Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sermon: 4th Sunday of Easter

O God of peace, by the blood of the eternal covenant, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep; make us perfect in every good work, and work in us that which is pleasing and good; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Easter is joy and in this Easter season & faith we find ourselves living a new life in light of the resurrection of Jesus.

“God is pleased by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity…So now, filled with joy, courage and faith, return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.” (Pope Francis)

Pope Francis proclaimed those words on his recent trip to Egypt. In a sign of Christian solidarity there, Pope Francis, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches, and several others attended an ecumenical prayer service.

The service was held in the Church of St Peter in Cairo, where 29 people died and 31 were wounded in December by the Islamic State. In a country where many Christians have been martyred for their faith, the sign of unity and witness for the dead by these leaders of different churches, paid homage to those who live their faith in difficult and violent situations.

WCC General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit commented, “Praying together…with the marks of the bomb still very visible on the columns, and the images of the martyrs on the wall, we were deeply moved. We felt the tragic loss, the fear, and the hope of the Christians in Egypt. To pray together is a significant sign of being together. In prayer we are gathered by God’s grace, sharing the deepest concerns with one another in the prayer of the Church.”

The voice of these leaders praying, brought hope. In the voice of prayer, Christians came together as one. Like the voice of the Good Shepherd from the Gospel of John, the sheep hear the voice and follow.

Several years ago, the theology department at a major university hosted a church leader from central Europe. The Soviet Union had just come apart and the pastor's country was emerging from a long dark night of oppression into the first light of freedom. At a dinner for the pastor, guests were full of questions about what was happening in Europe and the former Soviet bloc.

The minister responded slowly and cautiously at first, measuring his words, weighing their risk, a man unaccustomed to candor among relative strangers. But as he gained confidence, he spoke of his church's struggle through hardship and persecution under the Communist regime.

He told about the days under totalitarianism, how the church was officially tolerated but always undermined and repressed, how the clergy were always monitored by secret agents who had infiltrated their ranks.

"We would have a meeting about some matter of church business," he recalled, "knowing for certain that not everyone seated at the table could be trusted; some of the 'clergy' present were, in fact, government agents."

The pastor paused for a moment and then added, "But even though these government spies were careful never to betray their true identities, we could always tell who they were."

"But how?" someone asked.

The voice," he replied. 'The voice. Something in their voices would give them away." [Thomas G. Long, Whispering the Lyrics: Sermons for Lent and Easter.]

The pastor and his community developed an instinct for discerning the true voice from the false, the deceitful, the deceptive. Every day so many voices shout at us through the devices and people we interact with – voices that attack us, demand from us, seduce us; challenging our faith, confusing us.

But if we are tuned to the voice of Christ - the voice of hope & compassion, of peace & justice, of love & mercy - we will begin to discern the manipulations and falsehoods in the noise all around us and begin to hear Christ through prayer and in the voices of those crying out to us for compassion, for acceptance, for justice.

Pope Tawadros speaking about the Christians in Egypt, who would not give into hate or listen to any other voice than the Good Shepherd, said, ‘Love and tolerance are stronger than hatred and revenge and that the light of hope is stronger than the darkness of desperation.’

The challenge facing every disciple of Jesus is to listen for his voice in the quiet of our hearts, in the center of our spirits, in prayer and worship, in the best of times and the worst of times, to hear the voice that is always with us.

For if we listen carefully, faithfully, prayerfully, we can discern the voice of the Good Shepherd leading us through the gate that we may have life, and have it abundantly.

In the words of Pope Francis from Egypt “Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others. Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!”

Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and with love & joy share that hope richly with the world. Amen.

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