Over the course of winter, my dog, Fenway, and I have to pretty much stay within the confines of our dead end street on our daily walk after I get out of work. We do this because it is usually too icy or too muddy to go off the sidewalk for any kind of distance. This spring, as the sun came out and as the ground dried up over the past few weeks, Fenway and I have been able to walk farther out into the fields and woods at the end of my street. Each year it seems we end up on the same path that other folks take into the wilderness near the Buffalo River. And each year need to get reacquainted once again to the different paths that worm their way through the fields. One of those paths at the end of our journey splits into a Y leaving us with the choice of going either right or left. From past experience I happen to know that the wider path leads to a different neighborhood while the narrower path leads home. My dog, Fenway, however, never seems to remember this fact from one year to another. Every spring he enthusiastically wants to turn right when we should be turning left . . . to go home. I think he wants to turn right because that’s where all the good smells are and where obviously most everybody has gone. It takes a few weeks before he gets the idea that when we come to the fork in the path, that we are to go left towards home. So after about seven or eight tries he learns to turn left by himself without any coaching or pulling him onto the right path.
This past Wednesday our group got together, as we have been doing recently for evening prayer. We watched a video about the end times and how it is prophesied in Revelations that in the end times there will be established a one world religion which will attempt to encompass the belief of all religions into the worship of a false messiah. Many in the Church established by Christ will leave the true faith and be led astray by the false promise of this new faith.
And we asked ourselves how could this happen? How could a Christian who goes to church and has heard the truth, deny Christ and take up with a false messiah who has proclaimed himself as God? Which brings up other questions . . . just what is a Christian believer, and how do we recognize one when we see one? How do we know that what we believe and what have been taught is true to the faith that was handed down through the disciples? How do we know that we are on the right path whereas others may be lost, going in the wrong direction? These are the questions the lessons tell us we need to think on today.
First off you need to be aware that not everyone who goes to church each week is a Christian . . . and in the same vein, there are some who stay home each Sunday who are Christians. The proof of a true Christian is not whether he goes to church or not . . . but how he lives his life. Jesus tells us that it is by their fruit that you shall know who his followers are.
All of us need to be reminded, now and again, that God loves us in spite of ourselves. He loves the most wicked person among us because he can see the potential, the good, in all of us (even though at times we fail to see it ourselves). He loves us like only a mother can and is willing and able to forgive and forget all the hurts and sorrows we have inflicted on each other and on the world. But most of us do not belief this can be true. We know how we judge others and we know the grudges we hold which is just one of the reasons some people go to church.
So, why do you go to church? What are we supposed to get out of it?
What do we want to happen here? I am not sure what you think, but I can tell you why I am here and what I am looking for.
I am looking for people of good will to gather together in a community of faith. I want everyone that comes here to develop a greater sense that people can and will encounter God, if they will let him in. I want us all to grow in a greater understanding of Christ’s mission. I want everyone to learn something that feeds you, heals you, and equips you to go out to be faithful disciples . . . to be believing Christians in the world . . . and my greatest hope is that you want this too.
In the Gospel this morning, Jesus talks about the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me.” Many times I have been reminded of the closeness and presence of the Good Shepherd through the kind words and actions of fellow believers. This week, especially, with new life blossoming forth through the trees and flowers of Spring, I have been reminded of the words of the reassurance of Easter and of the resurrection. I have been reminded about the blessedness of life and the joy of freedom in this land. It is in these types of experiences that we know that God is near. For I believe it is in this way that Jesus shares His Peace and Presence with us, but only if we are willing to give up all the other cares of life that are constantly filling our minds with worries and expectations.
Very often, we have a choice in life. That choice depends only upon what we believe to be most important in our lives. All of us are seeking the same thing . . . happiness. But we all have a different idea about how to attain it. For some, happiness is the amassing of wealth, for others it is family and friends. For others it is good health or a good job. For others it may be cars, boats or hardware. For others it may be a home of one’s own. For the great majority, it is all of these things all lumped into one, and for many, this happiness that we perceive to be true and good becomes a goal, quite out of reach to the vast majority of us. For as much money as we amass, it never seems to satisfy our longing, and for as many things we have, or as much prestige we have attained, it never seems to be enough.
The Epistle today describes the world in which all of Christ’s followers ought to belong. “Beloved, we are God’s Children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” Here is a vision of life without the things of the world that cause us worry and disunity. Here is a vision of the Kingdom of God and the first thing we ought to seek as followers of Jesus. Here is the thing that ought to be most important in our lives and worthy of our remembrance and practice and our time and honor. We are God’s Children, Paradise is our destination and Heaven is our home.
Jesus the Good Shepard is the way who teaches us to follow the path of life. The Church provides for us an environment where we can learn to perceive the right path from the wrong path so that when we are in the world on our own, we may choose the correct path without a second thought. Much like my dog Fenway, we are all being led by the Spirit so that finally when the time comes, we will all know the way home.
Finally from St. John today we read . . . Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. Amen