Beware of the Wolves
Today, once again, I’d like to take a look at the epistle reading. St. Luke, in writing this, not only tells us about St. Paul’s early ministry to the people in Ephesus, in Asia Minor, but he speaks specifically about the dangers that lie ahead. I think we may have the impression that it was easy to bring in 500 people at a time in those days. Not so. They struggled big time.
For us too, it’s a struggle – as clergy and laity. No one ever promised us that being a Christian would make for an easy life. It makes for a fulfilling, purposeful life but not an easy life. Saint Paul gives a warning of some of the challenges that will be faced by Christians. He says that "after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." Saint Paul went from place to place establishing churches. He would stay in a place for a while, get everyone fired up about Christianity and then move to establish another church in another city but he didn't leave until he had people who could lead the church in the new place. After he left, the new leaders would be challenged, some would crumble, and some would lead the new communities astray. In their defense though, just imagine how difficult it would be to practice Christianity without a NT or liturgies.
In our times, I believe there are two kinds of wolves that threaten Christianity. The first, and largest group, are the people who lurk outside the doors of our churches. We come to worship each Sunday for a little respite from the world, but as soon as we leave, we are bombarded by secularist media, politicians, Hollywood culture, and consumerism. These are just some the "wolves" that threaten our church from the outside. More disturbing, however, are the wolves who threaten the church from the inside. Believe me, they are still around today. There is actually a book out called "Antagonists in the Church" which examines this contemporary crisis of people inside the church who work against the church, weakening the faith of the believers or simply lulling them into apathy.
Saint Paul offers multiple remedies to deal with the "wolves." He reminds us to "be alert"and to run to the grace of God, "which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." He tells us to just think about necessities and not to covet what we don't have. We are to toil and help those who are weak in faith. And above all, we need to pray with one another. Notice the phrase, “with one another.” We pray together, we worship together, we consider ourselves always to be a contributing member of the whole body, always concerned for the salvation of others, especially the youth and the weakest among us.
If there’s any place that we still have a lot of work to do here, it’s in this: not only ministering to the youth but giving parents the tools they need to raise their kids in the faith, to live every day as if it is a day given to us just to work on salvation.
The placement of this Epistle lesson on the Sunday after Ascension coincides with the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 A.D. The purpose of that Council was to bring order and unity to the church. Having come out of hiding after St. Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., the church emerged free but fragmented and with great theological division. This would be expected after having been underground since the inception of Christianity. There were many "wolves" and false doctrines that threatened the unity of the faith. The First Ecumenical Council gave to the church the Creed before a NT even existed to unite the people in one faith. So, this Epistle lesson reminds us to admonish the churches to be unified in faith and in work. This lesson is appropriate even TODAY as we wrestle with issues of unity and purpose, and as we combat "wolves" both inside and outside the church who seek to damage the flock.
In some ways, our challenges are even greater than theirs. While it’s true that we here in America are not threatened with death for our faith, we are threatened by something equally destructive: the attraction of nothingness, isolation, apathy and disrespect for life. Our battle is often against a most devious enemy – beautiful and smooth-talking people – who have the power to persuade feeble minds. So, our reminder today is this: beware, be vigilant, keep the light burning, and remember that Jesus Christ and His Church are where we find our life, our purpose, and joy.