Driving up to one of my grandchildren’s school this past week I saw the flag at half-mast and the reality of evil in the world became very personal again. I am certain that many of us felt the same. Regardless of our political views on how to counteract gun violence, I think we can agree that evil is real. People’s unnecessary pain is real.
Today is the seventh and last Sunday of Easter. And I, for one, am grateful we are still in this season for a bit longer. The paschal candle remains in the front of the church, lit at every service over the past 7 weeks to remind us the Risen Lord Jesus is with us every day of our lives. It is a time of deliberate celebration. Jesus promised our sorrow would turn to joy. We need this reminder of true joy, true life all the time, but especially this week. The contrast with the world and its events is dramatic; it is no wonder we seek to be together as the church community on a regular basis. The resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is real. We remember and celebrate this today. Evil does not win. Jesus the Christ has triumphed and does triumph still. Thanks be to God each and every day for this.
Easter is real. If you hear nothing else today keep those words close. Our risen Lord is with us always.
But don’t think I will sit down now, not yet. I want to say a few things about two of today’s lessons.
First, the gospel. Although we are hearing it on the last Sunday of Easter, the event described occurred on the last night before Jesus’ crucifixion. As Mother Beth explained in a recent sermon most of the private conversations the risen Christ had with his disciples during the 50 days following his resurrection was not recorded.
Instead, the gospels on these last few weeks have been Jesus’ conversation with those closest to him on the night before he died. Taken together these passages were intentional to prepare those disciples for what would happen the next day and for their future.
This was an intimate time Jesus spent with his closest friends. They had gathered for a special meal and peaceful moments together. Jesus spoke openly with them. He assured them of his deep love and gratitude for them. He let them know his confidence in them, that they will be able to carry out the work he has given them. On that night, this small group shared bread and wine and conversation and simply enjoyed being together. Then as the private time for assurance and explanation ended, Jesus prayed for his disciples. Today’s gospel is the end of that prayer.
At the heart of the entire prayer is Jesus’s love for his companions. He recognized and acknowledged the gift God gave him in these friends. The prayer contains the certainty of God the Father’s love for them also. The prayer is both an expression of Jesus’ gratitude for these companions, as well as a look to the future for what those dearest to him will need in order to continue the work that He has begun.
Looking at the entire 17th chapter of John, Jesus specifically prays for the disciple’s protection, protection from the evil one, protection from all that can harm their souls. While he had protected them while he has been physically with them, in this prayer, Jesus turns the disciple’s safety over to His father.
Jesus prays for the disciple’s unity. He prays that those he is leaving behind become one with each other and one with him and His father. The Trinity is echoed in this portion of the prayer. Jesus knows his strength comes from his bond with His Father and with the Holy Spirit. Wherever Jesus has been, the will of God has been present and carried out. Jesus seeks for his followers to have this same bond of unity that is between him and his Father.
“ As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”, Jesus says.
Jesus also prays for his disciples to become sanctified, or “set apart” to do His work. His joy will be complete when they are the ones doing the will of the Father to spread His kingdom throughout the world.
Protection, unity, sanctification are all specific requests of God that Jesus, in his deep love for his disciples, prays in the first part of the17th chapter of John. The passage read this morning then expands Jesus’ prayer beyond that small group of original disciples to include all who will be his disciples throughout time. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one.” It is a powerful prayer, a lasting show of Jesus’ love for his followers across time. That means today it is Jesus’ prayer for us.
During Eastertide as a part of the Sunday lectionary there is a passage from the book of Acts. This is so we can learn how the early disciples accepted Jesus’ charge to continue in his work, spreading his message in the early times after Jesus’ ascension as we became the church.
Today’s story begins with a slave girl who earned a great deal of money for her owners telling others’ fortunes. She followed and pestered Paul and Silas for many days saying that basically they are the same as she—slaves of an owner. (Their owner being God.) However, Paul and Silas were not the same as the girl. They had chosen to follow Jesus and chosen to accept his call of continuing his work of spreading the gospel. They were not slaves as was she, having been bought against her will and used for the owners economic gain. Rather than argue with her about her choice of words, Paul, ever an interesting man, Paul, in his annoyance, asks in the name of Jesus for the spirit to come out from her. Perhaps impetuous, Paul who is tired of her bothering them ends it. This lead to trouble for Paul and Silas as her owners lost their source of income from her.
Eventually these two disciples are beaten, locked and shackled in a deep prison.
