Acts 2:42 – Who Is Your Influencer?

4th Sunday of Easter (A) – April 30, 2023

St. Paul – Lyons, KS 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 23:1-6; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10

Allowing the DNA to Change You

Over the past couple of weeks, during this Easter season, we’ve been focusing in on the radical change that has been brought about by the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And this event is not just a nice “something” that happened. It changed the world! The challenge is that we often don’t let it; we settle for it being something “nice.” But think back to what I said Easter Sunday: if aliens arrived and asked us why we’re here, who’s that—is the only answer we can give, “It’s Jesus. He wants us to be nice”? Hopefully not! Because it’s so much more! This is the event that transforms the world, transforms life, our life, your life, my life! Infinitely more so than 9/11 or COVID, infinitely more so than having a child. But so often we leave it at the level of, “Well, just be nice. And get some eggs.” 

But clearly that’s not it! Jesus never said, “Please, just be nice!” No, Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” Over and over and over again. Jesus invited people to drop their nets and follow him, to go sell everything and follow him. In other words, Jesus invites us to radically flip our lives upside down, to boldly follow him, to take a risk and follow him. And from the earliest days (literally, day one, on Pentecost) people began to do just that.

We heard that passage from Acts 2:42. A passage which shows us what the early Church looked like, what it looked like in the very first days of the Church to follow—concretely. And as we saw, that verse gives us four pieces of their DNA. The people devoted themselves: to the breaking of bread, to the teaching of the apostles, to the communal life, and to the prayers. These four simple things were their very DNA! And if these were so essential to them, we shouldn’t casually dismiss them. We should take this proposal seriously. 

That’s why last week we focused on one of those four elements: the breaking of bread, what we know as the Eucharist, the Sunday Mass. Remember? We had that very famous account of Jesus & the disciples on the road to Emmaus? How Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread? Ok, that passage is so important because it shows that what Jesus did there on the road is the archetype, the sketch for what we still do today each and every Sunday. And if you missed that, I’d encourage you to go back and listen to it.

Today, I want to focus on another one of those four parts of the DNA. Today I want to focus on how the people dedicated themselves to the teaching of the Apostles. Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus himself is, of course, the Good Shepherd. But Jesus also gave us shepherds—we call them Apostles, and now Bishop, the successors of the Apostles. So today on Good Shepherd Sunday, I think it’s pretty fitting to talk about WHY the earliest Christians, the earliest Catholics, dedicated themselves to the teaching of the Apostles. Why was this so important to them? Why did this take such a central role in their lives? And is this still important for us today? 

Who do you follow?

An example of what I’m talking about is the dedication we have to cell phones & social media. So, as a young priest, one of the things that you get tasked with—because you’re young and hip and cool—is to hang out with all of the high school kids. But what blew my mind in spending so much time with the youth was how their life was meshed with their phone. On average, teens spend 7 hours and 22 minutes a day looking at their screen. Over three hours on social media, and the other hours either watching videos, TV or movies, or playing video games. But what I also noticed is that … their parents weren’t much better!

Social media and all these video platforms are flooded with these people called “influencers”—athletes, celebrities, politicians, TV personalities, and even normal people that have risen to fame and fortune just by sharing their opinions, or by helping people with their fitness goals, or their cooking, or house remodeling, or whatever. For example, there is this little kid named Ryan who made $200 million dollars in one year by making videos of himself unboxing toys, playing with them, and recommending whether they were any good—oh yeah, he was 7 by the way! You name it, there is someone out there that you can follow, literally click the “follow” button, and begin listening to them, taking their opinions as your own.

And here’s the point, here’s why I bring it up! We spend massive amounts of our time following these people, taking their opinions, their advice, their views very, very seriously. And if we’re honest, for a lot of us, they shape what we see as important, what we spend our time, our money and our energy on. 

