Sermon for Sunday March 8, 2020
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Don’t eat meat, go to Church, love your neighbor, don’t slouch or sleep in Church, don’t have sex, pay your dues, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t laugh out loud, don’t color your hair, don’t dress like that, don’t do this, don’t do that.
For too many people in this world, for too many of us, the Church and our Christian faith appears to be a list of rules and regulations, do’s and do not’s, a means to govern society and our lives. All too often the Church is seen as an organized institution or an organized religion that sets up obligatory rules made to control. Faith begins to bog us down and we may begin to feel lost, struggling to keep our head afloat over all those rules – just as Peter did when he began to sink beneath the waves of the storm when he was afraid.
My dears, who among us has not felt this way about our Christian faith? Even more, if we say we have not felt this way, how honest have we been in growing and strengthening our faith? It’s easier to merely say, “too many rules I give up” or as today’s society does, “too many rules I don’t agree with therefore, I’m out.” Yet, Christianity, only has one rule, one measurement, one foundation which all those other man made rules must direct us to – that rule is Christ Jesus. Fasting, prayer, repentance, abstinence, charity, how we act, our we dress, how we talk, whether we drink, smoke, eat, etc. how we live out our physical lives impacts our spiritual life. That is why those rules are there; to help us physically live a life that continually builds communion with God through Christ Jesus. They are not meant to choke or drown us in guilt but to help build us up towards Christ. When we are lost, bogged down, isolated, pressured or when we don’t seem to be able to understand or accept the rules – what we must not lose sight of, what we are called to understand is that our Church, which has been given to us by Christ Jesus, is here to transform us, find us and return us to God. It is for us to hear the voice of God, come and be changed by the Church, not for us to change the Church or create a god in our own understanding.
Today, the Armenian Church is remembering the Prodigal Son. However, apart from the prodigal son parable, in today’s reading Christ speaks of the lost sheep and the lost coin. We all know this story, of the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep and going out to look for the 1 lost sheep. Who here has seen a herd of sheep? What do they do? They graze, they eat, they stand around and they do nothing; They live out their lives. If it were not for the other shepherds and sheep dogs, they would wander off, they would get lost and be eaten by wolves.
My beloved brothers and sisters, we are the sheep. We are the 99, but we are also the one lost. We live our lives and the Church with its clergy and laity and all those rules serve as shepherds and the sheep dogs who are there to help protect us from wandering off. They are their as guilds for us to not lose sight of our True Shepherd, Christ Jesus. But when we do wander off, when we get lost, when we feel bogged down – Christ Jesus – the true shepherd leaves the 99 under the protection of all those rules, which serve as guides to hold us together, and He himself comes to find the 1 lost. Yet, much like the 99, what is the 1 lost sheep doing? Nothing. It’s living out its life yet, still the shepherd comes for him.
My dears, whether we are the 1 lost or the 99 in the herd, there is nothing we must or can do to “gain” favor with our shepherd apart from hearing His voice, trusting Him and allowing ourselves to be found, because our shepherd Christ Jesus comes after us, he calls us by name and when we get lost He places us on his shoulders and carries us back. Why? So that we will not be devoured by the wolves that wait for us to wander off and get lost.
And so when we look at all the do’s and don’ts that the Church sets before us, we are called to use those rules as mirrors for us to examine the life we live with our friends, in our work place, here in Church, online, everywhere and with everyone. Are we in the constant presence of our Shepherd Christ Jesus, is the life we are living building communion with God or have we gone after distractions and strayed from the herd, are we lost and confused? Whether we are in the 99 or the 1 at any moment in our lives, we must all heed the voice of Christ Jesus who calls and says, follow me and I will give you rest.
Therefore my dears, in the words of St. Paul today, “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God”. Meaning let us examine our lives, weigh out the choices that we make, test to see whether the physical life we are living is strengthening our spiritual life we hope to live, and if not, let us begin to adjust and ask how can we begin to clearly hear Christ’s voice. Let us ask questions and search for what is lost in the same manner that Christ Jesus, our true shepherd, searches out for us. For it is through Christ that we are brought back to the herd, it is through Christ that we grow in Communion and are made worthy to glorify the All Holy Trinity forever and ever, Amen.