Remember Jesus prayed for protection, unity, and sanctification for his disciples. This particular story points out an example of how God answered that prayer. God sent an earthquake that shook the prison open and released the disciples from their chains. The circumstances of their release then became an evangelism opportunity as the gospel is shared with the jailer and he and his family become believers in Christ. God protected Silas and Paul. He and they were unified in love, and they were able to carry out their Christ-given purpose, of making new disciples. Jesus prayer was answered.
Some two thousand years ago Jesus prayed for his disciples. Today we are assured in this gospel that prayer carries on to us in current times. How humbling and yet strengthening this is. We are invited into the relationship that Jesus and his father have; we are invited to be one with them. It is our time now to hear this prayer. We make our choice to accept his love and then are made one with Jesus and His father. We are protected and set apart to carry on Jesus work in the world.
Oh, yes, we have a part to fulfill in this relationship. We have a large responsibility to God to share His love with the world around us. We are not just on the receiving end of God’s love. Neither are we slaves of God, but rather willing servants. It is our time now. Acknowledging the evil in the world is not enough. We must each do our part to bring God’s healing message of love to those nearby.
I am encouraged to see how our local communities are working on multiple levels to address the prevention of gun violence. Emmanuel is involved in a some of these too. There is much to be done and much help needed. Take some time to learn about these initiatives and pray about how you might work to share God’s love with all. And remember Jesus’ prayer today is for us. Easter is real.
May there be no more half-masts for the death of children; Jesus continue to pray for us.
At a time of great trial, when many of the apostles had been killed or exiled, when the persecution of Christians was rampant, when the future looked bleak, St. John had a vision. Alone on the Island of Patmos, John opened his eyes one day and saw the end of history unfolding before him. Angels and demons, saints and sinners fought a final battle, in which the Crucified Lamb emerged victorious. And then the heavenly Jerusalem — a perfect city with jeweled walls and pearly gates, where there is only light and never darkness — descends from on high and the Lord declares, “It is done.”
And then we have to imagine that John woke up. He woke up to the damp cold of his prison cell on an island hundreds of miles from everyone that he loved.
And we have to wonder, How does that help? How does a vision of a heavenly Jerusalem help now when bad circumstances don’t change? What does it matter that one day Heaven will come to earth when countless people are suffering and dying today?
Critics as diverse as that one guy we all knew in high school to someone like Karl Marx would say it doesn’t help. To them, Christian hope is just an anesthetic, a trick the powerful use to subjugate the weak. The hope of a heavenly Jerusalem, of a God who holds the whole world and all of history in his hand is foolishness. A refusal to grapple with reality.
And yet the church has been saying since its very beginning that, actually, the hope of heaven is what allows us to see reality for what it truly is.
With the words of Christ still ringing in his ears, John knew that though he did not and likely would not experience paradise before his death or Christ’s return, God was always bending the course of history in that direction. No matter what emperor arose, no matter what dragons the church might encounter, God had said, It is done. And John knew that. He had seen it, heard it, felt it in his bones. It was true — from the outside, his future looked bleak. There were days when even he felt like it was hopeless. Still, John knew that his life was simply one chapter in a larger story that ends in victory. And no one could take that away from him.
From the church’s earliest existence, Christians have had to wrestle with the undeniable fact that sin and death are terribly powerful, even in defeat. Plagues, wars, mass shootings — sometimes it appears as though the victory hasn’t been won.
But it has — and we know it has — because the crucified Lamb sits on the throne, and he has declared it to be so. “I am the beginning and the end,” he says. “I died and behold I live forever more.” That is the story in which we live. It is a story of good coming from evil and life coming from death. It is a story of a gracious God showing boundless mercy to a creation that never seems to learn its lesson. It is a story of Love conquering hate and bringing enemies together not simply as friends but as brothers and sisters of Christ.
Despite what the world believes, despite the evidence that would everyday seem to pile up against the eternal victory of God, the heavenly city stands true. And we know this not only because of the Revelation of John passed down to us through the centuries. We know God’s victory is sure because we taste it. We drink it. We proclaim its reality every week when we say, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Today, in this church, in our hearts, imperfect as we are and imperfect as this place is, God dwells with his people and we with him. And while night still falls and wars still rage, we carry in our bodies the light of that city, the waters of that city, showing the world a vision of what is possible when those made in God’s image reclaim it.
When John woke up from his dream, he was still imprisoned and exiled. His circumstances were the same — but he was different.
