05-02-2020 Sermon

SUNDAY, MAY 3, 2020
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A

Introduction

Today is sometimes called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Jesus is called the “gate” of the sheep in today’s gospel. The risen Christ opens the way to abundant life. He anoints our heads with oil and guides us beside the still waters of our baptism. Each Sunday he spreads a feast before us amid the world’s violence and war. We go forth to be signs of the resurrection and extend God’s tender care to all creation.

Greeting

P: Alleluia! Christ is risen.

C: Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

P: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God. and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

C: And also with you.

Confession and Forgiveness

All may make the sign of the cross, the sign marked at baptism, as the presiding minister begins.

P: Blessed be the holy Trinity, + one God, who gives us a new birth into a living hope, who raises us with Christ from death, who fills us with the Holy Spirit.

C: Amen.

P: Let us repent of our sin and claim the promise of God.

Silence is kept for reflection.

P: Living God,

C: we confess before you and one another our futile ways, our pursuit of perishable things, our own part in crucifying the Lord Jesus. Forgive us, O God; renew the face of the earth; and give us the assurance that you have rescued us from the power of sin and made us alive in the Spirit forever. Amen.

P: Christ suffered for sins once for all in order to bring you to God. Now you are God’s people; now you have received mercy. In the name of the risen + Lord Jesus, I declare to you that your sins are forgiven. Lay aside guilt, put away shame, for you are chosen and precious in God’s sight. Live in the marvelous light of Christ.

C: Amen.

Special Music “I’d Rather Have Jesus”

Prayer of the Day

P: O God our shepherd,

C: you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47

Today’s reading is a description of life in the community following Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on God’s people. The new community is sustained in worship and fellowship, shares what they have, and ensures that everyone has enough.

42[The baptized] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Psalm: 23

1The Lord is my shepherd;
  I shall not be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
  and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:19-25

Doing the right things does not guarantee that one will not experience difficulties, hardships, rejection, or even suffering. Here Christ is presented as the model for our path of endurance and loyalty to God, particularly amid adversity.

19It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22“He committed no sin,
  and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Gospel: John 10:1-10

Jesus uses an image familiar to the people of his day to make a point about spiritual leadership. Those who listen to Jesus are led to abundant life.

[Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Special Music “Give Me Jesus”

Sermon

Prayers of Intercession

P: Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

A brief silence.

P: Shepherding God, we thank you for the educational ministries of your church. Enrich the work of teachers, professors, mentors, advisors, and faculty at colleges, seminaries, and learning sites. Lord, in your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Creating God, we praise you for those who maintain and operate farm equipment, for those who plant and harvest crops, for local farmers’ markets, and for those involved in agriculture of any kind. Strengthen their hands as they feed the world. Lord, in your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Guiding God, no one should be in want. Bid the nations to return to your paths of righteousness and inspire our leaders to walk in your ways, so that all may have the opportunity to live abundantly and sustainably. Lord, in your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Comforting God, you carry us tenderly. We pray for those who walk through dark valleys overshadowed by anxiety and overwhelmed with suffering (especially). Lord, in your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: Nurturing God, you desire justice for the hungry. Bless advocacy work, food pantries, and feeding ministries in our congregations. May none of our neighbors lack for basic needs. Lord, in your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

P: Everlasting God, your beloved have heard your voice; you have called them by name and guided them to your side in death. We thank you for their lives of faithful witness. Lord, in your mercy,

C: hear our prayer.

P: With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord.

C: Amen.

Blessing

  As you go on your way may Christ go with you.  May he go before you to show you the way; May he go behind you to encourage you; Beside you to befriend you; Above you to watch over; Within you to give you peace.  In the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.  Amen.

Streams Theme Song

See the streams of living waters, 

springing from eternal love, 

well supply your sons and daughters, 

and all fear of want remove.  

Who can faint while such a river 

ever will their thirst assuage? 

Grace which, like the Lord, the giver, 

never fails from age to age.

PASTOR’S SERMON

4 EASTER—5.3.20—JOHN 10:1-10

There was an ancient Greek philosopher named Epicurus whose teachings have become very influential. In fact, you could say that our society has adopted Epicurus as our societal guru. Epicurus taught that the pursuit of happiness is the “sole purpose of life.”

I’d say our society is determined to live out this philosophy. But then, how do we explain the rising rates of suicide and depression and loneliness in a society that is so focused on the pursuit of happiness?

