Saturday, May 6, 2017

Year A, Easter 4, Acts 2.42-47, 1 Peter 2.19-25, John 10.1-10, Psalm 23 Camelot

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
“Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.”

We heard in the first reading for today of that “brief shining moment” that existed following Pentecost.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day 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, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
Questions abound about these early days in the Church’s life together.
Was this in fact the way that Jesus intended for all of us to live?
Is this what the Kingdom of God was supposed to look like?
They were a close knit community.
They shared all that they had.
Each of them was cared for according to their need.
They broke bread together, rejoiced in all the good that was being done in their midst, and, finally had the goodwill of all the people.
Was this what Jesus imagined for all of us who followed the way?

Or was this simply a passing fancy that was a result of their religious exuberance, which quickly faded from the scene as soon as the reality of life settled back in.
Was it merely a ‘brief shining moment’?
Historians tell us that one of the reasons the early Christians were willing to live this way is that they believed with their whole hearts that their time on this earth was very limited.  Jesus would return soon.  And when he returned they would be taken out of this world and enter into the Kingdom of God.
This belief resulted in their having little concern, for example, for material possessions. 
No need for a pension fund if Jesus is going to come and take you back with him to the Kingdom of Heaven very shortly.
That said, I cannot help but admire longingly this time in the Church’s life.
There was something about the generosity of Spirit that guided them.  “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
When we visited Russia we were asked a very difficult and pointed question.
“We have been told that there are poor people in America.  Is that true?”
“Well, yes,” we replied, “that is true.”
“How can it be that in a country as rich as yours, there are poor people?  We are poor, but we are all poor.  And what we do have, we share.  We don’t understand how your country can be so rich and still have poor people.”
they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Was this what Jesus imagined for all of us?
Or was this merely an idealistic notion of a community of faith that was not sustainable for the long haul.
We will never know because it simply didn’t last.
Jesus didn’t return immediately.
Christians had to settle back into the reality of life and day to day existence.
Giving still continued, but with every passing year it became less and less.
And sin crept in.

During this early time in the Church’s life it was said that the early Christians enjoyed the “goodwill of all the people.”
That changed.
By the time Peter wrote his letter to the Church the situation was much different.
Now the Christian community was defined by suffering. 
Peter writes:
It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If 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. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
Perhaps it was precisely because Christians had tried to live such a radically different life that they were no longer enjoying the “goodwill of all the people”.
The world doesn’t like ‘different people’.
What we do know is that very shortly after the time of Jesus, Christians were driven out of the temple and the synagogues. 
We hear in Acts of the martyrdom of Steven, who was stoned to death for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.
He was but the first of a long line of martyrs.
Suffering for doing right became the way of life for the followers of Jesus.
Now, instead of bearing witness to Jesus with the way they lived, they bore witness by the way they died.
What a contrast.
And throughout the history of the Church this has been and continues to be the story of God’s people.
At times we experience the goodwill of all the people.
At other times we suffer unjustly for doing that which is right.

Both of these experiences can be the consequence of following Jesus.
Today we also read that wonderful Psalm that is so familiar to all of us.
Psalm 23.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
These words speak of the good times.
The times when everything seems to be going just right. Green pastures, still waters, right pathways.
“I shall not be in want.”
And then in contrast to this David writes:
4 Though 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.
5 You spread 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.
Here we hear of the promise of how God remains with us during the darkest of days.
In fact, one of the realities of the life of faith is that often it is during the most difficult of times that Jesus seems most present with us.

So what does it mean to follow Jesus?

Does it mean living together in an ideal community of faith, sharing all things in common, rejoicing in the good life, and each receiving according to their needs?
Or does it mean taking up our cross and following Jesus, enduring suffering for doing that which is right?

The answer to that question is a simple “Yes.”

As we gather together as a community of faith, united in our love for Jesus and care for all, Jesus is there in our midst.
And as we experience the conflict of living in a world riddled with sin, suffering for doing that which is right, Jesus is there, suffering with us.
The Lord is my shepherd.
Leading and guiding us both in green pastures, and the valley and shadow of death.
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.
Goodness and Mercy.
The blessings of good times.
The compassion of our God to sustain us through the difficult times.

This is what the life of faith is all about.
There will be good times.
There will be bad times.
Sometimes we will wonder how life could be any better.
Sometimes we will wonder if life could get any worse.
But God is there in the midst of it all.
Jesus will walk with us all the way.
And that is the hope that is ours.


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