And so are we. For today in the words of holy Scripture, we have encountered the risen Lord, who tells us of the future that awaits those who overcome. That is not a false hope but is rather the warp and weft of a story bigger than all of us, a story that wraps us in the fine robes and precious jewels that belong to the children of God. Our hope in heaven, in a world where there will be no more tears or pain, in a world that is ruled by a God whose fullest revelation of himself is the cross. That is what enables us to live even in the darkest of times.
“Then one of the . . . [angels] said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. . . . and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light and they will reign forever and ever.” AMEN.
One of the lines in our Gospel reading, spoken by Jesus, is a well known Bible quotation, and that is "Love one another." The full line Jesus says, of course, is "love one another as I have loved you," which is a pretty high standard. People have a tendency to quote the line "Love one another" as if it refers to how all human beings ought to treat all other human beings. And I have nothing against that basic idea: the world would be a much better place if everyone could love everyone else. However, history shows that that usually isn't so simple. And Christians explain why that isn't so simple by means of a doctrine called "sin," which maybe we'll talk about in more detail another day.
But it’s important to read the Bible in context, and in context, the direction to "love one another as I have loved you" is given specifically by Jesus to his inner group of disciples. You might remember that after Jesus was raised from the dead he spent a period of time, 50 days to be exact, teaching his disciples in private before he ascended into heaven. Of course, we can't recreate exactly that experience. We can use the number 50 to set how many days we will observe the Easter season, which we do. But we can't quote any of the teaching the Risen Christ gave his disciples during these 50 days, because nobody wrote any of it down. Or if they did, it must not have been God’s will for us to have it in our Bible, because it was not preserved.
So our lectionary, our schedule of readings, can't use any of that intimate teaching material given to the inner circle before Jesus' ascension. But it can use the intimate teaching material given to the inner circle before Jesus' crucifixion, because that was preserved. That gives you a little background as to why we have the kind of Gospel readings we do in this season -- to duplicate that sense of close-knit, heartfelt teaching within the community of disciples.
Do you see, though, why especially given that context, we can’t quote "love one another" as if it were a generic slogan? Christians are asked to be loving towards all kinds of people, but this verse is not about that. "Love one another as I have loved you" is a statement spoken to a committed group of disciples as part of their final training by Jesus in how to be the church, what the standards within the Christian community are to be. "Love one another as I have loved you." And that line is only one statement about what ought to define the inner workings of a Christian community. In fact, there are many more teachings in exactly that form -- Verb + One Another -- in the New Testament. Each of them also addresses the inner workings of any circle of believers, and calls us to show forth the presence of the Spirit specifically in how we deal with each other. We’ve talked at Emmanuel this year about Christian truth, Christian tools, and Christian belonging, and these verses give a picture of Christian belonging which helps us see that by the power of God, a church can be a very different thing than a club or an office or a family reunion.
We’re going to look quickly at eight of those "one anothers." And as I do, think over how well they characterize us Christians, us Episcopalians, or us Emmanuelites. How well these commands from the Bible are being lived out in our own communities.
1. We've already cited the first one, which is Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)—Jesus’ kind of love is unselfish and sacrificial. What would the church look like if each one was willing to sacrifice their own preferences so that others could grow closer to God?
2. Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)—Another direction spoken by Christ himself. I'm sure most of you have heard stories in the press, or maybe a little closer than that, about churches that were at war with their clergy or with their Bishop or with other parts of their denomination. If you haven’t, just open Twitter. Think of the damage those battles do to the credibility of Christianity. How would church life change if Christians made a conscious choice to live in internal peace -- not a phony niceness, but the costly unity that comes from speaking the truth while prioritizing Jesus over getting your own way?
3. Honor one another (Romans 12:10)—Christ honored even the most lowly people. Who here at Emmanuel needs to feel honored and valued, needs someone to say "I'm proud of you?" Often churches are good at honoring the most visible people, people who have power in some way, but in the eyes of Jesus everybody counts. Look around the room and ask yourself: Whom can you take a moment to honor before you leave today?
4. Accept one another (Romans 15:7)—It’s not the role of Christians to change other people; that's in God’s job description. I'm not saying that we condone any and all actions, but that we accept each person as a beloved child of God first and foremost. Do you think that this attitude is something people associate with followers of Jesus? Or do they expect us to be judgmental?
5. Carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)—This means willingly and humbly walking beside others when they’re hurting or struggling. We have some wonderful examples of people doing this for each other at Emmanuel, especially if they were already friends outside the church. But how can the list of members whose burdens get noticed grow longer? Who is there in this congregation whose load you could help to bear? Or let me turn it around -- have you chosen to disobey this verse and carry a burden by yourself because in the world, your problem is something embarrassing, rather than let some fellow believers shoulder it with you in a community that plays by different rules than the world?
6. Be patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2)— There are probably other followers of Jesus in this world, maybe in this room who, in worldly terms, drive you nuts. Rub you the wrong way. In Christ, there are resources so that our relationship with those people can look different than it would if we were not believers in the same Lord. You may never find all your fellow disciples to your taste, but you can display patience with them if you seek it from Christ.
7. Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)—Harboring a grudge creates stressed and unbalanced relationships, and according to Jesus, it also blocks the action of the Spirit. If you are nursing hostility against another follower of Christ, could you imagine letting go of ego and pride to forgive them – not to excuse them, but to forgive them -- for the sake of strengthening the church and your own relationship with God?
And finally 8. Serve one another (1 Peter 4:10)—According to the New Testament, every Christian is given at least one spiritual gift. While it is very fun and fulfilling to put a spiritual gift to work, they aren't given for selfish use. How would our church change if every single person in this building started actively using their gifts for God and to meet some of the very significant needs Emmanuel’s ministries have right now? For one thing, we’d be back to two services immediately, I’ll tell you that much.
There are more "one anothers," but eight are enough for now. As we've asked these questions and looked at these verses, you may have thought, "Hey, you know, we're doing pretty well." Or you may have said, "Gosh, we do some of those things, but it's more based on human friendships than on our common faith in Christ. How can we open up more?" You may have muttered, "The lousy institutional church, never ever lives up to what Jesus wants." Or you may have said to yourself, "This community is on the way to that kind of life, and I want to see us get there."
Love one another, Be at peace with one another, Honor one another, Accept one another, Carry one another’s burdens, Be patient with one another, Forgive one another, Serve one another. Whatever your reaction to the list, this is what a community life that flows from Christ looks like. Now, the actual life of any Christian community, including this one, probably never flows 100% from Christ -- back to that doctrine of sin again. But his life and his power are available to help us live out those "one anothers" -- to behave within this community according to what Scripture says. And if we first open ourselves to receive that life and power, and if we next use that life and power, and if then by that life and power we start to live out those "one anothers" in our own Christian belonging here at Emmanuel, the prediction Jesus made at the end of today's Gospel will come true. "By this everyone will know that we are his disciples."
“Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name and follow where he leads.”
These words are from our collect for the day, and they echo what is stated in the Gospel from John. “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the scriptures point to the attributes of Jesus as our Good Shepherd.
Jesus leads and follows us. He keeps us safe from behind and before. Remember the shepherd’s staff, one end to pull us out of danger and one end to prod us into where we need to go. Jesus provides for us. He revives us when we are worn out and guides us with goodness and mercy. He desires the best for us. He comforts us when we are sad and lonely. He wipes away our tears. He is with us in all times and in all things. In his presence we will not be hungry nor thirsty nor unprotected. And then, through his resurrection, Jesus gives us the ultimate gift of eternal life. These are strong characteristics of one who loves us deeply. This is how we know that He is the Good Shepherd of us all.
A few years ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She knew what was ahead of her which is a sad part of the disease. What she was most concerned about was that she would forget my name. While this was how she expressed it she was also concerned that eventually she would forget everyone’s name whom she loved. And even, perhaps, she would get to the point when she would no longer remember her own. Names were very important to her. She saw them as encompassing all that there was to be known by another. A name summed up your individuality, your personhood and what made you different from all others. She desired to be able to call each loved one by their name and her great fear was that she could not.
As is true of those with memory loss, we had this same conversation many times. Each time I was able to reassure her, I would not forget her name and whenever she could not recall mine, I would quietly remind her. Near the end, of her life what she was most afraid of was Jesus would forget her name. Alzheimer’s is an awful disease. Her fear was real and yet, the assurance we hear today is that the Good Shepherd, Jesus, does not ever forget our name. And, more importantly we are promised that He is with us in every circumstance of life.
