Fourth Sunday of Easter 2014 – it’s still Easter!

Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:19-25 John 10:1-10
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

How is your Easter going? We priests and preachers love to ask our congregations how Lent is going – how is your penance and your penitence working out? How is Advent going: have you found or made some quiet time? Or are you focusing on Christmas trees and Easter outfits, we might “sniff” with just a little academic scorn in our voices. But who has ever asked you how your Easter is going? Is the risen Lord present to you? What is that experience like? Or is the reality of Christ among us wilting like Easter flowers in the heat of pressing daily life?

Welcome to Easter! It is hard to maintain the joy, isn’t it? Life goes on. I offer you a gentle reminder that it is Easter, and whether we know it in our lives or not, our risen Lord is present.

We join the early church today, and we have just listened to Peter’s monologue (how very appropriate that we hear from Peter) in which he sought to answer the question: “What does all this mean?” Peter is talking about the meaning of Pentecost, of God’s giving of the Holy Spirit to us. (In our season, the readings are a little backwards – we’re not at Pentecost yet.) We remember that Peter is talking to the crowd in Jerusalem. This is a group of Jewish people who are following Jesus. We are not yet called Christians; it is too early in this movement; that term will come into use at another time and in another physical place (Antioch). Our worship is in the temple, where we meet and hear words of Torah. We are also disciples of Jesus.

After we ask “what does this mean?” we ask “what are we supposed to do?” Today we hear how early Jewish Jesus-followers in Jerusalem lived: we had a community of apostles and disciples who worshipped in the temple, “broke bread at home (Jesus said, take, eat),” and “ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” The people shared possessions and distributed to those who had need. In light of the history of Christianity and the quarrels that we read about, life was probably not as ideal as this passage makes it sound. Remember that just a few weeks ago the apostles were meeting in a closed room, terrified. We have moved into a little bit better time, as the culture and religious authorities tolerate our existence, but we are not at this moment much of a threat to the Roman Empire. We are an odd group within the Jewish community.

Something happens. Something big changes this early life of Christ – followers, because in 1 Peter we have been exiled from Jerusalem; we are living “all over the place,” not together, and not in the home of our faith. Life is very hard. Peter writes to us to have hope in the living Christ, and that what we might suffer is purifying our faith, like gold is purified in the refiner’s fire. Fear God, Peter writes. Honor the emperor. When we are serving in slavery, “It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.” This is a message of hope. God knows that we are suffering and that we suffer as Christians just for following Christ. Our example for how to behave is found in Jesus, our savior. “By his wounds you have been healed.”

In today’s gospel it is Jesus who is speaking to us. These are Jesus’ words in response to his healing of a “man blind from birth.” Remember? Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath. There was great controversy over the blind man and over Jesus’ healing: 1), Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and 2) only God can heal blindness. (And Jesus reveals: I am he [the Son of Man].)

In essence, Jesus ticks off the Pharisees and then launches into a discourse about a sheepfold, a gate, thieves, and bandits. We go back to the same question that the crowd asked Peter in Jerusalem: What does this all mean?

Who is Jesus in today’s gospel? Shepherd. Gate. Jesus is our gate to life. Jesus lets us in, Jesus sends us out into the world. We can play with lots of analogies, but there it is: Jesus is the Son of Man, Messiah, Shepherd, and Gate. Our lives are forever changed because we follow him. We come into the fold through Jesus – that’s baptism, and we are never abandoned. We remember the words that we use with chrism: sealed as Christ’s own forever.

There is that second question: What are we going to do?

What are we called to do? Come into the fold, know the protection of Jesus. We know that protection when we know his voice and know it well. We are called to discipleship. Even when it’s hard. Even when people think that we’re weird. Maybe especially when we know Easter joy. We are allowed to be joyful in that!

We are always safe in the arms of God. When we are sick, when we are well, when we are dying, when we are rejoicing in the season that is Easter, we are safe in the arms of Jesus. The beautiful imagery in our psalm “brings us home.” Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
You lead me …

… we pray, gracious Lord, that we might follow, find the community that the early church did, the safety and comfort that the psalmist found, the hope that you mean for us to have. Alleluia!

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