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Sermon - Fourth Sunday of Easter


Let us pray:


Lord may Your Spirit preserve me from error and instruct us in Your Word. Amen.


Today our scripture readings show us a life of abundant community: the richness and abundance that God’s love brings into our lives. These readings also highlight the importance of living in harmony with one another, under the guidance of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.


The early church, as described in Acts, was a thriving and unified community, devoted to the apostles’ teachings, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared everything they had and supported one another in times of need. This incredible unity allowed the church to grow and witness God’s miracles daily. The phrase “the breaking of the bread,” would soon come to be called the Eucharist (“thanksgiving”). It was not to be confused with the community meal, agape or “love feast.” In fact, Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for conflating the two.[1]


In Psalm 23, we are reminded that the Lord is our Shepherd. He guides and provides for us, leading us beside still waters and restoring our souls. In our Gospel reading, Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. He is the gate through which His sheep enter, and He has come so that we may have life in abundance.


Finally, St. Peter reminds us that we live in a world marked by suffering and hardship. However, when we endure these for the sake of Christ, we are following in Jesus’ footsteps. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, suffered for us and bore our sins on the cross so that we might live.


The life of abundant community is one in which we share our resources, support one another, and bear each other’s burdens. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, calls us to live in unity and embrace the fullness of life He offers.


The most important and potent demonstration of our Faith is how we live our lives. The early Christians saw to the support of teachers and officials, of widows and orphans, of the sick and infirm and the disabled. Christians dedicated themselves to prisoners and people languishing in the mines, to those hit by great calamities and to the care of poor people needing burial; they furnished work to the unemployed, took care of brethren on journeys, and saw to the need of churches in poverty or in any peril.[2]


Fast forward to the present. Seven in ten Americans identify as Christian. (“The 2020 Census of American Religion,” n.d.) Drilling into Glynn County’s statistics, that’s approximately 55% of its population. (Ibid.) Yet, in 2021, there were 233 violent crime incidents and 282 offenses reported by the Glynn County Police Department. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2023) Of those violent crimes, 72% occurred in the privacy of a residence. (Ibid.) Where is the love of neighbor commanded by our Savior? The most important and potent demonstration of our Faith is how we live our lives.


In the United States there are over 726 hospitals under faith-based ownership. (Michas, 2018) According to the American Hospital Association, this represents close to 12% of the total number of all U.S. hospitals. (n.d.) Yet, 66.5% of all bankruptcies within this country are tied to medical issues—either because of high costs for care or time out of work. (Konish, 2019) The median amount of medical debt is $2,000. (Bennett et al., 2021) Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But consider that the median household income (in 2021 dollars) for Brunswick, Georgia, is $29,362. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2023) That’s almost the total amount of a month’s paycheck. Interestingly, if you analyze the data for Saint Simons, the median household income jumps to $94,663. (Ibid.) Traveling just a handful of miles results in a net increase of income by 222 percent! What can we do? What are we supposed to do?


The most important and potent demonstration of our Faith is how we live our lives. Our kindred at the Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, bought $3.3 million in medical debt for pennies on the dollar, roughly $15 thousand. They then canceled it, freeing their communities from oppressive debts hanging over their heads.


If I am to believe the Gospel, then each unhoused person I meet is Christ. Not only am I to aid them, but I am also called to sit at their feet—to listen, to learn, and to change. The role I play is not centered on power or control. If each unhoused person is Christ, that leaves room in the relationship only for those willing to serve, to partner, to understand. When we encounter Christ in the face of the poor, we shouldn’t so much seek to transform them, as to be transformed ourselves.


This idea that Christ is the prisoner, the widowed and orphaned, the hungry, the unhoused, it forces us into relationship with those individuals experiencing these realities. Our assumptions melt away. The myths we believed are rebuked by the Truth of lived experiences. If every unhoused person is Christ, we are beckoned by Him into an actual relationship that eschews traditional power dynamics. If I encounter Christ in the face of the poor, then two key questions should spring from my lips: “What do you want or need?” and “How can I help?


I was in Washington, D.C., for a conference on Youth Leadership. I was selected into the program on scholarship because someone believed I possessed leadership potential. I was exposed to some of the highest positions of leadership in the Nation: The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Congress. One day, we had a free period to get lunch in Georgetown. For those who’ve never been to D.C., this area is affluent. I saw a Subway, went in, and ordered my customary sandwich: Turkey with Bacon. A Turkey Club, if you will. (Those who know me will get that joke.) As I got my drink and turned to eat at the window overlooking the street ahead, I saw a man. Very clearly unhoused; desperately trying not to look into the window of the restaurant in front of him where the smells of fresh bread were wafting.


I took one bite of my sandwich. Chewed. Swallowed. Another, then another. Finally, I couldn’t take it. I left my seat at the window, exited the crowded restaurant, and approached the man. I introduced myself and asked if he would like a bite to eat. He said ‘yes.’ He ate, but I was the one who was filled.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” Let us live those words. Amen.


References


Bennett, N., Eggleston, J., Mykyta, L., & Sullivan, B. (2021, April 7). 19% of U.S. Households Could Not Afford to Pay for Medical Care Right Away. Census.Gov. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/04/who-had-medical-debt-in-united-states.html


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2023). Crime data explorer. https://cde.ucr.cjis.gov/LATEST/webapp/#/pages/explorer/crime/crime-trend


Konish, L. (2019, February 11). This is the real reason most Americans file for bankruptcy. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/11/this-is-the-real-reason-most-americans-file-for-bankruptcy.html


Michas, F. (2018, March 2). Number of U.S. faith-based hospitals 1995-2016. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/800827/number-of-us-faith-based-hospitals/


The 2020 Census of American Religion. (n.d.). PRRI. Retrieved April 30, 2023, from https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion/


U.S. Census Bureau. (2023). QuickFacts St. Simons CDP, Georgia; Brunswick city, Georgia [Data set]. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/stsimonscdpgeorgia,brunswickcitygeorgia/INC110221


Footnotes


[1] See 1 Cor. 10:16

[2] A. Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (New York: Harper Torchbook Edition, 1961), pp. 147-98.

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