Saturday, April 13, 2013

Second Sunday after Easter

II Peter 2:19-25 * John 10:11-16

The Epistle we read today is drawn, as I hope many of you have noticed, from that very famous Suffering Servant passage in the book of Isaiah, specifically chapters 52:13-53:12. I have said before that the Suffering Servant passage goes beyond Christ’s atoning death, predicting as well his resurrection by telling us that he would, after death, “prolong his days” as the agent of God’s will. It predicts the day of Pentecost by telling us that Christ would “divide the spoil with the strong.” This echoes words from Psalm 68: 18: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men.” But, as the chapter draws to a close, the prophet takes us back to the cross, because that was the main thrust of this particular passage. In this way the Holy Spirit reminds us, through the prophetic oracle, that all of the grace, and, indeed every gift, that God gives to us has come by way of the cross of Christ. St. Anselm taught that Christ did all the work, and after earning a great reward for his labor, gives all of the benefits of his work away. He gives all of the earning, profit and reward to us. For He is God the Son, and has need of nothing.
The emphasis of that passage is what Jesus did for us, and very importantly, what he did as the One for the Many. And, I can think of no better summary of that prophetic passage about the sacrifice Jesus offered of his own life, than the words of St. Paul from the fifth chapter of Romans:
“For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
So, we get that message, that Jesus died for our sins just as scripture foretold. St. Peter puts it to us with great force: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” That’s the first message. Christ offered himself as the One who loves mankind, in fact, as the one who loves you. He is the sacrifice not just for the whole world, but for you; dying as much for each as for all. This is why I tell you so often; when you look up at the crucifix where he pours out his soul unto death, and you see his love there, take it personally.
When we prayed the Collect today, we asked for understanding and for grace to see in his death two very important things that go together. This is what we prayed: “Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” This Collect is drawn from the Epistle we read.
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not: but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray: but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”
This follows an exhortation to be patient when suffering wrongfully. “If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” St. Peter tells us that when we follow Christ our Lord, we may expect to find the cross awaiting us. When we find it, and find no way around it, we may embrace it as the will of God, just as Jesus did.
The Lord spoke clearly of the difference between a true shepherd and a mere hireling, “whose own the sheep are not.” The Church has had its fill of hirelings. We know that the Church must tend to business in this world. Indeed, every family must conduct business. We all must have a place to live, food on the table, and utilities. So, the Church, like every family, must engage in a certain amount of practical business. Jesus sent his disciples to buy the things needed for the Passover; every family must conduct these practical matters of business.
But, though the Church must take care of a certain amount of necessary practical matters of business, the Church is not a business. We are not here to earn a profit (and thank God, because we would be failures if we had to be judged by the criteria of the marketplace).  And, the work of the clergy is to serve as shepherds, and so carry on the work of Jesus himself.  It is to care for God’s people, not to devour them, and not to abandon them in the face of danger, like the hireling who sees the wolf coming, and flees.
Some men receive Holy Orders and become hirelings; and, if they are not hirelings for money, they may be hirelings for something else.  I see, sometimes, young men who were ordained much too early, and who imagine that the priesthood will give them respect from others. They love the title, they love the vestments, and, they remind me all too often of the words of Jesus, about the Pharisees who loved greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi. 1 Well, if they stick long enough, they find the cross that they cannot get around. That is when they find out if they were ordained for the right reason.
Look at the closing words of today’s Gospel: “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 flock, and one shepherd.” I have no doubt that this speaks mainly about the inclusion of the Gentiles, the grafting in of non-Jews to the cultivated olive tree of Israel, and began to be fulfilled when St. Peter went to the House of Cornelius to see Pentecost repeated and the Holy Spirit poured out on Gentiles. But, it is also right for us to see that, even today, there remain yet other sheep, not of this fold, who need to be brought in. The work is far from over, and each of you may have a share of that work. Because “you are the Body of Christ and members in particular 2,” each endowed with special gifts for ministry by the Holy Spirit, you are called to share in the work of bringing those other sheep in. And, that is a win-win proposition. It is good for us, and good for them, indeed, a lifeline sent out to them whether, at first, they realize it or not.
If we are to work in God’s field with all the mess sheep bring, and the dangers presented by the wolf, we need not worry about finding the cross. It always finds us if we are faithful to Christ. It will be there; that I can promise each of you. The cross, in some form or other, is all that the fallen sinful world has for true servants of Jesus Christ. Not honor, respect or esteem; the cross. So, you don’t need to go looking for the cross, because the world is quite aggressive in providing it. Like the Son of God, who endured the cross, and esteemed as nothing the shame of the cross, for the joy set before him, 3 may each of you have grace to endure, to hope, and to follow in his footsteps. The suffering is but for a moment, that is, brief: But the joy is eternal.
On his cross, the Good shepherd died for us; and by his cross he showed to us how to follow him on the path of life.
1. Matt. 23:7
2. I Cor. 12:27
3. Heb. 12:2

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