Saturday, 10 May 2014

'One heart, one love': sermon for Easter 4A based on Acts 2:42-47

Acts 2: 42-47; John 10:1-10

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, 
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

As the poet, John Donne, famously wrote:
‘No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
...A part...
of the main.’

In our gospel text this morning, Jesus talks of coming 
that we might have life in all its fullness - abundant life...
And, as we listened to our reading from the Book of Acts -
the story of the very beginnings of the Church -
we discover that life in all its fullness
is not one that’s lived in isolation:
abundant life ...
the Christian life...
is necessarily ...communitarian:
we’re not called to live out our faith in glorious isolation;
we are the body of Christ...
one body, and each of us making up the many parts. 

Throughout this week, 
on the back of a couple of conversations with different folk, 
I’ve been pondering the question:
‘what is the Church?’ 
And in our reading from Acts we catch a glimpse 
of what church might be for those earliest of Christians -  
behaviours and ways of being that might act as wee touchstones or signs for us,
as we think about what church is.
So, let’s examine our Acts passage a little more.

We’ve already worked out that for the folk in Acts, community was important -
the text says that ‘they continued together in close fellowship’...
and ‘day after day they met as a group in the Temple.’

The comment that:
‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’
is a comment that’s just not on their radar. 
And also, it just wouldn’t make sense to them:
go to the church?’
They don’t have to ‘go’ to the church
because...    they ‘are’ the Church.
The Church, as the song goes,
is wherever God’s people are praising...
Or, as that other song observes:
I am the church
You are the church
We are the church together...

The Church is flesh and blood, not bricks and mortar...
‘the church is not a building,
the church is not a steeple;
the church is not a resting place;
the church ... is a people’
And these particular people in Acts 
clearly seemed to think that meeting up together - 
joining up with other parts of the church, as such - 
was somehow important, somehow helpful.
They were drawn to one another;
they had common purpose;
they were connected;
they had a common identity in and through Jesus:
united in one love
all beating as one heart.

Spurred on by this one love
this community
this very early part of the self-same Church that we, too, are a part of...
spent their time in learning:
they wanted to know more about Jesus;
they wanted to know of his teachings;
they wanted to know how, as his followers,
those teachings impacted upon their own lives, and the lives of those around them.
They were hungry to know more,
to work out how to walk the journey of faith.
It was a community of learning:
learning to be like the one they loved.

Spurred on by this love
this community 
found that the natural expression of their love for Jesus 
was through worshipping together as his people.
And so they ‘took part in the fellowship 
and sharing in the fellowship meals and prayers.’
It was in community that they remembered Jesus in bread and wine
and, as they did,
ordinary grape and grain took on a deeper spiritual meaning -
the everyday things of the world becoming sacred - sacramental;
nourishing them,
binding them closer together -
one love, one heart, one in spirit.
United in prayer, too,
as they remembered and said together
the prayer that Jesus had taught - 
that prayer which we still say.
It was a worshipping community:
worshipping the one they loved
and who loved them, utterly.

And, as they began to comprehend that great and utter love
this community was filled ...with awe.
Hearts and minds and souls
struck with the wonder of it all
as they went deeper into this faith,
deeper into what it was to be disciples,
deeper into the great love of God as revealed in the Son.
This was an awe-filled community:
marvelling at all that God had done
at all that God given for them.

That amazing, divine self-giving
caused the believers to respond likewise.
And, in what could be seen as a dream text 
to delight the heart of any church treasurer - 
where’s [treasurer's name]?! -
these earliest of Christians gave...and gave...and gave,
sometimes quite sacrificially -
because the thought that one may be in need and suffering
was enough to cut them to their hearts:
when one suffered, all suffered.
They gave what they had,
what they could,
so that none were hungry
none were homeless...
remembering those words that Jesus had said:
‘when you do this for the least
...   you do it for me.’
They cared,
they supported one another
and within that mutual support,
they shared hospitality as well -
eating together in each other’s homes.
It was a community of generosity:
a living parable of the generosity of the one they followed.

That generosity was also a demonstration
of their great sense of thankfulness to God.
They were truly humbled as they thought of God’s love,
of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
Thankful - and possibly not a little astonished -
as they pondered the thought that
the Creator of the Universe and of all contained therein -
the One beyond time and space
the One beyond human comprehension -
cared for them:
called them... ‘beloved’...
It was a community of thankfulness and praise:
delighting in the One who delighted in them.

As the early believers worked out what it was to be church, 
there were a couple of interesting knock-on effects:
first, the wider community saw what they did,
how they lived,
how they treated one another in response to their God...
And so it was that the church enjoyed 
the good will of the people around them -
the wider community.
Second, the way in which this church community behaved... 
piqued curiosity,
drew people to them,
and so their numbers grew.

...What is the Church?
What are the signs of the Church?
The Church is... us:
the Church is... community.
For faith, within the context of fullness of life
is not just a private and personal matter of
‘me and my God’
faith, and fullness, is much more expansive than that:
it’s about ‘me and my God ...and my neighbour’ - 
and my neighbour may be a fellow Christian, 
or someone who lives in the local neighbourhood,
or even someone who lives on the other side of the world, 
who we may not know, but who may be in need,
and who we can support through agencies such as Christian Aid.

Called to live within the context of community,
as God's church:
together we learn about the faith
together we worship God
together we share with, and support, one another
together we give thanks and praise ...
because we recognise that this is what life,
life in all its fullness is about
as we follow  
the God who is bigger than the sum of our deeds
the taker of fears
and the giver of dreams..
the God who calls us to be his people
his community:
the God who is not finished with us yet,
despite the claims of some...
the God who is still speaking...

finish with clip...



Terri said...

One love, called to be in community. well done.

Mrs Gerbil said...

Oooo...I like.

So, I take it you are going to sing during the sermon?! I have heard it done and it worked.

Nik said...

Thanks both. And it all went well, so pleased.
Mrs G - nah, I spared the congregation my singing!!! :D