gate also meant that the gatekeeper was vulnerable to the predators.

Jesus was claiming to be THAT sort of shepherd – the Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

Jesus identifies himself as the gate as well. This makes sense if we remember that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, who is fully divine AND fully human, the Word made flesh through whom all things were made and reconciled into the unity of the Trinity. Whoever enters into this way of living and being will be saved, Jesus says.

I want to stop right here and do a quick word study, because who hasn’t been asked, “Have you been saved?” The Greek word translated here as “saved” literally means to make sound, that is, in good condition – free from injury or disease. It meant to preserve someone from danger, loss, or destruction. It was used by our forebears in the faith to mean being delivered from the consequences of sin and death and it included the bringing in of blessings in the place of condemnation.”

Jesus says, “Whoever enters by me will be saved (now does that change how you understand that sentence), and will come in and go out and find pasture” …the kind described so beautifully in Psalm 23.

We are the sheep who follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, AND we are his shepherds in the world today – the church. As such, it is our job guard the gate – to make sure it opens every time a sheep comes in or goes out following the voice of God – and to keep it closed to protect the flock from those who intend to do harm.

The key in this story, for the sheep and the shepherds of the sheep, is listening – knowing how to hear the voice of God. So how do we do that?

Luke tells us in Acts, that the early church “spent much time together in the temple.” We are called to do the same. The reason is we discern the voice of God individually AND in community. Listening for the voice of God is something we must choose to learn and practice,
and church is where we do that.

So, I have a question for you – do you hear the voice of God? Do you hear Jesus calling you by name? If you don’t, why not?

The divine voice speaks to us all the time in so many ways: in our bodies (we are, after all embodied spirit), in our dreams (just like in Scripture), in sudden insights during our prayers, in the reading of Scripture, in the voice of a friend, in the smile of a child, or in the beauty of a sunset.

Some people worry about be able to recognize that it is God’s voice. It’s true, we are all vulnerable to being tricked, but having been marked as Christ’s own forever in our Baptism, we know that we can never (ever!) be tricked out of God’s loving protection.

Even if we walk away from God or the Church, mad about something, or disapproving of another thing, we are still one family, one flock, being constantly gathered back into the fold by our Good Shepherd.

We, like those early Christians, need to be devoted “to the apostle’s teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” Imagine with me for a minute what it might be like if Christians today looked and acted like those Christians described in Acts…

What if wonders and signs were being done by the followers of Jesus today? Why aren’t they?

Maybe they are. I think they are, but we don’t talk about it very openly. I do healing work and so I hear many, many stories of miraculous healings of body and soul, as well as powerful stories of forgiveness and reconciliation - but they’re told to me in secret, because of a fear that other people wouldn’t understand and might judge them as crazy or something. Well, as our Presiding Bishop says, we are crazy! We’re crazy Christians!

What if church members had all things in common, (this is the hard one…) selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds so that everyone had what they needed?

For one thing, we could do away with annual pledge drives completely and churches wouldn’t be just one more charity its members support. Members would actually BE the church and would give with glad and generous hearts to the greater cause. We’d also purge our churches and their members of shame and empower them to respond without judgment and with compassion to someone who has need.

And what if we truly had as a priority the goodwill of all the people?

I think it would free our churches from the self-centeredness of a survival state of mind. Once freed from that we could actually fulfill our divine purpose! It would also help us remember, especially in these present circumstances, that what we do to “the least of these” we do to all of us – and to God.

That is the nature of living in Trinitarian unity.

What if our churches were full of Good Shepherds who provided a place where all – Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s “all, all, all, all, all” people could find green pastures, still waters, and blessings in the place of condemnation?

The good news, as we read in Acts, is that, like that early church, this would add to our numbers day by day, those who were being saved – and isn’t that ultimately our divine purpose?

I truly believe that if we were to learn once more to listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd, we would let the way of the world go - it kills and destroys by infecting our hearts and our churches, and we would embrace the Way of Jesus, a way of verdant pastures, still waters, and blessings in place of condemnation – abundant life, as Jesus calls it.

If we did that, don’t you think our churches would be busting at the seams with people seeking to be saved? Don’t you think they’d want to be a part of that?

Let us pray: Good Shepherd of our souls, open our ears to hear your voice, our hearts to respond to your leading, and our eyes to see where to carry the light of your love into the world so that all people may have the lift abundant you came to bring. Amen.

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