Puddletown and Milborne
Sunday 8th April 2018
Acts 4.32.35; John 20.19-31
I wonder what differences you see in the pictures of the Church we get in our two readings and the reality of 21st-century Church.
For me the biggest gulf is in the sense of community we find. Today the culture of individualism that infects our society has also done much damage to the church.
If we look at the picture in Acts, we see a church community that is really supportive of each other and one in heart and mind. We see a church community which puts their togetherness at the centre.
This pattern was about being part of the family of Christ. These people didn’t make excuses not to turn up at gatherings, yet just think how many excuses we make not to join with our fellow Christians on a Sunday morning or other important times, such as those Holy Week service which are poorly attended.
Yet how can we expect to celebrate Easter truly, if we haven’t been prepared to walk together through Christ’s suffering?
I don’t like the type of service. I don’t like singing. I don’t like so-and-so who always goes to that service. I’m too tired. It’s too early in the morning. I’m going to friends. I’m having lunch with family. I’m on holiday. I need to go shopping. I want to go to that garden show. I had a busy day yesterday. I just don’t feel like it.
These days we think it’s OK to pick and choose what we do and when we come. But essentially that’s about self-centredness and not a commitment to the Body of Christ.
They didn’t use those excuses in the early Church because to them being a part of the Body of Christ was much more important than anything else.
From the start Christianity was about a community, a togetherness, and we have over the years destroyed that element of our faith.
Yes – I’m using strong words because I think this is an important thing. Getting it right is about following the two greatest commandments: loving God and loving my neighbour.
One of the reasons the modern church is in trouble these days is because even those who call themselves Christians are not helping to build the right sort of community. What would you give up for the person sitting next to you here in church this morning?
What do others miss out on when we are not present? What do we miss out on when we are absent? Look at Thomas.
At the end of a long and confusing day, the disciples are gathered in the upper room. We don’t know specifically which disciples, whether it was the Twelve or what was of left of them after Judas’s defection or whether it was wider body of people including some of the women who had followed Jesus. But we know three things.
First, they are together.
Second, they are scared.
Third, Thomas is not with them.
Scared, probably because Jesus has just been killed and they worry for their own lives too. Scared because the women left the tomb terrified after finding Jesus’s body had gone. Scared because they’ve heard stories that he’s alive again, but how can that be? Scared but together.
And look what happens. Jesus comes to them, and offers not scolding because they ran away, not judgement because they didn’t believe, not punishment because they are looking inwards and not outwards, but peace.
Peace be with you.
He shows them his wounds and things change – now they do believe, now their fear has been cast out by perfect love, now they know the strange tale the women told is true.
But Thomas is missing.
Thomas hears afterwards and can’t quite believe what they have been telling him. We don’t know where he is or why he’s gone off on his own. Perhaps it’s all just been too much for him, but because he’s not with the others, he misses out on the presence of Jesus.
I wonder how often we miss out on the presence of Jesus with us because we don’t find room in our busy lives for gathering with our community.
A church is not predominantly about services, though that is how many view it.
Being a member of a church is about a way of life, a commitment to a family.
Being a member of a church is about playing one’s part for God, about using one’s gifts in the service of God.
It is about supporting and cherishing the other members. It is about coming together to worship, to pray, to share the eucharist, to learn together, to encourage one another, to go out together in mission, to expect that we will offer what we have to God not that we arrive predominantly expecting to get something.
From the moment of our baptism we are a member of Christ’s body. From that moment we have a vocation, a calling from God. The priorities that order our lives cannot be the same as everyone else’s, for we are called to put God first in all that we are and all that we do.
Thomas missed out on seeing Jesus because he was somewhere else. How often do we miss an encounter with the risen Christ because our hearts and minds are elsewhere?
At heart church isn’t about fund-raising or buildings or any of those things which consume so much of our time.
At heart church is about being the Body of Christ, believers coming together to be a family centred around Jesus, to worship together, to live differently from the world around, to encourage one another, to trust in God, to engage in spreading the love of Christ in our communities and world.
No human being can live without a beating heart. If Christians made more of the beating heart of the Church, we could I believe become so much more effective in what we do. As we draw near to God together in prayer, hearing the Word, sharing the eucharist and in fellowship, we become equipped to make a difference to our world.
Jesus breathed on the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit. That is the power of Christ in them. That is a gift for all of us, but we need to open ourselves to God and to each other, if we are to truly receive that gift.
How would our church look different on a Sunday morning if we came with an attitude that is full of joy because we are meeting with our family?
How would it feel different if when we arrive we are truly glad to see one another?
How would it grow in a sense of community if we reminded ourselves that we are not here in church as individuals but as part of Christ’s body?
How would our benefice look different if we saw each other as part of the whole and not just people from a different church?
Why is it that benefice services are so poorly attended?
Why is it that the benefice weekend still has places left? Going away together is always a good way of deepening relationships. (And if money is the main problem you’re not coming, then we do have some help we can give with that).
The earliest Christians stood out because of the quality of love that others saw in them. It produced mutual flourishing, deep care for one another, a genuine desire to support the vulnerable.
What do outsiders see of us? I suspect if we’re really honest those are not the first things they would say.
What was it Jesus said at the Last Supper? “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is the way you love that will show people that you follow me, Jesus said.
The Easter Season is all about new life. How would it be if this year our new life also became one of new love, a new depth of quality in our relationships with one another, so that those who view will know us by the quality of love we show to one another?
But in order to do that and be part of that we do need to be present with the community when it gathers, whether that be a Sunday, a midweek service, a Christian festival, a benefice weekend or fete.
God makes this possible through the power of the Holy Spirit which Jesus breathed on the disciples when they came together. Let’s make this Easter season a season of real new life.