Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 25th April
Readings: Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1,8-9,21-23,26,28-29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Amen.
What’s the most extraordinary, fancy, memorable thing you have ever been given? Perhaps it was a wedding or engagement ring, something that shines and sparkles?
The true test of a gift, of course, isn’t the way it looks, or the price tag, or anything like that – a gift, a true gift, is symbolic of the love that inspires its giving.
The most memorable gifts, the ones that mean the most to us, are often the ones which display this love.
And love is at the heart of our readings today.
I love the way St. John talks about God’s love in the second reading. Think of the love, he says, think of the love God has LAVISHED on us by letting us be called God’s children.
It takes a lot for something to be called lavish. To me, it speaks of something that is way more than you’d expect. A fancy meal might be three courses, but a lavish meal…that’s eight courses, of the finest food you can imagine, with a different bottle of wine for each course, silver service, crystal wine glass. Something so amazingly beyond your expectations that it’s…mind blowing.
Think what it means to be called a child of God.
It means that God made the whole universe, he made the galaxies, the horsehead nebula and all the other wonders of creation; he made the world, the vastness of the sea and the beauty of the earth, he made humankind in his own image – and he caused us to discover music, literature. Beethoven’s symphonies, the poetry of Shakespeare, the deliciousness of your favourite food…and then he decided that the world needed one of you. And then he didn’t just create you to be a “thing” in his world, but he loved you as his son, as his daughter. It means that your life isn’t an accident, a fluke, it’s the result of God’s love.
And it’s that same love that sustains us day by day, and which in the book of Acts caused the crippled man to be healed. We heard the first part of this wonderful story at Mass in the week of Easter – Peter and John are going up to the temple to pray, when a paralysed man asks them for money. Peter gives that wonderful response, “Silver and gold have I none – but in the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk!”
The man was begging, and he hoped to get some coins from them to keep himself fed that day, to keep himself alive. What he gets is more than he can possibly imagine – it’s an outpouring of God’s lavish love.
And what about the gospel? That passage dripping in images of God’s love. Jesus is the good shepherd – the shepherd who cares for his sheep so much that he dies for them.
I was moved a month or so ago by a photo from Myanmar, where of course those horrible scenes of violence have been taking place after the coup there. The crackdown on protests has been dreadful.
As the heavily armed police moved in to stop the protest, Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng knelt down in front of them, her arms spread in the shape of a cross, and begged the police to spare the protesters and to take her life instead.
It’s much like the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who took the place of a man due to be executed in Auschwitz. Both of these followers of Jesus were following his example, the example of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
How deep the Father’s love for us!
How vast beyond all measure!
That he should give his only Son
to make a wretch his treasure!
God’s love isn’t transactional – it’s not given in return for our obedience and faithfulness – after all, Christ dies for us while we were still rebelling against him. But it’s a love so powerful that it urges us to respond to it – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbour, as God has loved us.
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.