St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-08-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 04-08-2018

Where Two Or Three Are Gathered…

Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133, 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

More times than I can count I have personally heard people, many of them friends, talk about how they can be fulfilled in their faith without attending Church; usually with declarations such as “I can pray in my home just as well as I can pray in a Church” or “I feel as close to God when I’m out in nature as I do when I’m in a Church”.

I understand this; I have been inspired to whisper a prayer of gratitude at the sight of a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Rainbows always remind me of all of God’s Covenantal promises, not just the one made to Noah. And, in times of lifting highest praise, confessing my greatest sins, or begging for his presence in my most difficult trials, I can often have a deeper sense of moving myself closer to God in solitude and silence than I can when among others in congregation.

But, if I keep myself in only in that mode of practice of faith, I fail. I fail Christ who calls me into a community of believers, I fail the community of the Church, and I fail myself; as do all those who practice their faith exclusively in solitude fail.

There are two instances in my past experience that made me acutely aware of this; life lessons learned long before my call to ministry; both related to the death of a loved one.

Some decades ago, while talking to a friend whose husband died a month or two before, she was quick to tell me how disappointed she was in her Church family for their lack of support during her time of mourning. She talked about how long she and her husband had been members of the congregation and his family before them and how so few of the people reached out to her in her time of need.

What wasn’t said, that I knew, was that she, her husband, and their two young children had not attended Church any more often than Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday for many years previously.

In a more recent episode, another friend had much the same to say about his Church on the occasion of the death of one of his family. He didn’t feel let down personally as much as he felt that the congregation had let his loved one down by not extending more support for the family. This, again, was one who had not attended Church regularly, if at all, for decades.

In both cases, those I spoke with felt that their fellow Church members had failed them, they were angry, and further distanced themselves from the congregation. Sadly, their anger was justified… but their placement of blame was not.

Even though the congregations could have, and I would say should have, been more supportive in the mourners’ time of need, much of the failure resulted from their own lack of commitment to the community of the Church in the first place.

As I listened to their angry rants, both times, I thought about the number of others in their Church who would have appreciated their support in times of need: how many others lost family members to death; how many struggled financially after a job loss; how many suffered in the loss of health; and even, simply, how many would have been grateful for another empty seat in the pews being filled.

Now, and I don’t say this with anger toward them, but with great sorrow for them, now I say that the failure of the Church lays on the shoulders of those who were complaining, not on the steadfast members of the congregation.

This is why God calls us into community, why Christ calls us to be the Church!

Look at all 4 of our readings for today; each one speaks of a call to be a part of a community in the name of God and Christ and each one highlights the blessing of being a member of that community.

From Acts: the call; Now the whole group [the community] of those who believed were of one heart and soul…

          The Blessing: There was not a needy person among them…

From the Psalm: the call; How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

          The Blessing: For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

From the 1st Epistle of John: …we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us [as a community]; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

The Blessing: if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

And from the Gospel of John: and the doors of the house where the disciples had met [together as a community] were locked for fear of the Jews

          The Blessing: Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

 

The relationship between ourselves and God is only a part of a life lived in faith. It is a very important part; but if we focus only on that part we are being selfish; we are only putting our thoughts and energy into what we have in a personal relationship with the divine; what we gain as we immerse ourselves alone in the unwavering love of God. But it is in our mutually supportive relationship with a community of others that the fulfillment of what God and Christ lovingly call us into, when they establish the Church, is brought forth.

It is in times like we experience today, as we mourn the loss of our beloved brother Newt, that we see the love of God in his call to communal unity; the love of God that is expressed in our love for each other.

Today we all hurt, there is no denying the pain we all feel. Yet, as a community established in the love of God and Christ we know that we do not hurt alone; we know that God and Christ are with us in our pain; and we know that we each have the love and support of every other member of the congregation.

Speaking my personal feelings, but I’m sure I also speak for all of you; I am grateful for God’s nearness to me and I am grateful that God has called me into community with you where I can both, be supportive and where I can find support.

Let there not be a needy person among us; let the Lord ordain his blessing among us; let us walk in the light of fellowship with one another; Let peace be with us!

Amen

 Acts 4:32-35
4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
4:33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
4:35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Psalm 133
133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
133:2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
133:3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

1 John 1:1-2:2
1:1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–
1:2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us–
1:3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1:4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
1:6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true;
1:7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1:9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
2:2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

John 20:19-31
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
20:24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
20:25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
20:26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
20:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.
20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.