Voluntary or Involuntary Poverty

Richard Secrest Hays., M.Div. - May 7, 2017

1 Peter 2:19-25close1 Peter 2:19-25 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (ESV)

DSC00500

THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
www.firstpresbyterianwaverly.com

 

 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

 

Voluntary or Involuntary Poverty

1 Peter 2:19-25close1 Peter 2:19-25 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (ESV) Acts 2:42-47closeActs 2:42-47 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV) ; John 10:1-10closeJohn 10:1-10 10:1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV)

 

Our texts for today revolve around the word “shepherd.” The fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday, and over the three-year cycle of the lectionary we share with a number of denominations we hear all of John 10closeJohn 10 10:1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” 19 There was again a spanision among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” 22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. 40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there. (ESV) . We hear how Jesus is the gate and the gatekeeper, the only way to salvation and how he is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. In the end he provides proof of his authority to be the Good Shepherd. His sheep are those who believe who have been given to Jesus by his Father.

 

The psalm for this day is always Psalm 23closePsalm 23 A Psalm of David. 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. (ESV)
. We sang a metrical version of the psalm as our opening hymn. The Scottish Psalter version was sung a week ago at Maryanna Cassady’s memorial service. My personal favorite is the Isaac Watts paraphrase set to the American folk melody “Resignation,” number 803 in our Glory to God hymnals. The psalm is a song of the sheep who is praising the goodness of the Shepherd who is the Lord. The Lord provides. The Lord directs. The Lord leads. The Lord restores. The Lord guides. The Lord protects. The Lord comforts. The Lord feeds. The Lord anoints. Life under the Lord’s care is good. Life in the presence of the Shepherd is blessed.

 

We get a very different picture of life from the 1 Peter reading. The passage is under a cloud because the verse which opens the paragraph and underlies the included thoughts is omitted. The verse tells household slaves to submit to the authority of their masters, whether the masters are kind or harsh.

 

We are 21st century Christians and slavery in any form is not to be tolerated. Before we jump of the rails and throw a fit at the letter’s author, let us reflect on the context of the people to whom the letter was written. Many, if not most, of the new Christians were slaves in pagan households. They were often harassed for their beliefs. They lived in a world which required them to jump to the master’s every whim. They would be severely punished if they didn’t obey their master’s requests. Having to endure insults about their religious beliefs and practices was more than the fledgling Christians could bear.

 

The author of 1Peter attempts to offer a pastoral word to these folk. He makes a distinction between suffering for a just cause and suffering for an unjust cause. The author seems to suggest that suffering under certain circumstances may be acceptable. Reasonable discipline for mistakes and wrong-doing is appropriate. However, the writer does not say that suffering is a legitimate condition for those who are abused, coerced, or oppressed. Nor is he condoning a stoic tolerance for violence against anyone. And nowhere does he suggest that God’s name be invoked as the hand strikes or the belt comes out. But also note that the author does not say that Christians should seek out and revel in suffering as an acceptable way to live out their faith.

 

The 1close1 Thessalonians 1 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (ESV) Peter author urges believers to seek to live out an ethic which was an alternative to the pagan culture of which these fledgling Christians were a part. Such an ethic was also different from the culture of their own backgrounds before coming to Christ.

 

These new Christians have the model of Christ, a radical disinclination to return fire when under attack. That is more than any of us can imagine, yet that is how Christ lived his ministry. Abuse must not produce more abuse. Suffering must not produce more suffering. Giving hurt is not the knee-jerk response to being hurt.

 

To trust God in the midst of suffering was considered the high calling to which these new believers should aspire. That is the model of the psalmist’s sheep. “You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over!” That’s a hard lesson for any of us under any condition. For slaves it must have been brutal.
The idea that Christ’s sheep know his voice when they hear it and that they follow him suggests a different kind of servitude. But it is a servitude of grace rather than abuse, of desire rather than necessity.

 

We live in an either-or world. Everything seems to be extremes. The middle ground between extremes is where all the verbal and ideological grenades fall from the opposing sides. Compromise is a dirty word. Our author wrote to the struggling Christians and suggested that their world may not be as restrictive and enclosed as they thought. To suffer ridicule or abuse from their master does not ultimately determine their own self-worth. God will exercise just judgment on both master and slave. In the midst of all the ways in which life is frightening and dangerous, God offers a way.

 

In solidarity with our first brothers and sisters in the faith, we understand something of what it means to be boxed in or even enslaved. While we are not in the situation of first-century slaves, we have plenty that makes us feel less than free. People in all generations have to deal with bosses, spouses, parents, children, diseases, political cultures, neighborhoods, cultural practices, idolatrous sports teams, celebrities, media stars, religious spokespersons, and all manner of narrow-mindedness. Everything seems to be geared towards an us/them opposition. Fears and dangers in our own world enslave and limit our creativity for solutions. Anxieties about health and work and the next paycheck or pension payment can enslave our instincts for hope in the future. How do we learn from these early believers about trust in the midst of our own suffering?

 

We are like a ping pong ball paddled back and forth in an never-ending volley. The paddles care nothing for us except to send us back across the net in hopes that the other paddle will hit us out of bounds or miss us completely. We shrink from the continual batting about. Yet we see ourselves locked into system of living which offers no other option. We have involuntarily impoverished ourselves seeking what the world calls riches, rather than voluntarily giving ourselves into the fullness of God’s shepherding care, a care that the world scorns as poverty.

 

We need Jesus to come the gates of our prisons and call our names so that we may go out with him. We need God’s Spirit to burst open the tombs of our dead lives and liberate us into the fullness of God’s grace in Christ. When go out with Christ we can enter into a life that might actually mean something, might actually have grassy meadows and restful waters, where we truly lack nothing.

 

A shepherd always has more than one sheep. Hearing the shepherd’s voice, the flock moves in the shepherd’s direction. For the most part they work as a community. From the beginning, the church was more than a group of people who got together for an hour or so a week to hear the Word and receive communion. They prayed together. They studied the scriptures together. They ate meals together. They gathered in their homes as well as at the synagogue. They shared with one another. If someone needed something, someone else supplied it. This was a community that knew each other so well that they knew what everyone needed and offered it without thought.

 

Yes, we will often suffer sneers, barbs, or shunning from the world. But our cup will overflow with God’s goodness and faithful love and we will live in God’s house as long as we live and breathe.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

 

Unless noted otherwise, all scripture references are from The Common English Bible, © 2011 www.commonenglishbible.com.
Copyright © 2017 First Presbyterian Church of Waverly, Ohio. Reprinted by permission.