This is thankworthy, that if a man for conscience endure grief, Suffering wrongfully.
(1 St. Peter ii. 19)
You might think it strange that our Epistle reading for The Second Sunday after Easter
taken from St. Peter’s First Letter should speak of suffering. After all we are in Eastertide. We meditated upon suffering at length on Good Friday. Surely now we are meant to focus more on the positive joy, the surging and rising happiness that comes to us when we meditate upon Christ’s victory over suffering, sin, and death. And to be sure, this is what Eastertide is all about. But I think today that we need to remember that the organizers of the ancient lectionary, those Church Fathers who chose the readings for our liturgical season, had some deeper
truth in mind when they chose our readings for Easter tide. I believe that they wanted to be honest with us about what Resurrection entails. They wanted us to remember that human life, as joyously focused on Christ’s Resurrection as it should be, is more honestly experienced as a life in tension between dying on the one hand and rising on the other. What I mean is that the Church Fathers knew only too well that for the prudent and cautious pilgrim life involves spiritual warfare – a battle between dying to one self and rising to another.
So, then what the Church Fathers ask us to understand is that suffering is a good and virtuous endeavor. Last week we spoke of how Christ’s Peace comes to us in order to convey the forgiveness of sins, and an invitation into new life. It all seemed so positive. And yet today we learn that the process of its possession involves something which we are inclined to fall away from, to neglect, or to escape when left to our own devices and natural desires. St. Peter tells us this morning, For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (1 St. Peter ii.19,20) St. Peter knows that Christ has offered to us that Peace that conquers and overcomes our spiritual resistance and obduracy to it. He knows, too, that the Lord extends to us what amounts to the forgiveness
of sins, whose reception must be so gratefully and unworthily received that we cannot help but extend it from us to others. Christ’s Peace and Forgiveness overwhelmed and overcame the Apostles. What they neither anticipated, imagined, nor knew themselves to deserve, they now suffered to grow in their hearts and their souls. Christ has risen from the dead; Resurrection means not only God’s forgiveness of man, but man’s forgiveness of man. For I have given you an example, that ye should do [to one another] as I have done to you. (St. John xiii. 15)
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 St. Peter ii, 15) The message is clear - by well doing, by forgiving, by praying, by blessing, by hoping, the Christian is to stand out in the pagan world as one whose living reveals goodness overcoming evil, mercy vanquishing cruelty, benevolence banishing suspicion and ill will, hope crushing despair, and light dispelling darkness. That this will be difficult, St. Peter acknowledges. He writes his Epistle to a community which is struggling to overcome evil with good, or, more specifically, to allow Christ’s Resurrected goodness to overcome all and every form of evil that stubbornly resists it in the human heart. St. Peter does not pretend that Christians are not engaged in spiritual warfare; but he does seem intent upon directing their attention to the spiritual battle against evil in their own souls, and away from the evil that others might visit upon them. He knows that those who fail to love and forgive others have rarely, if ever, faced their inner demons and commenced the inward and spiritual battle.
Peter reminds his flock and us today that Christ Jesus was the one Person in history who understood and underwent this struggle more completely and perfectly than any other. St. Peter tells us that Jesus himself, our God and our Brother, took upon and into himself the effects of sin, suffering, and death, despite the fact that he
did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously. (1 St. Peter ii. 22,23) In some radically unheard of way the wrongful presence and seeming power of evil in our world touched and killed Jesus Christ. And yet he responds to it with a more insistent love and desire for the salvation of his enemies. He did not render evil for evil, because he died to sin – both to its meaninglessness and to its pretense to power in creation. For in suffering and enduring sin’s assault upon his sacred flesh, he brought it to its proper end - death. Within himself the goodness, the love, the compassion, the pity, the forgiveness of sins remained and prevailed: who in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 24,25)
What the Apostles realized long ago was that Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, rose up on Easter Day as the
Wounded Healer. What they began to realize slowly but surely was that this same Jesus who had forgiven men from the Cross, was now standing before them as the Good Shepherd, whose Peace and Forgiveness would
shepherd them and others into the Father’s everlasting care and embrace. In the parable that he uses in this morning’s Gospel lesson, Jesus likens himself to both the door and the Good Shepherd who longs to carry us through it to the Father’s eternal presence. We can become his sheep, he suggests, if we begin to know his love and submit to his care. Dr. Farrer explains Jesus’ words in this way:
What does he say? A man cares naturally for his own things.
