Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sermon, Easter 4B, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

I have two questions for you this morning:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

These two questions of the Baptismal Covenant really sum up how we are to conduct our lives. They also tie in very well with the epistle and gospel passages for today.

In other parts of John's gospel, Jesus puts forth the idea that we are all interconnected through the commonality of the Trinity. Just to be clear, "the Trinity" is never specifically mentioned, but it can be inferred, especially in John. Jesus says in various places, "the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one," and, "the Holy Spirit abides in you," and, "I am in my Father, you in me, and I in you." Through this combination, through the Trinity, we live and move and have our being. The point of all of this is that if Christ lives in us, then Christ also lives in our neighbors.

The Youth Group is making their way through a TV series called "God, the Devil and Bob." Last Sunday's episode saw Bob experience a series of lucky incidents that caused him to believe he was indestructible. He not only thought he was indestructible, he was convinced that God had tabbed him to be God's Special Guy.

That is, until he went skydiving without a parachute and God pointed out that he was going to die. But God also started pointing out all the other people who were his "special guys."

There's a lot of good theology in that show, and one of the points it makes is that God loves each and every person. We are all God's Special Guys. Part of the reason for that is, like our children carry a part of us within them, we carry a part of God within us. Jesus is in God, we are in him and he in us.

If we believe that Christ is in us, then it stands to reason that Christ is in every other person. Because of this, it is our Christian duty to seek and serve Christ in all persons. What this means is that we attempt to have a relationship with others that is based on the relational love Jesus shows us and his other disciples.

If we seek and serve Christ in all persons, then we have no choice but to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. And just what does "respecting the dignity of every human being" look like? Where are we to find our guiding principles on this? How about if we look to scripture.

Let's begin with John's gospel. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." The example Jesus gave us was an atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. He died so we could live. This is his example.

How does that play out today? What if we used this example as a guideline on how to treat the downtrodden, or the oppressed, or those being abused or taken advantage of? Instead of behaving like the hired hand and running away, what if we followed Jesus' example and stepped in to help those people.

This could be working at the food bank. It could be helping someone with housing issues. Or it could be something less dramatic but no less important -- such as refusing to laugh at a racial "joke," or telling someone that you don't appreciate their use of bigoted language.

Respect the dignity of every human being.

"I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold ... they will listen to my voice." We must realize that not everyone worships as we worship, or believes what we believe. We are in a world where Christians, Jews, Muslims and pseudo-Christians have more contact that ever before. We must realize that everybody is God's special guy. We must realize that it is not up to us to condemn people to hell. We must realize that we are the voice of Christ in this world.

How do we expect to show the love of Christ . . . how do we expect people to see Christ in us . . . if we condemn or return hate for hate or advocate for the mistreatment of our fellow human beings? Respecting a person's dignity doesn't mean always agreeing with them or not letting them know when they are wrong; but it does mean speaking with them in love. It does mean working towards building a relationship. It does mean loving the other as Jesus loves you.

And we can look to John's first epistle: "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?"

How indeed.

We have much. We have received many blessings. But to those to whom much is given, much will be required. Granted, we can't do everything, but we can be part of something bigger.

One of the things that was made very clear at my meeting in Omaha was this: the many small gifts of people allow a parish to do mighty works. The many small gifts of parishes allow a diocese to do wonderful things.

Let us not lament over how little we have, but let us rejoice in God's abundance and how we can do mighty things together.

I have two questions for you:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?

Will you respect the dignity of every human being?


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