B Cycle – 4th Sunday of Easter 15

Unless you are completely asleep you are aware of the atrocities inflicted on Christians in the Middle East.  Christians are being forced to renounce their faith or die.   Men are being beheaded, burned and forced to watch as their women and children are being forced to become sex slaves.  Christian churches are being destroyed in order to remove the abomination of belief in Christ from sight.    Entire towns are being purged of Christians; their homes and property seized.

Where is the outcry from any part of civilized society?  Why is the world so silent about this outright attack on Christians?  It is not just ISIS and it is not just a local issue that does not affect us.  It is happening to our brother and sisters who profess a belief and faith in Jesus Christ.

These more visible attacks started after the Arab spring when the Coptic Christians of Egypt were denied religious freedom and equal status in Egyptian life. To this day, the Coptic Christians in Egypt continue to be denied meaningful employment and may not hold positions in the government service.  Egyptian Copts are refused permission to build new churches and requests to renovate churches that are badly in need of repair are denied.  Recently, there have even been calls for a return to collecting, a tax that the Qur’an instructs Muslims to charge to all non-Muslims, whenever Muslims are in power.

We know that here in the United States organizations like the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion foundation are constantly filing law suits to remove religious symbols from public places, prohibit prayer in public gatherings and are constantly on the attack to push Christianity from the public domain.  In fact the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s web site lists 74 law suits filed in the past six months.

I can give you example after example of American companies that are forcing their employees to have no expressions of their faith visible at their work places or on themselves.  No visible crosses, bibles, posters with scriptural passages, pictures of anything that involves faith or one’s belief.  Unlike our brothers and sisters in the Middle East we are not dying for our faith but our expressions of faith are being killed each and every day.  Unlike those in the Middle East who refuse to renounce their faith in Jesus, we do deny him by our complying with those who tell us to be silent.

I am the good shepherd – my sheep hear my voice.  How well do we hear the voice of God speaking to us?  If we listen to Christ and hear him speak to our hearts we know that we are called to a life style.  It is to be a life that is always centered on Jesus Christ and his act of salvation.  We can never allow ourselves to get caught up in watering down what we know as truth.

We are to proclaim like Joshua “…as for me and my household we will follow the Lord.”  We are to be like Peter and boldly proclaim that Christ is “the cornerstone” who is being rejected.”

We are to confront those reject Christ and are forcing us who believe to confine our faith to the inside of a church.  Our faith is not lived out in churches; it is lived on the streets where we live and work. It is lives in the places we play and entertain ourselves. It is lived by serving others and sharing our lives with others.

Yet by mandate of law we are being forced to abandon any open display or from performing any act that is a sign of our faith in Jesus.  This is so far from the country our founding fathers sought to build.  Their documents show freedom of religion was to be one of the hallmarks of this new country.  Not freedom from religion which has become the “separation of church and state” canon.  Where we find ourselves in today’s America, is that any expression of faith will be silenced by those who consider Christianity the opium of the mind.

Peter tells us what we Christians know as truth when he boldly tells unbelievers that “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any name under heaven given to us by whom we are to be saved.”  Who is going to tell this simple truth to those outside the walls our church if we do not tell them?

My sheep hear my voice and follow me Jesus says to us.  What Jesus tells us to do goes beyond our own personal relationship with God. It is a call to do what he did.

We know from scripture and from the teaching of our Church that we are to love God with all our being.  Heart, mind, soul and strength – the totality of our being is to be so in love with God it shows.  Like new and young lovers we are to be so focused on Christ that we do not care what the world thinks of us.  We simply do not care if our love for God is visible.

If we call ourselves Christians then our response must be to confront those who wish us to be invisible.  We must begin to push back against those who are pushing a God neutral society.  Our response is to let our light shine before all and to support those who are out front in this battle for religious freedom.

Brothers and Sisters we are called to be doers of the word not just believers of the word. We are called to make disciples of all.  We are not called and given gifts to sit on the sidelines; we are gifted to build the body of Christ into an active and vibrant body that lifts up the name of Jesus.  Today the gospel challenges us to acknowledge to the world “Who we are following.”

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