He does not have to make himself care. The shepherd who has
bought the ground and fenced the fold and tended the lambs, whose
own the sheep are to keep or to sell, cares for them. He would run some
risk, rather than see them mauled; if he had only a heavy stick in his hand,
he would beat off the wolf…. He says that he cares for us as no one else can,
because we are his. We do not belong to any other man; we belong to him.
His dying for us in this world is the natural effect of his unique care. It is the
act of our Creator. (Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament: Easter II)
We do not belong to any other man, Dr. Farrer insists. He might have added that neither do we belong, truly, to the world, to the flesh, and or to the devil. We belong to God, he is saying. That belonging comes through the Son and so to belong to God we must come to know him through his Son. We cannot come to know our Heavenly Father, again, without the Peace and Forgiveness enfleshed in the saving life of Jesus. If we begin to open our hearts to his gifts of Peace and Forgiveness, we shall begin to know that we belong to Christ. But we protest, all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every man to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah liii. 6) True enough. And it we leave it at that, we will be honoring the death of Jesus, another tragic hero. But he responds to our sin. He rises up and calls us forward. I am the Good Shepherd, and I give my life for my sheep…I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known by them. (St. John x. 11, 14) Jesus tells us that he knows us. He knows who we are and what we need. He gives his
life for us, not only in his dying, but also in his rising. He has killed sin, death, and Satan for a reason. That we, with and in him, might rise up out of them all. His desire for us is overwhelmingly insistent, unshakably persistent, as God’s uninterrupted passion for our salvation. Death will not destroy his desire, nay rather it will become the ground and well-spring of the new Man, the new life into which Christ’s love will carry us all. The Father’s desire for all men’s salvation went down into death in the heart of Jesus. Jesus the Good
Shepherd was carrying us on his shoulders into our death. Jesus the Good Shepherd now carries all men on his shoulders up and into a life where sin, death, and Satan can harm us no more. Because we belong to Jesus, we too can embrace his desire for us as our desire for him. We can begin to know him, Jesus, as the
Good Shepherd, and that, [he even] prepares a table before us in the presence of [our] enemies;[that he will] anoint [our] head with oil; [so that our] cup runneth over. (Ps. xxiii. 5) He does insist, after all, that other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. (St. John x. 16) His ever-expanding desire is that other sheep should join us, as his love and forgiveness run over and out of the cups of our hearts and into the lives of other men.
So today, my friends, as we continue to wend our way through Easter tide, let us always remember that, indeed, we have erred and strayed from [Christ’s ways] like lost sheep. And yet he knows this, for we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Ps. c. 3) We belong to him. And so, as Cardinal Newman says,
Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts
our home, or this world our home, or our friends our home; let us look
out for a better country, that is, a heavenly. Let us look out for Him who
alone can guide us to that better country; let us call heaven our home, and
this life a pilgrimage; let us view ourselves, as sheep in the trackless desert,
who, unless they follow the shepherd, will be sure to lose themselves, sure to
fall in with the wolf. We are safe while we keep close to Him, and under His eye;
but if we suffer Satan to gain an advantage over us, woe to us!... Blessed
are we who resolve—come good, come evil, come sunshine, come tempest, come
honour, come dishonour—that He shall be our Lord and Master, their King and
God!... and with David, that in "the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil,
for He is with us, and that His rod and His staff comfort us…. (The Shepherd of
Our Souls) Amen.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons