Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2020
St. John’s in Isolation
ACTS 2:42-47; PSALM 23; 1 PETER 2:19-25; JOHN 10:1-10
All who believed were together and had all things in common
Before I get too far into things today, I did want to say that across much of the Christian world—Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican especially—today is Vocation Sunday. And so I would invite you to pray this week for vocations to ordained ministry and to religious life.
I have a hunch that there are some of you listening today that have considered ordained ministry, or perhaps even considered joining a religious order. I have a hunch that your heart is stirred by this possibility— perhaps stirred uncomfortably! If that’s you, I’d invite you to take this week to pray about that, and to talk about this possibility with at least one other person you trust, someone who would be willing to pray, and reflect with you, about what’s on your heart.
As important as callings to more formal roles in the life of the church are, they do make up but one aspect of the calling of the church. Alongside being called to priestly, diaconal, or religious life, we are also called to be wardens, to be treasurers (and please do pray that we find someone to be treasurer at St. John’s; perhaps it’s you?), some of us are called to be trustees of the memorial garden, to serve on altar guild (and again, do pray for these vocations at St. John’s. We need some trustees and could use more help with Altar Guild). If you have a stirring in your heart, even an uncomfortable stirring, that makes you wonder if you might be called to these ministries, be attentive to that voice, because you are needed in a special way at St. John’s.
We also have vocations to music, to parish council, to pastoral care, to administration, and I’m thrilled that we have people hearing a call to be parish visitors.
Further to these church-based vocations, Christians have vocations outside the church, too. One of the enduring insights of the reformation came when Luther encountered a church that had a very limited understanding of Christian vocation. But Luther said No, God calls his people into vocations outside the church too. And the call to be a doctor, a nurse, a parent, or a tradesperson are as divine a calling as any.
So some of us are called to vocations to be priests, deacons, and to join religious orders; most of us are called to offer our gifts to the church; all of us are called to see whatever work we do as part of the Christian life.
But now I’d like to turn to what the vocation of the church might be, not as individual Christians, but the church as a whole. And this does seem to be be Jesus’s concern as he tells the parable of the sheep, the shepherd, and the gate. In this parable, the shepherd knows the sheep by name, to be sure. Our own individuality isn’t sucked up into some communal identity.
But the sheep follow as a flock. The flock of sheep know the voice of the shepherd, the flock doesn’t follow the voice of a thief or a bandit, and it’s the flock that passes through the gate, following after the trusted voice of the shepherd, and the flockis led to the pasture, where it finds life, and life abundantly.
So the calling of the church is something we hear together, and something we act on together. We may have individual vocations as Christians, but the vocation of the church isn’t the sum of all those individual callings—the vocation of the church is something added to all our individual callings. And this calling is something that brings life.
We get a glimpse of this in our Acts passage. Acts 2 doesn’t speak about some who are called to share, and some who are called to give. According to Acts, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
This is certainly a radical idea, and its unlikely that the practice of holding goods in common wasn’t true of all of those earliest Christian communities. (Just read Paul’s letters to hear about just how messy the life of the church was, right from the beginning!) But we do have here a sense that the way we find life together, and the abundance of life together, is through holding goods in common in order that no one would have need.
This is true for us—so let me say, there is no reason why any member of St. John’s should be hungry—we have enough amongst us for all of us to be fed. If your pantry is bare, please let me know.
What is meant here by “all things” isn’t limited to “goods” either—the church is called to share joy, and to share sorrows. And I’d like for you to have that in mind when you call someone—that as we find ourselves in conversations about the sorrow of this moment, as we find ourselves talking about the joys we have, remember that this is a way of sharing the Good News with one another, and of sharing “all things” with one another. This too is part of the call we are given, as a church together—to share all things in common, that we might distribute according to need.
Every single diocesan bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada has just signed, this week, a letter petitioning the Federal Government to establish a Universal Basic Income in Canada. It would mean a basic income would be distributed widely, in order that no one would fall over a ledge in a way that meant they could no longer afford the necessities of life.
And there are some very close to us in our community, and in our neighbourhoods, who are close to that edge, even over that edge, but still find it hard to qualify for aid.
And you may disagree with the concept of a Universal Basic Income—that’s ok. There are risks associated with it, including the possibility that it would become an excuse to cut other important programs, even as it makes other benefit programs obsolete. But what I want to say about Universal Basic Income, and why the bishop’s would be able and willing to sign such a letter calling for it, is because this embodies the voice of God’s call, our invitation into life.
As we read in Acts, distributing proceeds to all, as any have need, was already part of the political grammar of the earliest Christian communities. And especially in a time when so many are at risk of losing the necessities of life, a time when so many already don’t have the necessities of life, this is the sort of language, and the sort of promise, that should be ringing in our ears.
Universal Basic Income is a long-shot. It’s not a perfect solution. It’s an idea and a program that could be abused in many ways. But I would encourage you to listen to what the bishops have to say. They aren’t just playing at politics, here. Church leaders are very aware of the struggles people face in their neighbourhoods and in their churches.
And we have the words to respond.
They are words we hear from the earliest church, words spoken by a church that heard the voice of the shepherd, words that calling us into a green pasture, a pasture where we would have life, and life abundantly. We are called to this life, and we are called to invite others into this life, a life of eternal security put into practice in the present: a world where we hold things in common, a world where goods are distributed amongst us all, as any of us have need.