“I am the door; If anyone enters by me he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is so good to still be here with you on this 4th Sunday of Easter. Our struggle, and ordeal with public health, and this virus goes on. We are all still here, the Church is still here, The Sacraments are still here, and we are not going anywhere.
In today’s lections we see several important facets of the life of the Church brought to light. Although not the primary purposes of the Church, we see the idea of Diaconal service highlighted. I would contend that a Church that offers no outward ministry to the needs of its own members, and the community in general is no Church at all.
We sometimes call this community outreach, but that is such a generic term. Really what it is making Christ present in real tangible ways in the greater world. We feed the poor, donate to worthy causes, and general offer physical/material assistance to the community. In the reading from Acts today we see the young Church realizing the need for the ministry of the Deaconate. Why did this occur? The Apostles realize that the primary purpose of the Church is not as a social service agency, but that social service is going to be a part of the greater whole. The primary purpose of the Church is making Christ known in the world via preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and making his saving power present to all in Word and Sacrament. If the Apostles get totally hung up in the business of community service, they simply cannot primarily attend to their main mission as fully as they need to.
We here at St. John have the blessing of Deacon Melody and all the fine service she has brought to this parish, and greater Church over her years of service. I have also recently come to know Deacon Michael Williams from St. Paul’s in Gainesville. He is a remarkable man, and has become a good friend. His particular ministry is the feeding of the poor out of the parish hall by a program he calls Martha’s Kitchen. I have been there and seen it in action, and was very impressed with all he does.
He is feeding 50 or so people weekly even through the particular nature of Christianity in general. The Christian religion is a religion of very particular ideas, places, dates, and personages. It is nothing like mystical easter religions of vague ideas, universal concepts as interesting as these can be at times we have to be very careful about dabbling in them.
Myself, I am not an ecumenist. I actually do not like ecumenism much at all, and feel it is minimally dangerous, and potentially lethal. We have gotten used to all sorts of trite sayings here in modernity. “God is bigger than any one religion” “You actually do not believe that non-Christians don’t end up somehow with God in the End?” “Many paths lead to God, not just Christianity.”
From a philosophical stand point, I can say that these sayings are not logically impossible. No more than it is logically possible. No more than it is logically impossible to say all souls experience being in the presence of God after bodily death, or no souls experience being in the presence of God after their mortal lives have ended.
Here is a key difference though. I am not here speaking with you today as a philosopher, logician, or rhetorician. I am here giving this sermon as a Catholic Priest, and am there fore bound to the Orthodox, Creedal, Apostolic Catholic faith such as I have received it. Completely sworn to stay within the bounds of the Dogma of the Church, the confines of Sacred Scripture, and the sure areas of the Apostolic tradition such as we know it. The Nicene Creed we are about to recite is a very good guide by which to confine our public thoughts and proclamations.
John’s Gospel today is very clear in what it says, and it is not one bit ecumenical. It is very clear on who is the Good Shepherd of the people of God. It is Christ Jesus, and only Christ Jesus. Not Buddha, not Mohamed, not the Toa, not Confucius, and certainly not material science, not money, not power, as well not any particular political ideology.
Christ tells us clearly, “I am the door of the sheep. All who come before me are thieves and robbers; but, the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and 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.”
This Gospel today is pretty clear. We have no idea what all is possible with God. If one wants to be saved from sin and death we as the Church know only one way, and that is via Christ in the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church such as we have inherited over the centuries. That is, it, if there are other ways I do not know about them, and I am sure not going to promote something that is iffy when it comes to people’s souls.
In a moment when we recite the Creed of Nicea I get that it is totally consistent with today’s Gospel, and ever bit of Scripture for that matter. It really seems that eternal life is far too important an item to trust to anything other than a completely sure means. Imagine being in a raging forest fire and stopping to ask somebody for directions out and to safety. You are told, this road leads straight out of here with a doubt, and quickly to safety. Those other three roads clearly go somewhere, but I am not sure exactly where. They could lead out of this dangerous place, but I have no firsthand knowledge of that. You are welcome to take your chances. They look like nice enough roads.
As for me, I will be taking the path Christ recommends to me via his Church. Tis will include the embracing of Christ’s forgiveness, holding all articles of the Creed, living by Christian precepts, following the Ten Commandments, staying in communion with my Church in word and Sacrament as best I can. I highly recommend this as a policy to any and all.
I sure hope all of you as well like the idea of finding good pasture for your souls, and having life, and having it very abundantly. There is a time and place for novelty, the state of your immortal soul is not one of these occasions.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.