Today we are in the middle of the Easter season, the time when we walk with the risen Lord. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. These are not empty words but true promises that we know especially during this season. Over the past few weeks, we have heard about occasions when the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples. Jesus walked and talked with his followers in his risen body. He made himself known in various ways through breaking bread, through eating with them, through showing them his wounds. Jesus calmed their fears each time with his voice and by calling them by name. He knew what each person needed to believe in him and he provided that for them. Each of these gospels we have heard stressed his great love for all his followers, both those who were in his physical presence and those who have believed and worked for God’s kingdom throughout time. Jesus voice and Jesus’ presence bring comfort.
Then we come to today’s lessons, and they seemingly do not fit the pattern of the past few weeks. Instead of hearing about events of the resurrected Christ, today’s gospel event took place just before the crucifixion. As Jesus walked in the temple those around him questioned him. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Tell us plainly. Those words may be our words at some point or points in our lives. Show us. Give us a sign, we say in our desperation. Let us know the truth. Now, probably the question put to Jesus in this passage was not a genuine desire to know but rather another attempt to trick him. For the most part those asking the question were not sincere in wanting an answer. They believed Jesus to be a troublemaker and a threat to their power and authority. They hoped his answer would give them the evidence to prosecute him and get rid of him once and for all. But we who hear the words today understand their question, at least in part, Jesus, tell me plainly. Are you the Messiah?
What answer would you and I want? What signs would we need? Perhaps a sign would be the answer to our prayer that our children, our loved ones are kept safe. Or perhaps a sign would be a complete recovery for a particular person’s illness; or maybe the sign we seek is that nothing bad will ever happen to us and those we love. We are often worn out with what is going on in this world, the almost daily news brings stories of nearby disaster. We read of violence in our cities, of rising rates of disease, poverty and war. What sign would work for us here and now?
Jesus’ answer to those original questioners is the same answer he gives us now. He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life. This answer is not about an extraneous sign or work. Rather it is about relationship, our relationship with Jesus, and Jesus’ relationship with us. He loved us so much that he was willing to suffer and die for us. Today’s gospel reminds us of what the resurrection is all about. It is about the depth of God’s love, God’s love for us. We hear his voice; he knows us by name, and we follow him because of that relationship. Our proof comes from Jesus knowing us, loving us and being present with us in all things. He is our good shepherd. Regardless of what is going on in the outside world, Jesus will not abandon us nor forget us.
Our proof is our relationship with him. The love God has for us through Jesus cannot necessarily prevent our being hurt or having bad things happen to us, but Jesus will be with us in all. He knows us. He knows our name. He knows our fears and joys. And He knows our need of him. Our shepherd is with us. More than this, though and most importantly Jesus gives us eternal life. There is no greater comfort. There can be no way to state it any more plainly. Jesus is the Christ; he is our Messiah. He invites us into his presence. We do not ever have to be alone. The proof we seek is in our relationship with Him.
We are also reminded today that every relationship has at least two participants. The shepherd calls and the sheep follow. In this morning’s collect we pray that we may follow where Jesus leads. As have disciples throughout time, we have a responsibility to this relationship. Belonging to our loving and protecting shepherd means that we will follow him. We will return his love through our worship of him as we do here this morning. We will return his love by following his example of loving others and by sharing the good news of His story with them.
Today’s lessons are an Easter message. Jesus calls us by name. He cares for us; he guides us and supports us. He gives us eternal life.
Let us pray,
O God, whose son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today’s story of the conversion of Saul has been incredibly influential in Christianity. Saul is so thoroughly turned around that he gets renamed Paul. He who was once a main enemy of Jesus becomes a main representative of Jesus. He who once wanted to wipe every disciple of Christ from the earth ends up writing over half of the New Testament to help others understand how to be disciples of Christ.
So it’s no wonder this story has been incredibly influential. And on top of that, it’s a great story –
Saul, breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
They lead him into Damascus blind and incapacitated, and God sends over an apprentice of Jesus named Ananias – one of the guys he’d been coming to Damascus to arrest. Ananias lays hands on him and not only is Paul suddenly able to see again, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, infused with divine power and life. They do a baptism right there in the house, and the rest is history.
No wonder this story has been so influential. There are hymns, movies, paintings, feast days, songs, t-shirts, all based on the Damascus road conversion of St. Paul. And I love Paul. I absolutely love him. The Spirit used him to put on paper – parchment, really – some of the most beautiful and deepest and most liberating truths that have ever been written.
