Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sermon for Easter 4, Year A

May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47                          Psalm 23                        1 Peter 2:19-25                       John 10:1-10

“Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  This is the first verse from our reading from Acts today and it follows the reading we will hear on Pentecost Sunday.  What happens is this.  The apostles are in Jerusalem at the time of the Jewish Celebration of Pentecost when they receive the Holy Spirit.  Peter goes out into the streets and begins to tell the people gathered about Jesus and those that “welcomed his message,” we are told, were baptized and they then devoted themselves to study, fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and prayers.  That is also why we are here today.

We are here today to continue to in our study of the apostles’ teaching, to break bread together and to pray.  We are part of this church for the fellowship as well.  Our study, worship, prayer, and fellowship are what makes this a church.  The church is not a building , it is not an individual, it is a body of people with a shared purpose.  That purpose is more than gathering to worship; it is to become the people God intends for us to become.

In any church, people come and people leave, but as long as people are willing to gather for study, fellowship, and worship, the church represents Christ to others.  Last Sunday, I sent out an announcement to all our members that I have accepted the call to serve as the rector of St. Paul’s in Batesville.  In my announcement, I noted that you, our members, are St. Andrew’s and it was the thought of leaving you that made my decision so difficult.

During Holy Week, I preached about living in faith, not fear, because the same Spirit that came to the apostles comes to us.  I want to be clear that my decision to leave St. Andrew’s was not made out of fear for the future of this church.  In fact, I initially declined to be included in St. Paul’s search process.  I did not consent to talk with them until very late in their search and, then, only after a great deal of encouragement to do so.  To make a long story short, after multiple conversations and prayer, St. Paul’s and I felt God was calling me to make this change.

The average length of service for a priest in a parish is about five and half years – when I leave I will have been here eight years.  I have stayed because I love you and I love St. Andrew’s.  This is still true, but I do believe it is time for a change for both St. Andrew’s and me.  As a parish, St. Andrew’s will have the opportunity to select its next priest.  The search process can be good for a church.  Working with the bishop’s office you will form a search committee to find your next rector.  You will have  time to think about what you want for the future of this church, then find a priest to help you accomplish what you want for St. Andrew’s.

I fully expect good things for St. Andrew’s in the future.  As we continue in this Easter Season, it is important to remember that from the time Jesus was arrested until his resurrection, the disciples lived in fear, not faith.  It was not until they saw the resurrected Christ that they began to understand what Jesus had been teaching them.  And then, on Pentecost, they were transformed by the Holy Spirit into people who lived by faith.  They spread the good news of God’s love and others responded.  They devoted themselves to exploring their faith together in prayer, worship and fellowship.

If you continue to devote yourselves to these things, St. Andrew’s will flourish.  After today, I will be with you for another two Sunday’s.  Leaving is hard for me, and I certainly hope it is not a cause of celebration for you – I hope you saying goodbye to me will not be easy.  When I left home for college I remember grieving terribly for half the drive, then anticipating my future with excitement the second half of the drive.  Saying goodbye may be difficult, but it is also an opportunity for St. Andrew’s and for me.   When we live by faith and not by fear, we have hope for a future filled with God’s grace and blessings.

Psalm 23 reminds us that it is God who shepherds us and provides for us.  Christ, the Good Shepherd, leads us and guides us.  With him, we need not be afraid, for his goodness and mercy is with us.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he came that we might have life, and that we might have it abundantly.

In some ways, being here has been like walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I have celebrated the burial office for too many members here – but throughout my time here I have experienced the blessings of God and will always be grateful for the abundant life which exists here at St. Andrew’s.  Faith, not fear, is what has keep St. Andrew’s alive and is what will continue to lead you forward.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we gather today for worship and prayer.  Help us to see the abundance of the life you have provided for us here and to live in faith that we might draw our strength from your presence.  Guide us along the right pathways that  we might continue to devote ourselves to being Christ’s Body, the church, supporting one another, and serving this community.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.