April 30, 2023
Fourth Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 2:19-25
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
Yes we are still in the Easter season,
and right along with the disciples
we’re still saying alleluia Christ is risen, now what?
We’ve had the reports of the empty tomb from Mary,
heard how Jesus came through locked doors
offering peace to the frightened disciples,
we’ve witnessed Jesus appearing to two disciples
on the road to Emmaus
but who only recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
Now our scriptures take us past that first Easter day and evening,
to the time right after Pentecost
when the community of followers of The Way (of Jesus) starts to take off.
(we’ll return and focus more on what happened at Pentecost in about a month)
When we join them today
we find a community that has been blown out from behind locked doors,
out into the world by the Holy Spirit,
and the spirit working in and through the disciples
pushes them to share the good news of Jesus
Peter preaches such a powerful sermon
that in response about 3,000 people are baptized
and added to their number.
And that’s where we pick up,
blown out of doors
into success beyond their wildest dreams.
What do the disciples, new and old, do?
They devote themselves to the teaching of the apostles
(those designated by Jesus to lead the continuation of his ministry),
to the breaking of bread,
and the prayers.
In other words, they come together
and work on building a community,
it’s a community centered on the teachings of Jesus
and the way they build the community
is to focus on relationships,
relationships with one another-
they spend a lot of time together
both in and out of the temple,
relationships with Jesus and God
specifically through the breaking of the bread-
and through prayer.
And this is so important for everyone
that they come together to support one another
so that everyone can take part in the building of community equally.
They share their resources
so that they can spend time together in the temple and at home
and all can be there
instead of some having to go to work to support themselves
and some being rich enough to spend all day at the temple.
Every member of the community is equally important
and they live this out
by making sure all have what they need
so that all may spend an equal amount of time on the community.
So this is where the disciples are in the journey,
they’re building relationships,
they’re sharing resources,
they are praising God,
things are going well,
they have the good will of all the people
and best of all “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
This sounds pretty much perfect
especially if we stop just right there
in the story of the community
as our lectionary has us do,
and it’s tempting to look at this point in the life of the community
and say ‘those were the good old days, why can’t we do that now?’
but we utter this forgetting
that this is just the beginning of the community,
this intense time of relationship building
is merely the foundation for what’s to come,
the spreading of the good news of Jesus farther afield
and once they start doing that
they will face the push back
from those they will encounter along the way.
Jesus knew that they would face difficult times
he has been preparing them for it since the very beginning.
Indeed he paved the way
as he himself faced push back,
rejection, all the way to the cross.
And what did Jesus do to prepare them?
He built relationships with them
so that when (not if, when)
the difficulties, the persecution, the unjust suffering come,
when the false leaders try and lead them astray
with quick fixes or promises that they will not suffer,
they will know who to follow,
the one who faced life in this world head on,
who encountered the worst the world could do
and came out the other side.
When the difficulties come
they will know whose voice to follow
like sheep who know the voice of their shepherd
who has proven over and over again
that he has their best interests at heart.
This is Good Shepherd Sunday,
so called because of all the sheep and shepherd imagery
all over our readings for today,
it’s the day in the Easter season
where we pause between the fear and confusion of the resurrection
and the future trials of the community who gathers in the name of Jesus,
to rest and reaffirm
that Jesus is our good shepherd,
who has come so that we may have life and have it abundantly,
who has claimed us and calls us by name,
and built a relationship with us
so that wherever we go
whether it is green pastures or shadowy valleys
we know who goes with us.
This is the Good shepherd
who gathered that first community together
by the sea of Galilee,
who continued to build relationships
as he traveled about teaching and healing,
who was with the community in Acts,
adding to their number as they built the foundational relationships
for what was to come.
It did not last forever, that ideal community
and we cannot go back to exactly the way things were,
but we can learn from them,
learn to spend time creating a foundation
for times to come by building relationships,
with one another, in and outside of church,
with God through teaching, prayer and the breaking of the bread,
by caring for all
and making sure there are no obstacles
to participate in the community,
that is our role,
and we trust that God will guide us,
and guide others to us,
that when we’re stuck behind locked doors
the spirit will push us out into the world,
and God will work through us to share the good news:
the good new that
Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.