Welcome back everyone!!! What a joyous day this is, being together once more. Once more gathered and even better gathered together in church!
Here in St. Andrew’s there have been many events, many celebrations, many sacraments and so many memories of this church. The church meaning the building and the church meaning the people.
Because the word church has a couple of origins…one being ekklesia, which is Greek, meaning ‘the assembly of citizens’. Primarily a political gathering, like a council meeting in self governing Greek cities, back in the days when people ran around in togas.
The second meaning of church has more Germanic roots…Kirche (kirk-keh) which in turn, has it’s roots in the Greek word meaning ‘thing belonging to God’, this mostly meant the building, but it could apply to the people too. So, looking from a primarily linguistic angle the church is an assembly of people gathered for a purpose and belonging to God. But we know that the church is far more then it’s definition.
The church is a place of solace and strength, worship and beauty. It is a gathering of friends, family and brothers and sisters of faith. It is a place where we gather to know Christ and make him known. A place where we are strengthened in word and sacrament so that we can go out and be Christ in the world.
The church is a living thing…beyond walls and borders, beyond location and time, beyond countries and races. The church is catholic…which means universal…encompassing all the saints…those here in the pews, those who have gone before us and those yet to be. People of faith, living out their faith within and without these walls as a community with a purpose. And for James who wrote the epistle we read today that is incredibly important…living out your faith, not only individually but as a community in action.
“are any suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should praise God. Are any sick? They should summon the elders…who will come with prayers and anointing.” Confess sins to one another, pray for one another, keep accountable to one another, sing and praise God with one another.
We are a community in the church and the faith we have is lived out individually and communally. The church is the people, and in this church of St. Andrew’s there have been many generations of faithful people. Lifetimes of people who were empowered by the Holy Spirit and who changed this community within and without for the better. We too have that same Spirit to empower us to use the gifts that God has given us … and not just us members of St. Andrews’.
Now it seems that in our gospel there was some debate around who should have the Holy Spirit and who should not. Who was part of the community, who had the authority, who was entitled to receive the Spirit. “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’” He was not one of us.
In our gospel we read that people found it difficult to share God’s Spirit, difficult to allow that God’s Spirit could move among the people. Rather, they tried to keep the Holy Spirit contained to the chosen few. It sounds like they liked to be special, to be elect.
“teacher we saw someone casting out demons in your name…” What is the problem? Why such an uproar? Surely this is a good thing! So why the commotion? We are told it was “because he was not following us” not a member of our group, not one of us…. The privileged few… the special… the only ones that God will speak to.
We still have this problem in the church, even if it is subtly. We speak of members in the church… to be a member by definition means exclusivity. If you are a member, someone else is not. ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
Ok, that does sound a little extreme, but if you were to look at this parish gathering from an outside perspective, would you see insiders and outsiders? Those in the know and those who are not? Do we have a sense that God’s sprit belongs to the few and that no one else should be speaking in God’s name. It is only Priests, or Anglicans, or Christians who have rights to God and can speak in God’s name. We are in…they are out. How does this build the faith of a community?
The community in James reading mentions elders, but apart from that the focus is that of prayer, praise, anointing, confession in community. But not the community of John’s discussion us…and them. But a community of all.
It is good for the Spirit of God to be at work amongst the people, it is good for the church…that assembly belonging to God …to be filled with the Spirit and to share in the work of the church. As baptized Christians we believe that we have each received a share of the Holy Spirit, the question becomes what do we do with it? Do we keep it exclusive…members only? Or do we use it to the glory of God and the betterment of the community? And if so how?!
James, wrote his letter, in part, to answer such questions. The teachings of Paul throughout the epistles often focus on the importance of faith in Christ. That faith alone will save you, sola fide… but James…James argues that this isn’t enough. In James’ opinion, as he famously writes in the 2nd chapter of James. Faith without works is dead.
Now, as controversial as that theology has been, James has a point. We have faith, but it should not be a passive faith, but an active one. One that shares in the privileges and responsibilities that go with receiving the Spirit. Shares them with everyone we meet, inside St. Andrews and out. In the church or not, in the… nevermind the ins and out! It means with EVERYONE.
So, what should you do when you meet someone? If they are suffering. Pray. If another is happy. Rejoice and praise God. If someone is sick. Go pray with them and if so called, anoint them. If someone is burdened. Listen to them; and act, just as Jesus taught… feed the hungry, refresh the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those sick or in prison.
These responsibilities and privileges do not belong to the insiders alone… but to the whole community of the faithful. I mean the whole people of God. All those called by the Sprit, the complete people, all working in Christ’s name to bring about wholeness and perfection.
So that together the church, the whole assembly of Gods’ people, can work in their faith to pray, sing, listen and heal ….to the end that God’s kingdom will be established and there will no longer be insiders and outsiders, no longer be hunger, or thirst, or sickness, or brokenness in the world.
The church is more than the privileged few , it is more than the building, more than a place of faith… it is a place of inspiration to action. It is the whole people of God, working individually and communally through their faith to bring about God’s kingdom for all. And God grant it comes soon. amen