Preached May 8, 2011
1 Peter 2:19–25
St. John 10:11–16
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We continue to bask in the glow of the Resurrection, the glories of Easter, the sense of joy associated with the risen Christ. There is a feeling that all is right with the world. Christ is risen, Alleluia!
And yet, as we look around us in our everyday world, we see that Not All Is Right With The World. We have celebrated the feast of the Resurrection, just as we do every year, but we still have not entered into the Kingdom of God on Earth, the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus. Still He forebears, and we are still in the world. Why the delay?
Actually, the world has not gotten any better at all. When you think about it, is our society any more like the Kingdom of God today than it was a year ago? Ten years ago? Twenty years ago? More? I’m not sure how you will answer those questions, but in my thinking, we seem to be moving away from the Kingdom of God in society at large. There is a far greater disregard for Christian faith, there is a general attitude that it is perfectly acceptable to live entirely for yourself, there is a willingness to disregard Truth, the Truth which means that delusion is freely accepted. We are moving rapidly toward a totalitarian form of government that will enslave most of us. It is going to be much, much more difficult to be a Christian in the future than it has been in the past. We can expect many lukewarm Christians to fall away from the faith.
In many of our parishes, we received new members by Confirmation and some were newly Baptized within the past few weeks. This is how the Church continues to grow, to receive people into the Kingdom of God even in this world. Easter has been the traditional time for these things to happen. It is into this increasingly paganized world that these new Christians are going to be called to live the Christian life, even as the times become increasingly difficult.. It is particularly to these, as well as to the rest of us, that St. Peter writes in today’s Epistle lesson. Peter was living under house arrest in Rome, and he wrote to encourage and strengthen Christians throughout the Roman empire because he realized that they were going to be subjected to the scorn and sneers of their Roman neighbors, even before the actual killing of Christians began, because being a true Christian necessarily makes one different from society at large.
In a passage preceding our Epistle lesson, St. Peter says, 1 Peter 2:13-15 13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: This is quite similar to what St. Paul says in Romans 13, and in this, St. Peter makes it clear that Christians should not resist the persecutions of the heathen government. These are difficult words for us, as Americans, to hear. For the first time in our lives, we see a truly heathen government rising up to overwhelm us, and the idea that we are to submit quietly to it does not sit well with us. One commentary observes that St. Peter’s comments, and presumably St. Paul’s also, apply to those living within a settled state. For a country at internal war, such as we are very close to in the United States, then these comments have to be modified suitably.
At the beginning of our Epistle lesson, St. Peter explains that there are two kinds of suffering: (1) earned suffering and (2) unearned suffering. 1 Peter 2:19-20 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. Earned suffering is that suffering which comes to us because of wrong that we have done, and therefore deserve the suffering that results from it; there cannot possibly be any merit in such suffering. It is the punishment we brought entirely upon ourselves. On the other hand, if we suffer for the cause of Christ, that is when ye do well, because we are living the lives that Christ has called us to live, then if we encounter suffering on account of that, we suffer with Christ our Lord, provided that we accept it with grace and patience.
This suffering can take various forms. There is the obvious physical abuse at the hands of a mob or at the hands of vicious officers. These things do happen to Christians; they have happened in the past, and they will happen more frequently in the future as our society becomes more paganized. There is also the less obvious suffering that is no less real. One of these that we see even now is the person refused a new job, or a promotion, because they are a Christian and it shows. There will always be plenty of other “reasons” available to give cover for not awarding the position to them, everything from lack of competence to failure to dot an “i” on the application form. There will be qualified people denied the opportunity for an education, simply because they are Christians and insist upon the Truth. There will be good, well qualified people kept out of public office because they are Christians. There will be poor, destitute people denied food and shelter because they are Christians. It is all coming, coming to our door steps quite soon. We see it already when the Attorney General of the United States clearly says that he will not enforce the laws fairly, but will give preference to “his people.”