In contrast, let’s look at the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, which is located between Tibet and India. In 1972, Bhutan’s king created a Gross National Happiness Index because he believed the happiness of his people was vitally important to their well-being. But the people of Bhutan view the path to happiness a little differently than we do. One of the secrets to happiness according to their philosophy is to think about your own death five times a day. That seems like a gloomy way to live to me, but different strokes for different folks.

So which philosophy makes the most sense to you: living for your own pleasure or contemplating your own death five times a day—or, perhaps, neither? Keep that question in mind as we look at today’s Bible passage, John 10:1-10.

In this passage, Jesus seems to be fed up with the Pharisees, the religious scholars. He believes that their focus on rules and religious traditions is leading people away from God, and away from what really matters in life. And Jesus tells them a story of a good and caring shepherd who has to defend his sheep against thieves and robbers.

Verse 10 is the key verse we are focusing on today. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

In the New Testament, there are three Greek words that refer to life: bios, psuche and zoeBios refers to physical life. Psuche refers to the soul, the spiritual side of life. And zoe refers to eternal life, the life that flows from God alone.

When Jesus says that he has come to give us life to the fullest, he uses the word zoe, eternal life. And he’s not talking about living forever on this planet. He’s talking about living life to the fullest in this world and then living life to the fullest in an even better world beyond the grave.

Eternal life is God’s greatest gift. This life may offer us many pleasures and joys, but it still leaves us hungry for some greater meaning or purpose. That’s our hunger to know God. That’s part of our DNA. We were created in the image of God. All the qualities that make up God—holiness, completeness, life in its fullest sense—all these qualities are a part of our makeup. We were created to know God and to live at peace with God. We were created for purposeful work and creativity and relationships.

All the blessings we see in the first chapters of Genesis—that’s the life we were made for. So, when you get that empty ache inside that tells you this life is meaningless, please do not give up. Please do not try to numb the pain. Acknowledge that this life is not your true purpose. And let that ache drive you to search for the God in whose image you were created. 

Sara Miles was a chef and journalist living in San Francisco. She was an atheist and had no interest in religion or “religious nuts,” as she put it. But one day, she wandered into a local Episcopal church while the priest was offering the Lord’s Supper. Out of curiosity, Miles went up to the altar and received the bread and wine. And it fed a spiritual hunger in her that she did not even know she had.

Since her encounter with Jesus Christ in participating in that sacred meal, Sara Miles has made a radical change in her life. For one thing, she has opened food pantries all over San Francisco. She’s taking her faith to the streets, ministering to the poor and homeless with food and comfort and the hope she found when she found God.

God did not intend for us to waste our lives chasing after lesser pleasures. Eternal life, both in this world and the world to come, is God’s greatest gift to us.  So, what does a focus on eternal life do for us?

First of all, a focus on eternal life frees us from anxiety. Because eternal life will be life in God’s presence, we know we can handle anything that comes our way. God created us in His image. Through Jesus Christ, God gave His life to remove any separation between us and Him. This loving God wants to spend eternity with us. In Psalm 16:11, King David envisions living in God’s presence. He describes it this way: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Anxiety is rooted in fear. And fear drives us to compare ourselves with others and to compete for resources. Fear drives us to protect our turf and control our circumstances at all costs. At its root, fear causes us to put our needs first above all else and so we remain in a constant state of anxiety. 

Author Max Lucado was talking to a native Hawaiian man who shared with him that Hawaiians refer to non-Hawaiians as “haole.” Haole is a Hawaiian word for “no breath.”

The nickname was created back in the 1820s when European immigrants came to the islands. The native Hawaiian man explained: “Our forefathers thought the settlers were always in a hurry to build plantations, harbors, and ranches. To the native Hawaiians they seemed short of breath.” Always in a hurry to build something bigger or acquire something better—does that sound like most of the people you know? We are the haole, the people with no breath.

In contrast to the haole, look at the life of the late Bob Pierce, the founder of the Christian relief organization World Vision. Millions of people all over the world have been fed and protected and educated and sheltered through World Vision. Pierce was once asked how he had created an organization with a worldwide impact. He said he had prayed, “O God, I give you the right to set the agenda for my life. From here on out, you’re going to run the show. And you can change that agenda any time you want. But I pray that you will be pleased to use me for your glory in any way you see fit. Amen.”

