4th Sunday of Easter
Gospel of St. John 10:11-18
Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of being alone. Fear of being in a crowded room. Fear of being unknown or the fear of being found out. The fear of having too little, or having too much, or having nothing at all. The one thing we all have in common is our fear.
Sometimes our fears are present and real. We wake up to them in the morning, close our eyes to them at night, and struggle with them in our dreams. Sometimes our fears are self-created and imagined; monsters that exist in our closets and under our beds. And, sometimes our fears are just out of our control. We are a vulnerable, fragile, and susceptible species and often times, in our journey through this sometimes violent, hostile, and insufferable world, we come up against forces that threaten our health and well-being.
When we examine this world in which we live, and I am specifically referring to this first world American culture, we discover an entire economic structure built upon the pre-tense of fear. Pills that prevent this; investments that prevent that; promises of prosperity and security if only one would do this or belong to that. These mechanisms, inventions, and strategies which are created, marketed, and perpetuated to us, a people who by their very design are born with a desire, a desire that can only be filled by God, attempt to satisfy and placate this temporal struggle.
The catechism teaches “the desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself (CC 27).” Our inability to satisfy this desire by our own designs then becomes the source of our fear. St. Peter, in today’s first reading, indirectly addresses this reality, our innate desire for God, when he boldly proclaims, “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
When he professes this cure for the condition of humankind, he does so to a group of religious leaders who have brought him to trial to explain the healing of a man who was born lame. He was speaking to men who held fast to the belief that their salvation was afforded to them through race, tradition, and law. He was speaking to an institution that was frightened that its very system was under attack by the message of the Gospel; which professed salvation not as an exclusive privilege of birth and obedience, rather as a gift freely given to anyone who believes.
For those of us here today, sitting in this church, our church, we hope and pray, it is not a struggle of belief in the salvific power of Jesus’s name; rather, I propose, that our struggle is with our inability to live firmly in the belief that Jesus is exactly who he professed himself to be, “the Good Shepard.”
Our human condition; our fragility, our vulnerability, and our susceptibility are not eliminated because of our belief in the salvation freely given through the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, it could be argued, that because of our faith, and our efforts to live out that faith, we often times find ourselves in direct opposition to the world in which we live. The words of St. John in his First Epistle in today’s second reading ring ever so true when he wrote, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” It is not an unfamiliar reality that belief in the name of Jesus causes one to be rejected by a world desperately seeking salvation through created and temporal mechanisms and inventions.
However, as I mentioned earlier, our struggle is not one of belief, our struggle is with fear. As followers of Christ we are not immune to fear. We experience hardship, doubt, pain, suffering, and uncertainty. The fears produced by these real or imagined causes afflict our joy, courage, and witness. We come up against the wall of what we profess vs. what we experience and our resolve to live out our faith falters and weakens.
Yet, unlike the promises of the world, the promises of Christ hold true and permanent. The Good Shepard lays down his life so that the sheep will not be scattered or lost. The Good Shepard knows those who belong to him, and those who belong to him also know him. The Good Shepard searches out for us and we will hear his voice, and we will be gathered to him. These are the promises of the Good Shepard. These promises are the cure to our fear.
Gathered here today, together, in front of this altar, we have brought with us many things. We have brought with us our prayers and hopes for intercession and relief. We have brought with us our joys and thanksgivings, and our praises for the blessings of God in our life. We have also brought our fears and our concerns, our doubts and our despair. We have come before the altar of God exactly who we are; with our good and with our not so good. And for this we are thankful and celebrate the beauty and mystery of God’s grace. I encourage you, each and every one, that this day, as you approach this altar, that you bring with you all of who you are. Every part of you- the good and the bad- and place it all, in its entirety, at the feet of the Good Shepard trusting in his promises.