Apr202014
The work of DignityUSA on April 20, 2014 is proudly sponsored by Robert Downtain.
"My first day at Dignity in 1976"

APRIL 13, 2008: FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
I Peter 2:20b-25
John 10:1-10

I recently was honored (and humbled) to participate in a McAllen, Texas lay congress. Among other things, I quickly discovered my fellow-participants shared a belief about our country's plan to build a wall on its Mexican border which differed from the opinion many of us "Northerners" have on the subject I returned home not only with a suitcase packed with "No Border Wall!" bumper stickers, but also with a new way of looking at the issue. Those deeply committed Christians reminded me that, as other Christs, we're not just Americans concerned with guarding the frontiers of our country and culture from "foreign invaders," but before anything else we're children of God, concerned with helping other children of God live up to their potential. Their Christian frame of mind on this matter helped alter my own frame of mind.

I especially recall my Texas experience when I hear the exchange between Peter and his Pentecost audience in today's Acts passage. "When they had heard this (speech), they were cut to the heart. They asked Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, my brothers?' Peter said, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

As in Jesus' first public pronouncement in Mark and Matthew, the key word of this exchange is "repent." In this context it means much more than just the "be sorry for your sins" aspect of confession most of us learned in second grade. When Jesus and his gospel disciples employ the term, they're talking about a complete change of someone's value system: a 180 degree turn in the way we look at everyone and every circumstance in our daily lives.

I correctly learned as a child that all sins committed before baptism are forgiven in baptism. But at the age I learned this, I wasn't yet mature enough to understand the biblical reason for this forgiveness. It wasn't just that our sins were washed away in the sacramental waters; it was that the person being baptized was no longer the person who had committed those sins. The sinner was dead. He or she had experienced a "metanoia;" they had replaced their value system with Jesus' value system. No longer did they just have faith _in_ Jesus; they now shared the faith _of_ Jesus.

John's Jesus speaks about the same concept in poetic language. "The sheep hear his voice as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . He walks ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will not follow a stranger; they will run a way from him because they do not recognize the voice of a stranger." We know Jesus' voice because we've made Jesus' ministry our ministry.

The I Peter author employs a somewhat different metaphor, but the teaching is the same. "For you have been called (to do good), because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps . . . . For you had gone astray, like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and the guardian of your souls."

Our entire life of faith revolves around listening for Jesus' voice, calling us the midst of life's other voices; the voice inviting us to walk behind him down a road few travel. It's a road only those who have experienced repentance dare travel. In some sense, we're called to become different people everyday of our lives, to hear aspects of Jesus' call today we never noticed yesterday.

We don't have to travel down to the Rio Grande Valley to experience mentanoia. But, if you do, be prepared to hear the good shepherd's voice calling you to follow him in a new direction.