Bob Pierce’s trust in God set him free from the anxieties of this life. And many thousands of people have been impacted by his decision to give his life to God’s work.

We exhaust ourselves chasing after comfort and success and validation. And every pleasure and accomplishment slips through our fingers when we die. What if we could let all that go and focus the best of our energy and time and resources on loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves? That’s how a focus on eternal life sets us free from anxiety.

A focus on eternal life also frees us for generosity. We’re not just talking about money here. We’re talking about a generosity of spirit that is motivated by love. If God loved us enough to give us His Son that we might have eternal life, then won’t that same God give us all that we need in this life? Knowing that our life belongs to a loving and generous God frees us to live with a generosity of spirit.      

Pastor Adam Hamilton’s daughter Danielle and her husband JT once worked at a hospice center for AIDS patients in South Africa. One day, the hospice staff decided to take the hospice residents out for ice cream. None of them made much money, and the residents were very poor, so the staff saved up their money for this very special treat. The closest restaurant that served ice cream was a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

A customer at the restaurant noticed the hospice group and asked about their purpose there. When Danielle told them about their ice cream trip, the man immediately offered to buy all of the hospice residents some fried chicken too. Even though the man did not appear to have much money himself, he went up to the counter and ordered enough chicken for every resident. As Hamilton writes, “For most of the residents, this would be the last time they would eat fried chicken and ice cream, but in that moment there was great joy.”

Generosity is rooted in faith and it overflows in joy. Who doesn’t want more joy in this life? This is the kind of life God created you to live. But joy does not come from winning the biggest chunk of cheese in the rat race. Joy comes from focusing on the things that are important to God. A focus on eternal life frees us from anxiety and frees us for generosity.When we look at the life of Jesus, we do not have to question God’s existence and His purposes anymore. God’s purpose is for you to live eternally in God’s presence, where there is peace and joy and rest from all forms of anxiety and want. That is what Jesus lived for and died for. Don’t you want to know there is something worth living for and dying for that is greater than this ordinary life? That “something” can only be found in giving your life over to Jesus and living in his promise of eternal life. AMEN.

SPIRITUAL COMMUNION

The Book of Common Prayer reminds us that if one is unable to actually consume the consecrated bread and wine due to extreme sickness or disability, the desire is enough for God to grant all the benefits of communion (BCP, p. 457). When being present at a celebration of the Eucharist is absolutely impossible, this act of prayer and meditation can provide the means by which you can associate yourself with the Eucharistic Action and open yourself to God’s grace and blessing.

Blessed be God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Let the power of the Holy Spirit come upon me, O Lord, to mercifully cleanse my heart and defend me from all adversities; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle: Revelation 3:20

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.

The Psalm: Psalm 23:5-6

You prepare a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Gospel: John 15:5

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me, you can do nothing.

If time and circumstances permit, confess your faith with the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

In your own words, pray for your own needs, for those on your heart, for the peace of the world, and for the Church. 

After offering these intercessions, continue with the

Act of Contrition

O God, I am very sorry that I have sinned against you and for all the wrongs I have done and the good I have not done. Especially I confess….Forgive me for Jesus’ sake, and grant me strength and wisdom to amend my life. Amen.

Act of Reception

In union, blessed Jesus, with the faithful gathered at every altar of your Church where your blessed Body and Blood are offered this day, (and remembering particularly my own parish and those worshiping there) I long to offer you praise and thanksgiving, for creation and all the blessings of this life, for the redemption won for us by your life, death, and resurrection, for the means of grace and the hope of glory.

And particularly for the blessings given me…. I believe that you are truly present in the Holy Sacrament, and, since I cannot at this time receive communion, I pray you to come into my heart. I unite myself with you and embrace you with all my heart, my soul, and my mind. Let nothing separate me from you; let me serve you in this life until, by your grace, I come to your glorious kingdom and unending peace. Amen.

Our Father…

Come Lord Jesus, and dwell in my heart in the fullness of your strength; be my wisdom and guide me in right pathways; conform my life and actions to the image of your holiness; and, in the power of your gracious might, rule over every hostile power that threatens or disturbs the growth of your kingdom, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep my heart and mind in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ my Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, + the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with me now and always. Amen.

Spiritual Communion is excerpted from Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book.