For those who are unfamiliar with latest Pew Poll on Religion, I will tell you that the numbers are in - and they don’t look too good. They do not paint a rosy picture for the future of Christianity in this country.
More and more of the sheep are wandering away. Some are even running away – off into dark and lonely places. Some of the sheep are caught up in brambles and bushes as they search for greener pastures. Others are falling into pits. Some are caught in rocks, as they respond to - voices on-the-wind - of false shepherds, who lead them off into the wilderness. Many others are just wandering alone without a shepherd to care for them; relying on their own efforts to find sustenance and safety.
All these sheep fail to hear the voice of the one true shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who calls them to green pastures.
The shepherd who loves them.
The shepherd who feeds them.
The shepherd who brings them to running streams, so they may quench their thirst.
He is the shepherd who cares for them; binding their wounds and comforting them when they are frightened.
This is the Good Shepherd who endured suffering and hardship to protect his sheep against wolves and other predators who would make a quick and tasty meal of them.
The shepherd who watches through the dark of the long cold night, so they may rest in peace: refreshed from their day’s labor.
He is the shepherd who endlessly searches for his lost sheep; bearing them home on his shoulders when he finds them.
He is the ever-faithful Good Shepherd, who loves his sheep more than his own life. He knows each one and calls them by name into his loving embrace.
In the Pew Poll, the number of Christians is down all across the board – Evangelical, Catholic and all other Protestants. The number of Catholics is down a significant percentage. The biggest gain is in the ‘Nones’. No, not woman religious, but those who claim no religious affiliation – you know many of them – they are the, “I’m spiritual, not religious” types. This category also includes those who reject all religion; relying on a belief in their own sovereignty and superiority.
There are a myriad of reasons why this is happening and there is much hand-wringing over the pending doom of the Church. This is not the time or place for a dialogue on the causes behind the effects, though that is a necessary and on-going conversation.
This is a time to remind each of the faithful that we are an Easter People.
We are a people of hope.
We believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!
We believe in Jesus’ Ascension into heaven where He sits at the right hand of God, the Father.
Soon, we will celebrate the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in sending the Holy Spirit to be with us, guiding and consoling us as we live in His love.
We also believe that He will return one day to bring us, the living and the dead, into the Kingdom of God where we will live forever and ever.
We also believe that His Church will prevail triumphant against all adversity. This is not a time for fear and despair, but a time of challenge. It is a time to remember - with great joy - that in our baptism, we have died to sin and are raised up to new life in Christ Jesus.
Like Him, we are not part of this world, but only live in this world as His disciples – awaiting His return. Jesus prays to the Father for us, “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world,” so we may continue His work of bringing the Good News of salvation for all God’s children.
Our mission, “. . . to go forth and make disciples of all nations” is not to just a matter of signing up more members of His Church, but to make known God’s love for all His people and to herald the Good News of our Salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.
This is our mission – the continuation of His mission.
It is the mission of God’s love – a love that knows no bounds – a sacrificing love – a complete and enduring love.
It is the love of the Good Shepherd for His sheep: the love God has for each one of us, the sacrificing love of Jesus Christ, the compassionate love of the Holy Spirit, the perfection of love of God, the Father for all His children.
We share this Good News of salvation in living lives of true discipleship that gives glory to God. In living this way - we are known as disciples of Jesus, by the love we have for one another, by the joy we share in the knowledge of God’s love for us and by our desire to be with Him in His heavenly Kingdom.
We are sent by Jesus to bring this same love to the whole world; living out His mission in His Holy Name. ~ Amen.