Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The  Shepherd and Guardian of Our Souls

Without a shepherd we are lost. We are like unruly sheep. The prophet wrote:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:6)

The music of Handel’s Messiah set to this reading from Isaiah tells the story. It is so lighthearted and frivolous. As people, we can be so unconcerned about and unaware of the consequences of our actions. Who can save us? Jesus. The Apostle Peter quotes Isaiah:

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.   (1 Peter 2:23-25)

As sheep we need a shepherd. We need our shepherd to be the one who laid down his life for us. He alone can forgive us and lead us into righteousness:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

Only Jesus can lead us along right pathways. The institutions of education, the media, the entertainment industry, and the popular culture have worked overtime to lead us astray. Group think, political correctness, demonic music, and the intimidation of free speech have worn down our inner defenses and left us vulnerable to attack from the enemy. In fact, these voices are part of the attack.

These are strange voices to which we do not want to listen of follow. Let us tune our ears to the voice of the Good Shepherd:

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.”   (John 10:3-5)

We need Jesus as a shepherd, but he is more than shepherd, He leads us along right pathway and he revives our souls. Friends, our souls are dying without his presence in our lives. Are we embracing Jesus or are we being lead astray by strangers who want to kill and destroy us?

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.”   (John 10:8-10)

Thus, we see the ministry of Jesus as being two-fold. He is our shepherd, but he is also the guardian of our souls. The Greek word for guardian here is episkopoß (episkopos). As it is used in 1 Peter, it means more of a ministry than a position in the Church. Supplementing shepherd, the term suggests the pastoral work of watching over or guarding someone. It also means one who is doing this has the fullest knowledge.

We live in a very dangerous world, one in which the Devil is prowling about, seeking whom he can devour. There is no protection apart from Jesus. We say and believe that Jesus has saved our souls. That is what we should believe. But is Jesus guarding our souls? Is he reviving our souls? He wants us to follow where he is leading us. He is leading us to safety. He knows the pitfalls which lie ahead –  the ones that we do not see and cannot anticipate.

Christianity is an endurance race. We must keep the faith to the end. Too much is at stack for us to rely solely on  ourselves. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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St. Philip and St. James

Greater Works Ministry

Today we celebrate the lives and ministries of the Apostles Philip and James, son of Alphaeus, often called “the Less.” He was called this name to distinguish him from James, the brother of John. Little is known about him. We know that he was chosen by Jesus and that he was among the twelve disciples on the Day of Pentecost. He was possibly an early witness to the resurrection if he is the James as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:7.

James the Less was martyred for the Faith because he would not renounce Jesus as required by the Jewish high priest. Thus, James was faithful to the end and serves as an example for us all. Without the commitment of James and others like him we would not have the Church today.

Let us now turn to the Apostle Philip. In today’s New Testament reading, he seems to be having doubts when he asked Jesus a very important question:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”   (John 14:8-14)

When the words of Jesus sank in this same Philip became a great evangelist. He began performing the “greater works” which Jesus promised. The signs and wonders he performed made a great impact on the people of Samaria when he preached the word there:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.   (Acts 8:4-8)

How did the skeptic Philip grow into such a powerful ministry? He meditated on the teachings of Jesus. Jesus explained that the greater works that Philip and others were called to do would be accomplished in the same manner as Jesus’ own ministry on earth. Jesus did not do the works. He explained:

“The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”   (John 14:10)

Are we ready to step into the “greater works” ministry? We must first step into Jesus and the Father by faith. Then we must receive the promise from the Father which is the Holy Spirit. If a skeptic like Philip could answer the call then why should we remain a skeptic when there is an exciting ministry ahead?

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Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

Words of Eternal Life

Two travelers on the road to Emmaus were perplexed. In Luke’s Gospel we read:

Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”   (Luke 24:13-24)

The two travelers were aware of the Jesus and his ministry. They obviously cared about him and were looking for him to be the restorer of Israel. They were close enough to the disciples of Jesus to have heard about the reports of his resurrection. They were intrigued yet remained confused.

Do we often find ourselves in this condition? Life can be very confusing at times. There is only One who can help us at such times. Only the One who existed before the foundation of the world can truly understand what we are going through and help show us the way.