But sometimes I wonder if Christian readers look to this influential story of his conversion and let the wrong part of it influence us. We pick out an aspect that is actually less important, and we ignore the part that is more important. What I mean here is this: you will sometimes hear people use this story as a model for how people “should” make a commitment to Christ. You will hear people say that unless you have had a Damascus Road experience, unless you can point to a time that, like Paul, you were dramatically turned from not having faith to having it, your commitment to Christ doesn’t “count.” But this is generalizing from the wrong part of the story. People commit to Christ in all kinds of ways.
Deacon Chris talked about this last week in her sermon on Thomas. Some people have been in an atmosphere of living faith all their lives, and can’t remember a time when they didn’t know Christ. They never had a sudden bright light strike them blind on the road to Damascus. They may tell you their faith journey is like the light in a room just gradually, gently getting brighter as if someone was turning up a dimmer switch.
Some find that their following Jesus is always a struggle. Questions and wrestling and doubt are simply a part of their relationship with God. If they ever do have a sudden bright light, things often look murky again a few days later. The connection to Jesus is there, but it’s not a simple before and after picture; it’s more like the light from a Tiffany lamp, refracted and multi-colored.
Those are different ways that a commitment to Christ looks. And there are probably others. One isn’t more right or wrong than another. They are just different. So we get in trouble if we try to generalize from one part of Paul’s conversion, the part you might call God’s technique. How God brought Paul specifically into new life in Christ. God isn’t going to use that same technique with everybody – he’s too smart, and too subtle for that.
So if we can’t generalize from God’s technique, the how, then maybe we should try generalizing from the what. What happens as we are converted? No matter how we turn to Christ -- whether it’s dark to light, or gradually like a dimmer switch, or back and forth with lots of colors and questions – what changes for us as we do?
Well, I’d suggest that one major thing that changes is perspective. As we follow Christ, whatever the technique God uses in our lives, we experience a change in our perspective on things. We see this very dramatically illustrated in Paul’s story: he comes into the story believing Jesus is evil, and the image for how off that perspective is, is that he actually becomes blind. He cannot see things as they are. He cannot see truth. And then as his sight returns his eyes are opened on the actual reality of the world. That is a shift in perspective.
Before you come to know Christ, you assess the world and set goals based on what seems good to you, you take advice from other people about what should be treated as most important, you think about how things affect you and your family and your country. And that’s automatically going to distort the way you view life, because life isn’t about you.
So with knowing Christ comes a shift, whether gradual or dramatic, into a more accurate, God-centered perspective. And you begin asking, in every situation you face: What has God said about this? What does God think is important? What does God say is good? Rather than trying to guess, you have a reference point which finally allows you to see life more clearly. So perspective always changes as a person is converted.
Another thing that changes, again whether gradually or dramatically, is your sense of purpose. When you think about that, it’s obvious. God created you, he designed you, and so he knows what you’re here for. If you don’t know what God has revealed, all you can do is speculate, guess. But as you turn to Christ, you get reliable information about your purpose. Paul had guessed that his purpose was to safeguard the religion he was brought up in and prevent anyone from changing it. Well, God had a really, really, different purpose in mind for him, and when Paul found out the truth, his life was transformed. So will ours be, as we learn and live out what we’re actually here for.
So you get a true perspective on life, and you get knowledge of your purpose: what is important, and what you are here for. Another thing that comes as we turn to Christ is community. Paul cannot get out of his dilemma alone. He has to receive help from another follower of Jesus. He has to be vulnerable and real and willing to connect with people who are not like him.
One of the biggest needs of our contemporary world is community. We are becoming a more and more fragmented, isolated nation: the family is breaking down, social institutions are breaking down, and people are starving for meaningful, in-person connections with others. There is an epidemic of loneliness, because we need to belong. Turning to Christ gives you that belonging, not in the sense of signing up with an organization, but of being adopted into a household. They say blood is thicker than water, but Christ’s divine life inside us is thicker than both. So as you turn to Christ, you discover what is important, what you are here for, and where you belong. And there are many more discoveries, but these are enough for this morning. Perspective, purpose, and community.
Now you may have had a dramatic conversion like Paul, you may have been walking with Jesus since you were a tiny child, you may be locked in a perpetual arm wrestling match with the Holy Spirit. Or you may be trying to decide what you think of all this. But as you turn to Christ, you will discover like Paul did what is important, what you are here for, and where you belong. In Christ you truly can find perspective, purpose, and community. Thanks be to God for his glorious Gospel. Amen.