Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

So, what do you hear in these words? Where is the good news? First of all, it’s about the baptized. That’s all of us here, unless someone here has wandered in today and has not yet been baptized, in which case "come on down" and we can take care of that! 

The point here is that it’s not the clergy, or the bishop, or the canon, or the starting five, or the captain of the ship who does the work. It is not just the loudest praying members. Those who had been baptized all played a role, because this is the work of a whole community. In my former parish we spelled it out on our bulletins every week and it was not just a slogan, we really meant it. And we really tried to live into it, with God's help. It said:  The Rector – the Rev. Dr. Richard M. Simpson. The Ministers – All the people. So that even when I left last year and through an interim time, the work of ministry continues.

Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are not just a bystander here but one of the ministers here– not just the people who have to try to hold things together in the absence of a rector, but that you are called to ministry, as the baptized, right now? If you don’t yet believe it, and live it, then our work begins right here. And sometimes what we say with our lips we are not quite so sure we are ready to commit to with our lives. But here we are.

What is that work? Well, this isn’t the only verse in the Bible. So there are other texts for other days. But there is a thread that runs through the whole of the Scriptures as I read them, and that is that the work is to love God and to love neighbor. The work is to seek Jesus in the face of the stranger. It is to share in God’s work of redeeming the world.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Sounds like an impossible dream. So hold that for just a moment and notice that what the ground work is, the first step: all the baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.Three things to focus on: apostolic faith, the breaking of the bread, and prayer. Let’s take them each in turn but also aware that they are all connected, all part of one whole,

Apostolic teaching and fellowship is an extension of the work of Jesus who called the twelve to follow him. Jesus didn't do this work alone; he formed leaders. Remember the feeding of the five thousand? It was more than a miracle. You give them something to eat...

And then the risen Christ sends the Holy Spirit so that the work can continue. We are his Body now on earth – the Body of Christ. We are Peter and Mary and the beloved disciple and all the rest. Two thousand years later the world has changed a lot since first-century Jerusalem; but the work of being God’s own beloved has not changed. Apostolic faith means it is not me and Jesus, and you and Jesus, and somebody else in Jesus each doing our own thing. It means we are called to be members of one another, part of one fellowship divine as Charles Wesley once called it. It means the faith of our fathers and mothers is living still, and that to really live it has to be enfleshed so we can pass it on to our children and our children’s children. It’s not a commodity, not a product. It’s a never-ending-story, a narrative that holds us together.

Do you remember that story about Thomas we talked about when I was here two weeks ago? The disciples were locked away in an upper room. They were afraid. They were huddled together. And Thomas helped them to see that what they needed to do was to trust God again, and each other, and themselves and when that began to happen, trust became stronger than fear and the doors opened up.

Well what we see today is how that work continued. Apostolic faith is not afraid of change. When new people come by they are welcomed in as Christ himself, not ignored as a threat. Hospitality is a huge practice in apostolic faith and goes to the core practice of the Church from generation to generation, because a people locked up together in fear and trying to survive will die. But a people who are open to the gifts of the stranger will be made new again.

The people of St. Swithin’s, Jerusalem broke bread together. They did what we will do in a few moments– they did what Jesus did, not only in the Upper Room on that Thursday night but what he did on that Road to Emmaus on a Sunday night and what he did when he offered up those few loaves for a multitude. He took and blessed and broke and gave the bread and when they did so their eyes were opened and they saw it was true; that he was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread. The community needs to come together so that we can be fed this living bread and so that Christ can be made known in the breaking of the bread.

And the prayers. This brings us back full circle, because the prayers are not just when we come here for an hour on Sunday morning, but to pray without ceasing. To pray with the book and without the book. To pray with words and without words. To pray in ways that both articulate to God what we need, and then listen for the ways that God might be saying, “I’ll be there with you but I send you.” I think sometimes the reason we do so much talking in our prayers is that we are afraid if we are still God might in fact send us. That we might be the answer to someone else’s prayer.

Who is sick in this congregation and not able to be here? There is no rector right now who is going to visit them today. Nor is the canon. Who has been missing and needs to be invited back to become part of the new Trinity? I am not going to call them, I don’t even know their names. Let me ask an even harder question: because it takes money to do ministry (and if you do keep on reading in Acts 2 you’ll see that they were a community not afraid to talk about money) so who is going to be a good steward of your resources – time, talent and money? Not the imagined magical people who will come in next week to fill out a pledge card to deal with the financial challenges here. But the baptized who are here, now – this holy catholic and apostolic people gathered here now to break the bread and to offer our prayers. How is God wanting to use us for the work that lies ahead?

Before we pray the Creed, I want us to take just a couple minutes for silent reflection and listening: what is the work God gives you to do?

This is a slightly edited and abridged version of my sermon today at Trinity Church in Shrewsbury. 

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