The Apostle Peter wrote concerning Jesus:

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.   (1 Peter 1:18-21)

Today, is our faith and hope set on God? Do we know Jesus personally? Is he walking with us and unfolding the Word of God for us each day? We are on the road of life. With Jesus, that road leads to everlasting life with him in the Kingdom of God. He is with us to teach us and he is with us to empower us. Are we walking with the one who help lay the foundation of the earth? He is our foundation in this life and for the world to come.

This is the testimony of our fellow travelers on the road:

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”   (Luke 24:30-35)

We need to be emerged in the scriptures. We need to partake of Holy Communion often. And we need to have ears to hear and eyes to see what Jesus is showing to us along the way. If our focus is too much on the world we will miss what he is teaching us. Jesus:

 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.   (John 6:63)

During his earthly ministry, many of his followers turned away from him. When this happened Jesus asked his twelve disciples if they wanted to leave also. Peter responded:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”   ((John 6:68-69))

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Saint Mark, Evangelist

saint-mark-1621Repent and Believe

The evangelist Mark was a traveling companion of Peter. He recorded Peter’s sermons and stories found in the Gospel of Mark. It is clear that Mark’s Gospel was written by a masterful storyteller. Though short, this Gospel has great impact and clarity. In the opening of his Gospel he gets right to the point:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

Notice that Mark’s Gospel is an action Gospel. It moves quickly and it asks us to move along with it.

Mark was a great evangelist who got right to the point. The Apostle Paul gives us a perception on the importance of evangelism when he speaks about God’s gifts to the Church:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.   (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The evangelist follows the apostles and prophets in importance. Often times they are thought of as shallow or not very sophisticated. For Mark, the Gospel was simple: Repent and believe. That is the starting point for every Christian and should be the essential message of the Church. Too many of today’s “seeker” churches have forgotten this message.

Mark was willing to risk everything for the sake of telling the Gospel message. Ultimately, he paid the price with his life. What are we willing to risk today? Jesus told His disciples:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mark 16:15-20)

Are we prepared to join Mark? What will the Lord say about our feet?

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:7-10)

We are living in the last days. Evangelism is of paramount importance. There is little time for frills. At the very least we can earnestly pray for the rescue of all lost souls.

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Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

Seeing is Believing or Believing is Seeing?

We remember the story of doubting Thomas. He could not believe in the resurrection without physical evidence, even though others had testified that they had seen the risen Lord. Thomas got his chance to believe when Jesus appeared to his disciples a second time:

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (John 20:26-29)

We should not be too hard on Thomas. His attitude represents for us a certain human skepticism that most of us share. Where does it come from? Perhaps it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Satan tricked humankind to believe that we could be like God through a secret wisdom alone. It was just a matter of going around God who, supposedly, was keeping important information from us. Is that not the quest of science today? In fact, for some of today’s scientist,  their quest is an effort to disprove God altogether.

In reality, when it comes to God, physical proof does not work. The children of Israel saw more signs and wonders from God than anyone has ever seen. Yet, within a generation, they almost lost their belief in the God who brought them out of Egypt and nourished them in the wilderness. “Seeing is believing” did not seem to work for them, nor will it work in our day as well.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter testified, in part:

David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”   (Acts 2:31)

The Apostles witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ first hand. Only a select few of people actually did. But their testimony has helped spread the Gospel around the world. Peter remarked:

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.   (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Personal testimonies are what touch people’s hearts. The risen Christ is very real to those who believe. They do not just have head knowledge. They have heart knowledge which is no less important. It may be even more important. This does not make Jesus any less real. It is just the God the Father has ordained faith as a required element in the conversion of souls. The Apostle Paul writes:

“The word is near you,
    on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:8-10)

Paul tells us what it means to be saved. We received the word of God. We received the testimony and we believed. John Wesley said that his hearts was strangely warmed. Faith changes us.

We did not see the resurrected Lord as did the early apostles, but Jesus has called us blessed:

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

We have experienced Jesus within our hearts. Because we believed we have salvation in the name of Jesus. He can never be taken away from us if we hold him there. His life within us is transforming us more and more into his likeness. That transformation is our primary testimony and that is what changes the world. Many early Christian believers would not give up their testimony and were martyred for the Faith. Faith is all important because it guarantees an eternal inheritance with the Saints of light.

Let us go boldly into the world, as did Peter and the other apostles, and praise the glorious name of Jesus. “Believing is seeing.” May our belief help others to see.

Alleluia! He is risen!

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