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Sermon and Reflections For The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10
"Ecclesia"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson

The Fourth Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10
'Ecclesia'

    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 time together in the 
    temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and 
    generous hearts, praising God and having the good will of  all the 
    people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were
    being saved.
	
Last week I was so tough on you some of you probably wondered if you'd ever 
come back. I just told it straight for once without any attempt to wrap it up 
in a three-pointer that would make everybody feel good at the end. Preached 
the kind of sermon that probably made you feel bad instead - just the way 
Peter preached it on that first day of Pentecost.

And some of you were probably wondering why I didn't end with what the people 
did in response to Peter's Easter heart to heart. Luke says that after asking
Peter

	"Brothers, what should we do?"

Peter told them to change their ways in a hurry and, while they were at it, to 
get baptized, which probably meant to get dunked not sprinkled. To walk right 
into the river of death with Jesus so that God could wash away all the stuff 
that was killing them and give them instead what would let them breathe again 
- which is what is meant by Spirit, by the way.

	"Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,"

he added on for good measure because he wanted them to know that the kind of
change God was expecting of them had to be the real thing.

Luke says that "about three thousand persons" were added to their number that 
day. Not bad for a negative sermon, eh?! Maybe your preachers should take the 
risk of just telling it straight more often, rather than worrying about what
people are going to think. See what can happen when people end up feeling bad
about a sermon?! Sometimes, guilt can be a good thing! Good when it leads to 
the real thing, which is what we get to talk about this week.

                                    +
And what we get to talk about this week is ecclesia.
	
It is the Greek word from which we get our word 'church'. It is worth 
remembering that it means: those who have been called out of something, the 
way that first ragtag band of people who ended up following Jesus were called 
out of whatever it was they were doing at the time.

The first time around Jesus had shown up on their doorstep and just called 
their names in a way that was simply irresistible. Like somebody shouting to 
you from outside saying, "Hey, come here! Ya' gotta see this!" And you drop 
your pen or hammer for a moment and rush outside just to see what all the fuss 
is about. It's been raining and the storm has just passed. The sun is just
starting to come out from behind the clouds and people are staring up at 
the gosh-darndest, most drop-dead gorgeous rainbow you or anyone else has 
ever seen. Just standing there mesmerized by it because, for that single moment 
at least, nothing else seems more important. That's how the gospels seem to
describe it happening the first time to Peter and Matthew and Mary and Judas 
and all the rest. For one glorious moment that was Jesus of Nazareth the clouds
parted and they saw the wonder of him arching across the grayness of their lives.
There was nothing else to do but to get up and start following.

The second time around was a bit more of a challenge.

It was sometime after Good Friday, that day when the powers that be had proven 
one more time that fear and hatred still kill and that no one is safe, not 
even the best and bravest among us. The clouds were back, dark and brooding, 
and life looked as bleak and as hopeless as that day before they had first 
met him. Every last one of them had found a place to hide from their fears 
and a way to settle back into the way the world always seems to be. Now 
nothing seemed more important than pushing those numbers across the page and
making sure they had enough to eat.

And then Easter happened to them, however it did, whenever it did. It wasn't 
a rainbow this time. More like a thunderclap. Like a summons out of nowhere, 
like a desperate cry for help that wakes you up in the middle of the night, 
cold and shivering. Time is of the essence. Somebody is in trouble. You are 
needed to do something right away. You. And you have that queasy feeling in 
the pit of your stomach that tells you, "It might be a good idea not to get
involved. A whole lot smarter to stay right where you are and snuggle back 
under the covers." But either way, you have to decide right way; and a lot 
- maybe everything - is riding on what you do decide.

That was the challenge Peter and the others heard the second time Jesus 
walked back into their lives. It was up to them now, he was telling them; 
and suddenly they had a decision to make about how they were going to live 
from that moment on. They could settle back under the covers and pretend that 
he had never happened or they could fling the doors of their hearts wide open 
and be prepared for anything.

My guess is that is the same thing that crowd of people heard too that day 
Peter stood up and preached to them. "Get ready for a holy hurricane, if you 
are serious about this stuff," Peter was telling them. Once this Jesus comes 
into your life, you can forget about everything you thought you knew. Up will 
be down and first will be last and if you think you know how things will turn 
out in the end, think again; because, once his love begins to fill your heart,
anything is possible. Anything!"

And it was then that that - anything - began to happen.

	"Awe came upon everyone,"

Luke says, in his wonderfully laconic style. Awe is another name for holy fear. 
In response to what they had heard Peter say and what the apostles continued 
to teach, something stranger than anything they ever could have imagined started
to happen right there in their midst.

