Holy Communion 26/09/21 (17th Sunday after Trinity)
(Revd Canon Malcolm Convery - Associate Minister)
Based on Acts 2:42-end
and Matthew 28:16-end
Many of us have been Church members as long as we can remember
and in that time we have seen many changes.
We witnessed declining numbers, aging congregation, the disappearances of choirs,
the demise of Sunday Schools, the loss of youth and the closure of buildings.
You may remember the Sunday School Anniversaries packed to the rafters with children in their best attire eagerly singing.
Those of you who have come from England may remember the Church Walking Days such as the Whit walks. Again, thinking back, we may remember the large gatherings meeting to hear Billy Graham. (eg Anfield Football ground in 1982).
We had our own large gathering in Nobles Park when the different denominations signed a covenant pledging the different Churches to work together.
More recently we have seen and are seeing the impact of covid on the church. During lockdown we have seen the growth of Church on zoom and this is continuing in many cases. Some people have been nervous about coming back to Church.
We have also suffered financially.
Perhaps we are discouraged, depressed wondering what the future holds for the Church and the Christian faith.
It is not the time to be downhearted, but instead to look afresh at what the Church is meant to be about! Why does it exist ? Where do we go from here ?
First and foremost the Church is the body of believers who have responded to God’s call through Jesus to worship and serve him and to be his witnesses in the world spreading the good news of the gospel .
God and Jesus lie at the very heart of what the church is about
and God’s plan of salvation will not be thwarted.
God is at work in our midst but we may have lost sight of the fact.
He has not abandoned us, but perhaps we and the world beyond has lost its way.
So where to we start ?
Let’s go back to the origin of the early Church.
Perhaps we should take the starting point as Jesus' command to the disciples as he was about to ascend into heaven. Matthew describes the scene on a mountain in Galilee where Jesus addresses the eleven disciples telling them :
“Go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you .”
A daunting task But he reassures them :
“ Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. (Matt. 28 v 18-20.)
Luke includes Jesus instruction for the disciples to wait in the city (Jerusalem) until they have been clothed with power from on high. (ie the Holy Spirit.)
We know what happened next - after ten days of waiting the Holy Spirit fell upon the 120 believers who had been prayerfully waiting in the upper room in Jerusalem.
On the day of Pentecost the Church was born and the book of Acts describes the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early Church.
In our reading from Acts we have a snapshot of what the believers got up to.
On this occasion they are gathered together in the temple courts, there being no Church buildings at this time. They also met in homes.
Luke in his account tells us that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2 v 42.)
Note the use of the word devoted.
They gave themselves whole heartedly to the Lord in fellowship with each other. They didn’t go to sleep in the sermons (I am not saying that you do!) but they listened intently, eager to learn. They broke bread together in remembrance of Jesus.
This went on not just in the temple courts but in people’s homes.
Meeting in small groups in homes helps us to grow as Christians and brings us closer to God and each other. The whole Church benefits from people meeting in small groups. This is seen in v 47 of our reading :
‘They ate together with glad an sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’
This was a Church with life, and that meant business. We read :
‘Everyone was filled with awe ,
and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles’ (v43)
They also cared for each other –
‘selling their possessions and goods and giving to anyone who had need’. (v44).
It doesn’t specify what the miraculous signs and wonders were, but it seems reasonable to assume that this involved healing miracles.
We might be thinking “should we expect such miracles today?’
Yes, we should be open to such miracles, but remembering such are not everyday occurrences. In the days of the early Church miracles seemed quite a common occurrence.
This account by Luke of an early Church gathering is not the whole story.
As we read the Acts of the apostles it is the story of the spread of the gospel message form Jerusalem to Rome and eventually of course across the whole world
and its spread continues to this day with the springing up of new Christians and new Churches.
When Jesus commanded the disciples to go and preach the gospel he didn’t just mean the eleven disciples to do this but it is the task of the whole Church.
Although in the book of Acts we see individuals sharing the gospel : Peter preaching to the crowd at Pentecost and seeing 3000 added to their number, Philip sharing with the Samaritans (enemies of the Jews) and then going to meet an Ethiopian eunuch on the Gaza road. And Peter being directed by the Lord to the Gentile home of Cornelius.
Then of course we have Paul and his missionary journeys during which he established many churches.
Thinking of ourselves : who brought the gospel message to us ?
Parents, Sunday School teacher, preacher or a friend perhaps?
In the words of psalm 95 we are called ;
“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord and let us bow down in worship” (v1, 6)
and in the words of a hymn we are called to
'Go forth and tell ---God’s saving news to all the nations.
Proclaim Christ Jesus , Saviour, Lord and King,
That all the world his praise may sing'
We eagerly come to Church to worship the Lord, but we are probably more reluctant to share our faith in the world beyond the Church.
It is a daunting task, considering many do not believe in God,
others shy away from religion , and some are hostile.
However, there are many who believe in Jesus and his teaching,
but do not commit themselves to following him.
We mustn’t assume that people who don’t come to Church are without belief.
No one is beyond God’s embrace.
He waits to receive us with open arms.
St Francis of Assisi was reputed with saying :
“Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words”
He didn’t simply mean let your lives speak and show the love of Christ,
but use your tongue to share the gospel message.
Most of us probably find living the life of Jesus easier than speaking about our faith.
What we need to remember is that through prayer God through his Holy Spirit will help us to grow into the likeness of Jesus and he will give us opportunities to share our faith and he will give us the words to speak.
So let’s be encouraged in these difficult days made even more difficult by the pandemic.
Indeed there are many positives to take from the pandemic.
We have seen people caring for each other and we have witnessed many acts of kindness, not just in our hospitals and care homes but also in our communities.
Many people who normally don’t come to church have tuned in to zoom
services and continue to do so.
Perhaps people have been brought to reconsider their priorities in life.
I find it encouraging when we see well known people who wear their faith on their sleeve. Marcus Rashford the Manchester United footballer for example who is a good role model, especially for young people. Then there is Dan Walker of breakfast TV and Football Focus fame who will be involved in Strictly Come Dancing.
There are other well known characters whose Christian faith shines through their lives and who are not afraid to talk about their faith.
We don’t have to be famous to do so.
God can use you and me to draw people to himself.
I have found it helpful preparing this sermon in reminding me of what the Church is all about. Many Churches and Dioceses have a mission statement that sums up what they are about. Some statements I have come across recently include :
Together making Christ visible. (Sodor and Man)
Living the Gospel.
To know. Love. Follow Jesus.
Sharing the love of Christ with our community.
We are the Church, You and I.
The Body of Christ called to proclaim the gospel in word and deed with God’s help.
May we do so with the love of Christ in our hearts.