Sermon Easter 4, yr A, 2023 As you may have guessed this Sunday is Good Shephard Sunday. However, we’ve had enough sheep for the day so I’m going in another direction! Our first reading from the book of Acts describes the life of that first community of Christians. It is a beautiful and idyllic community that is described, brought together by some fantastic evangelism and a genuine desire to do God’s work. The scripture that is just preceding our passage from acts today is a sermon wherein Peter preaches the Good News of Christ; his history, his life and how he fulfilled scripture and how he was crucified by the crowds to which Peter was preaching. Peter ended the sermon with a call to repentance, and those who welcomed his message were baptized and that day about three thousand persons were added. Well, that would be quite a sermon. no pressure there! Which brings us to our passage today, with over three thousand gathered as a new church, a new community, finding new ways to grow with God. Selling their possessions to benefit all. Meeting daily in the temple Meeting to break bread with one another Full of glad and generous hearts Praising God and having the good will of all people And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Throughout Christian history there have been attempts to regain this utopian sounding Christian community, from Christian communes to monastic communities. This passage has been held up as the ideal for a very long time, especially in times of change and when the church has strayed for the narrow path. When the pendulum sways towards institutionalization and power, there is a common desire is to get back to simplicity, to live out our faith like those first communities did, following Christ before all else. We are at one of those transitional times in our church, a time when the institution of the church has proved to be flawed and inward focused. We see all around us that the system is failing, again I emphasise that it isn’t the church, but the structures that are no longer viable. That system of an all powerful bishop, the assumed and unquestionable authority of the clergy, the formal necessity of Roberts Rules and Canonical self interest. This is what we are seeing fail, it is that institution our culture and our society have no interest in supporting or joining; the church as a power structure. We, like many before us, need to go back to our roots. To look at where our focus lies, where we spend our time and energy as people of faith. To discern where God is calling us to go and who God is calling us to be. When we look at our reading today my question becomes… where did those first Christians spend their energy? What was their focus? It seems that there was a strong focus on mutuality and community. A strong emphasis on spiritual growth. A strong direction of outreach. A strong feeling of joy, generosity and community health. What we must ask ourselves is if our institutions are taking our energy away from these foci or are we focused on the right things? Last weekend the corporation and treasurers went to a diocesan workshop. One of the questions posed to diocesan reps at the workshop was “how do we know when it is time to close a parish?” Is there a list of say…10 things … that indicate your church should close? Now I can sympathize with this question, because a simple checklist is easy, clear and definitive. It takes away the difficult choices and allows us to looks at church closures objectively. So obviously there isn’t one, because church isn’t easy, clear or definitive. However if there was a list of thing to help a church determine if it should close, this might be a question…where does the churches energy go? Where do we invest our resources? Are we spending all our resources upholding an institution or being a church? This is one of the areas that tells me St. Andrew’s is doing well. These are some of the things that bring me joy in this parish, that give me hope and show me that we are thriving: the mission and ministry group; focused on outreach and helping those in need the level of pastoral care increasing to the point where I need lots of help the prayer leaders, intercessors and those who take out communion weekly. The desire for more people to phone shut ins, to assist with services at care homes and visit hospitals. (please let me know if you are interested!) The choir, a group eager to praise God in song We have increased our assessable parking and are working on inclusivity We have St. Andrew’s Circle, focused on education and reconciliation We have a desire and people involved in bible study, book studies and seasonal prayer studies. We, as a larger community, gather for prayer and worship from 2-4 times weekly. These are things that are worth focusing on. This is what makes the church alive and thrive. These are the areas we know God calls us to, that the church is called to. The church is in the midst of change and we know that things are different and things will be increasingly different as time goes by, but we know that the important things will remain the same. There will be may organizational and complex problems with being Anglicans and part of an institutional church, but what God calls us to goes beyond denomination or institution, or even parishes. As we continue our journey to be one parish, this is what we focus on. Where we are to spend our energies. Not on differences of liturgical preference, or who stands where and when. Not on our differences and what separates, Rather on how we can serve God and neighbour, how we can best use our energies and resources as good stewards of what God gives. Each of us here gathered have gifts, ministries, skills and personal resources at our disposal. These are our most valuable resources, as we learn to recognize our faith in unity with one another we are also reminded that we are all ancestors of that early church, members of that one church of Christ. As long and as far as we have come from that first gathering of Christians, no matter how complex the church or how deteriorated the institution we are all one in Christ. The call to the Apostles Preaching, teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of break and the prayers. To the care for one another and of the poor, generously. To living in community, worshiping and eating together. To help one another and all persons grow in relationship with God.