New Testament: Acts (2:42-47)
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 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 much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The Response: Psalm (23)
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The Epistle: 1 Peter (2:19-25)
It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
The Gospel: John (10:1-10)
[Jesus said,] “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Now that May has arrived, we are only a few weeks away from the end of another program year; but that certainly doesn’t mean that everything stops here at St. Mark’s. In fact, we have already been working on plans for the summer months and for the next program year as well. Among the special occasions still coming in 2017 are a couple of weddings – always joyful occasions.
As couples are getting ready for their wedding day, clergy and professional counselors alike try to ensure that those who are preparing to exchange their vows are focusing not just on their wedding but, much more importantly, on their marriage. Despite all the time and attention and money devoted to one particular day, what is of paramount and lasting importance is what happens after the wedding, when the celebration is over and the guests have gone home and the couple finds themselves faced with sharing the rest of their lives together. The most important part of a marriage comes after the wedding: in the day-to-day living.
A similar thing happens in our elections. During election campaigns, all sorts of grand declarations and promises are made. But, if the candidate happens to be elected, he or she quickly finds that governing is a lot harder than campaigning. The newly elected can no longer rely on campaign rhetoric and on vague pledges of peace and prosperity for everybody. He or she actually has to get things accomplished; and that’s a lot easier said than done. The most important part of a leader’s role comes after the election: in the day-to-day leading.
This morning’s first reading focuses on that same reality in the life of the early church. The dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit was over. Peter had given his bold Pentecost sermon. And, the author of Acts has noted (2:41), “Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.” Then, in the very next verse, today’s reading begins. And the question that the first believers have to face is how they are now going to live out, day-to-day, their belief in God’s work in Jesus. The miraculous event, as it is described in Acts, was spectacular; but now it was over. The real question suddenly became “So what do we do now… and tomorrow… and the day after that… and every other day for the rest of our lives?”
The description of the community’s ongoing, daily life that we heard in today’s first reading is an idealized one. It pictures the entire church as living together in perfect harmony, sharing everything in common, and working together to make God’s kingdom a reality in the world. In all likelihood, it was never that simple or that perfect. Life never is; and that is the challenge. Having a so-called “mountain-top experience” is great; but you can’t live on the mountain top. You have to come back down to the reality of the rest of life and to figure out together how to live day after day, after all the excitement has ended. That is, as the old expression puts it, “where the rubber meets the road.”
The life to which God calls us in the risen Jesus is one that needs to permeate all that we do every day and time of the year. It is a life that is not lived out so much on Christmas and Easter, as wonderful as they are, as it is a life that is lived out in what we choose to do on Monday of the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, and on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, and on all the other seemingly not-so-special and very ordinary days of the year. It is one in which God calls us to love our neighbor and to treat him or her with dignity and respect even at those times when that neighbor seems to deserve it least. It is one in which God calls us to feed the hungry even in those times of the year when there is no holiday food drive going on. It is one in which God calls us to teach the children and to care for the elderly and to visit the sick even when we least feel like doing it and just want to stay home, and keep to ourselves, and be left alone.
Living one’s faith on all the ordinary days of life is what Jesus did in his life and in his ministry; and it is what he invites us to do as well. For that is the way to that abundant life of which he speaks in today’s gospel reading. He has shown us the way to that life. In fact, to use the image from that reading, he has become the gate, he has become the way to that life.
But that life can never be confined just to special occasions: when we happen to be “in the mood” or “in the spirit” of the moment. If it is genuine, it encompasses our entire being and our entire life, every day.
Each time that we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “Give us today our daily bread.” Maybe that “bread,” that food that we need, that nourishment that enables us to live life to its fullest, includes the willingness and the determination to live our faith, to give of ourselves to others, not just sometimes, but today. And it is to that living out of our faith through generous service to others that Jesus calls us and leads us.
We can easily have good intentions. We can easily join with many other people in our society who “do something special for others” as part of Thanksgiving and Christmas or as a Lenten discipline. But that is not what being a follower of Jesus is about.
Being a follower of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, means following him and his way, not just on special occasions or in connection with special celebrations, but on all the not-very-exciting, terribly-ordinary days of life. Ultimately, the most important day to live and serve as a follower of Jesus is not just on special days of celebration. Ultimately, the most important day to live and serve as a follower of Jesus is always today.