But look at how we are called upon to accept these things: 1 Peter 2:21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Hereunto were ye called… this is the manner in which we are called to live, even to follow in the foot steps of our Lord in His suffering. This is a tall order, and most of us hesitate. It is one thing for Jesus, the Son of God to go to the Cross for us, but we really hesitate at the thought that we too must follow down that same path! There is a cross at the end of that path, a cross with our name on it. In all likelihood, it is not a physical cross made of heavy timbers, but it is a cross never the less. We find that a frightening prospect. We think we know what it means, at least vaguely.
This is the path to sanctification. We were justified by Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, which means that we are on the route to return to the Father at the end of time. But the Father is holy, completely holy, and no one can come into his presence who is not holy. We, in our earthy lives are not holy, and that is why the process of sanctification is required; we must become holy. Even at the point of death, very few of us have become truly holy. Even so, we work toward this end. As Peter says, 1 Peter 2:24b … that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. We are called to live lives of righteousness, dead to sin, because we are healed by the wounds of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
In the final verse of our Epistle lesson, Peter reminds his readers why Jesus has done all of this for them and for us: 1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. We and all mankind were completely lost in our sins without the work of the Saviour, just as sheep wandering in the wilderness. The shepherd is the guardian and protector of the sheep. The sheep tend to wander into dangerous places and to get into difficult situations when left alone, so that the sheep are quite dependent on the shepherd to look after them. The term bishop refers to an overseer or inspector, a supervisor, if you will, who would direct the spiritual life of the people under his care. All of this leads us directly into the Gospel lesson for the day that begins with the words of Jesus: John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. Jesus begins by establishing the characteristics of the good shepherd, the fact that the good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. We know that this is in fact what Jesus, the Good Shepherd has done for his sheep. This is contrasted with the hireling who only views the job of herding the sheep as a matter of employment, not as his calling. The hireling will do his job as spelled out in his employment agreement, but his life is not committed to his sheep – it is an 8 to 5 job for the hireling. For the good shepherd, the sheep are his life; he is willing to die to protect his flock.
Jesus described His relation with His people in terms of a shepherd with his flock. He says, John 10:14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. Thus Jesus is the good shepherd, He knows his own flock, and I think particularly important to us, is the last phrase, and am known of mine. We have an increasing number of charlatans about these days who claim to speak for Christ. Listen to what they say, and ask yourself if you hear Christ speaking through them. If not, the speaker does not know Christ, and should not be taken to speak for Him. Of course, to do this effectively, you must know yourself what Christ said, how the Bible is to be understood, and thus be in a position to evaluate such false prophets.
You will recall that the public ministry of Jesus was almost entirely to the Jews. He rarely spoke to non–Jews. There was the case of the Syrophoenician woman, and also the Samaritan woman at the well, but there are few other recorded instances of Him speaking publicly with anyone other than the Jews. Thus there is great importance to the statement in John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. We have to understand that Jesus is here again talking to a group of Jews, but he is speaking to them of both “this fold” which refers to the Jews, and also of “other sheep” that refers to us, the Gentiles. What Jesus is saying, in a veiled form, is that the Gentiles will be saved along with the Jews, something that would have been quite unpalatable to the Jews of His day. As God’s Chosen People, the Jews were quite certain that salvation was for them alone, and the idea that salvation might include anyone else would have been highly offensive. Remember that, by this time, their concept of faith was reduced to keeping the 613 points of the Jewish Law. The direct relationship with God had long since been frozen out of Judaism. Thus what Jesus is saying is a truly radical idea, one that would certainly make many enemies among the Jews. But He is saying that there will be “one flock, and one shepherd,” meaning that He will be the Saviour of all. For this we must give special thanks!
It is Jesus the Good Shepherd, the shepherd who did in fact give His life for His sheep, that is now the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. We are indeed called upon to face trials, temptations, and much suffering, and to do it gladly for His sake. This is the way that we are sanctified and brought closer to Him and prepared to come home to His Father and our Father who receives us by adoption and grace. Jesus has gone before as our example, and now He stands there to guide and support us as we make our way toward Him.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.