They started meeting together, not to pass the budget, but because they 
actually wanted to be together. And even stranger - "What's mine is yours"
suddenly became everybody's motto; and they were so concerned about seeing to 
it that every last person had what he or she needed that nobody did need a 
thing! Those of them with pockets so deep they hardly had room for it all 
suddenly giving it away like money had gone out of style! Turning in the 
family farm so that they could pay for somebody else's rent! Absolute 
craziness! It would have given their stockbroker a perfect fit! "Communists!" 
some of us probably would have called them. "Hippies!" Because suddenly
commune-ity suddenly no longer meant the place where you live but the place 
where you help others come alive and, in the process, end up coming alive
yourself.

Holding things in common, giving away what you didn't need, meeting together 
out of a gladness and generosity of spirit that simply filled your heart - that 
is how Luke described what happened to all those people that day. Suddenly,
without anybody noticing how, all the things Jesus himself had ever said and 
did, all the things he had ever tried to get them to do while he was there 
among them - were happening right there in their midst - as they found 
themselves called out of an old way of being in the world and into a new way.

Ecclesia.
						
                                    +
                                    
I think it is mostly a strange story for people like you and me - people who 
have spent their whole lives within an institution that has, for the most 
part, pretended to be about the way of Jesus and, when it comes right down to 
it, has proven that it is not much different from all the other worldly powers 
out there. We set out to take over the world and pretty much did it for awhile 
at least. We converted emperors and raised armies and lined our pockets with 
as much loot as they would hold. We did some pretty ugly things down through 
the centuries; and we're still doing them. A lot of us have been smug and busy 
and as cruel as can be; and if we are sometimes shocked by what people think 
of us, we shouldn't be; because we've pretty much deserved all the bad press 
we've gotten.

But before you start feeling bad again, let me remind you that it's not the 
way things always were. There was a time when we really did let ourselves 
get called out of all that superficial stuff we call free enterprise and 
looking out for number one and doing it to them before they do it to us. There 
was a time when we were something that made people turn their heads and say,
"That's different!" A time when people looked at the way we treated one 
another and said, "My, my, how those people really do love one another! 
Wonder what's gotten into them?!"

And, of course, we could be that way again anytime we want to do more than 
go through the motions here and actually get saved from all that really is 
ailing us and go down into those waters of baptism once more and see what 
that rainbow he is can make of us this time.

                               --------- 

Acts 2.42-47 - It's nice to indulge our imagination every once in a 
while and think about how our experience of 'church' would be different if 
it were even close to the way the early Christian community is described 
in Acts. Of course, we should remember that Luke is looking back, too; and 
by the time he probably wrote this, the church had probably already formed 
things like committees and started to have agendas and electing official 
looking people just like we do. There seems to be something about "groups" 
that eventually leads to bureaucracy. Maybe that's why remembering the 
church means those who are called out of something is a good way for us to 
examine what it would mean for us to become again like those first friends 
of Jesus - when things we're really cooking!

    1.	Make a list of the strengths Luke identifies in the early Christian
	community.
    2.  Compare that list with what people think are important in your church.
    3.  What would it take for you and the people in your community to become 
	more like the friends of Jesus as Luke describes them in the book of Acts?


1 Peter 2.19-25 - If you were ever in doubt about the problem of trying 
to follow the Bible literally, this passage should cure you. It is an example 
of the fact that the scriptures were written by particular people at a 
particular time in history to address particular circumstances. Here is a 
passage that assumes that slavery, for instance, is an acceptable practice.
Although the passage is meant to portray the example of Jesus in the face of
violence and abusive behaviour, it is not hard to see how such scripture has 
been misused to justify an inhuman practice - which is precisely what 
slave-owners in the American colonies and the rulers of apartheid used to do.

    1.  How does such a passage make you feel about the problem of interpreting
	the Bible?
    2.  What do you think is important about the way we go about making
	interpretations?


John 10.1-10 - The problem of discerning false and even dangerous
leadership within the Church has always been with us. John is attempting to
address that problem by offering some suggestions for discernment. The passage 
is part of a much larger one whose focus is Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The 
Church is to measure all ministry by the model of Jesus' life and ministry.

    1.  How practical are John's suggestions for telling the difference between
    good leaders and bad ones?
    2.  Give some examples of good and bad leadership you have observed in the
	church.
    3.  In what ways is the church today very vulnerable to the kind of false
	shepherds referred to in this week's passage?

 
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "Unless, of course - Unless Christ's washing the
disciples feet, their dirty toes, means what it possibly could, mean: that 
it is all right to be human. That God knows we are human, and full of evil, 
all of us, and we are his people anyway, and the sheep of his pasture." 
- Annie Dillard


HYMN  478  You Satisfy the Hungry Heart  (Voices United)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2002, 2005
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2002 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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