I mean, if you gave me your phone right now, I could scroll through your social media and discover what you spend your time and energy and money on. And because this is what we spend our time and our energy and our money on, this is what we spend our life on, our real, everyday, day-to-day life—this is what “influences” our real life. And maybe for you it’s not social media: maybe it’s cable news, or newspapers, or magazines. But I’m sure I wouldn’t have to dig too deep.

So then the question is why? Why do we follow them? Well, it’s because these people promise us life, a better life: better health or a better physique, better style in our homes, better relationships, better products to buy—you name it! We’re promised a newer, better, more invigorating life!  So we follow them, wherever they lead. 

But I think this is where we need to do a little soul-searching, little reflection: Where do they lead? Ultimately, where do they lead? Do they really lead to the fulness of life that we’re looking for? Do they deserve the amount of time and trust we give them? Is there promise to change our life really true?

We Go Astray Like Sheep

In our readings today, but all throughout Scripture, we are compared to sheep—like, a lot. And if you know anything about sheep, then you know that that’s not exactly a compliment. Sheep are dumb! Sheep are so dumb! If you leave a sheep on its own, it will make the worst decisions. 

If you have a flock of sheep, they will just follow any sheep anywhere…they’re just so dumb! Sheep need a shepherd. It’s that simple. St. Peter uses this image in our second reading, speaking about us he says, “You had gone astray like sheep.” We go astray! It’s what we do! We like to think that we’re fine and following the right path and doing fine… but so so easily we go astray!  And I don’t need to stand up here and give examples, you can all think of them yourselves.

Again, if we’re sheep, we need a shepherd. Without one, we’re defenseless. Without one, we don’t know where to go. Without a shepherd, we’re lost.

And before you say, “I’m no sheep, Father. I’m a lone wolf!” Well, I doubt it. Again, the data seems to show, your phone seems to show, the TV shows you watch, the news you watch and read—all of this would seem to say otherwise. Everyone follows somebody. It’s how we work.

The Challenge: To Hear the Voice of and to Follow the Good Shepherd

The method written into our very heart is to follow. As Christians, as Catholics we have to recognize and admit to ourselves that the method for anything is to follow. We know that.

And just like you follow someone’s instructions, just like you need a real person to lead you and guide you if you want to get in shape, or redecorate your house, or buy toys, or whateverin our faith, in following Christ, we need someone to follow. 

So who? So who do you follow? When it comes to this event that has changed the world, when we talk about this Jesus who promises you life—what does Jesus say in the gospel today? “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly”—when it comes to following this man, adhering to this event, letting it change us—what this looks like, what it means to truly follow him—who are you going to follow, who will you listen to, whose teaching is essential? The Apostles, his closest friends, the people he entrusted to care for his flock.

Why were the Apostles and their teaching so essential to the DNA of the early Church? Why did this take such a central role in their lives? Because these are the people that were given by Jesus himself to lead these people, to shepherd these people. And these Apostles handed their authority down to their successors: we call them bishops. The Apostles handed down their teachings: we call that the Tradition. The Apostles handed down the ability to teach authoritatively on matters of the faith: we call that the magisterium of the Church. And they also handed down writings: we call that the New Testament.

And this dedication to the teaching of the Apostles—so to the teaching of the Church and the successors of the Apostles—this is still so important for us today! So important! Because without it…we’re all just making things up. The early Church dedicated themselves to the teaching of the Apostles because they knew that these were the one’s that knew Him, that listened to Him; they could teach them.

Who do you follow? Influencer or Apostle?

What if we dedicated ourselves to the Apostles’ teaching? What if instead of massive amounts of time following influencers, or talking heads on the news, or wherever else—what if we spent massive amounts of our time following the Apostles, taking their teaching, their advice, their views very, very seriously? What if their teaching shaped how we see, what we see as important, what we spend our time, our money and our energy on?

What if instead of picking and choosing which of their teachings we like or don’t like,we took them seriously and went all in on them?

 This would truly begin to allow the event of Jesus’ Resurrection to change us…because that is the event that changed them. We’re going to follow someone. Why not follow the ones who can lead us to the fullness of life?

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