May 15, 2011
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 15, 2011
The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick
1 Peter 2:19-25
Please turn with me in the Book of Common Prayer to page 304. At the bottom of that page and on the top of page 305 are five questions. If you were in my confirmation class or in a baptism rehearsal, I would ask you, “Which question in the baptismal covenant is the hardest or easiest for you?” Take a minute to read the questions and think about which ones stand out to you. Any volunteers? People often think that proclaiming the good news by word is harder than doing it by example. They tend to single out loving your neighbor as yourself/respecting the dignity of every human being as personal favorites or challenges. But rarely does anyone get excited one way or another
about the first question: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
For one thing, “continue” is a boring verb. Who wants to maintain, keep doing what’s already been done? “Apostles’ teaching” sounds old and far away instead of personal and relevant. Fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers sound alright, but not particularly passionate or inspiring. Now please turn with me to the reading from Acts on the first page of your bulletin. The authors of our 1979 prayer book didn’t just make up that vow in the baptismal covenant. They took it directly from this reading: “Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
When I think of the Book of Acts, I usually think of signs and wonders, healing miracles, sermons that bring three thousand people to the church in a single day. But today’s reading reminds us that the early church wasn’t built on gimmicks or huge personalities. It was Spirit-inspired, but primarily shaped by people coming together day by day,
week by week, to spend “much time together” praying, learning, and breaking bread together. If Jesus taught his disciples one thing, it was to gather in this way: to be community. He did not line up twelve people one after the other to apprentice them as impressive protégés or mini-Messiahs. He gathered the twelve and the others to follow him as a group. To be community. They ate together, journeyed, prayed, and learned together. After Jesus died, the disciples were afraid and lost, but they huddled together. And the Risen Christ came to them. After he ascended to the Father, the disciples and women gathered in a room upstairs in Jerusalem and constantly devoted themselves to prayer. They waited there and the Holy Spirit came to them with tongues of flame and great gusts of wind. But once the wind died down, the flames subsided, and the sermons concluded, the disciples did what they did best—they hung out—they spent much time together. Families grow strong and close by having meals together, going on trips and spending time with each other. In the same way, these early Christians were strengthened by putting time in. Coming together daily, they were shaped into a strong body, able to do God’s work in the world.
Sometimes at St. Timothy’s it seems as if we’re doing the same old thing: coming together to worship week in and week out, singing the same hymns, saying the same prayers, eating the Great Harvest communion bread, pouring water on the heads of infants and occasionally an adult. Think of all the things we could get done on Sunday mornings if we said a quick prayer by ourselves and moved on with our day. But devoting ourselves to these things week after week—listening to God’s word, having communion, and praying shapes us into the body of Christ. As one wise lay leader puts it,
“If we don’t come together as a body, it’s impossible to act as the body of Christ in the world.” The Holy Spirit begins to do amazing things through us when we’re doing what we think of as only routine. During these ordinary times, he plants the seeds for the signs and wonders we do through Christ.
Week after week for two years, Peter Doddema and Wisnel DeJardin have spent much time together with us in worship, in classes, on retreats, at coffee hour, at funerals and weddings, in the church office, in the receiving line, and in the pulpit. They have helped shape us as a community as we have helped shaped them for ministry. Listen to these comments from members of the weekly Bible study: “In the past two years, we’ve had a new zeal in our Christian Education. With Godly Play and new programs for children and adults, we have definitely experienced new life.” What these seminarians have brought to us in that area is “immeasurable. They make us think, bring up different perspectives.” Another says, “I have grown from experiencing Peter’s humility and his sermons which were always filled with…spiritual inquiry and from Wisnel’s class on Covenant Theology and the passionate way in which he preached his love of God.” “Both have been an inspiration.” Others add, “Peter gives wonderful sermons that seem to really relate to issues that I am personally struggling with…“He tells a great story
and there’s always a charge at the end of his sermons.” On the global front, “Wisnel has brought Haiti much closer to us.” “He has given us the courage through Christ to behold horrendous pain and suffering together…and to lead us by his example…to a place where we can have hope again. His presence has expanded St. Timothy’s sense of mission.”
Today Pere Michelin will tell us more about our partnership with the Episcopal Church in Haiti in serving the children of Chapoteau. It’s exciting to think about the work we can do together both from here and in Haiti as a group from St. Tiomthy’s travels to the school. This spirit-filled work began with the ordinary: our coming together to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. In February 2009, Father Brad preached a sermon about a trip he’d taken to Haiti decades ago. A seminarian named Peter Doddema was in the congregation, visiting for the first time. He e-mailed Brad later that day, “I just returned from a month of working
and studying in the Dominican Republic…I feel a strong sense of call to both Haiti
and the Dominican Republic; hearing today's sermon with the reference to work in Haiti was therefore wonderful.” The next fall, Peter asked Brad if we had room at St. Tim’s
for his friend Wisnel to do field education. During Wisnel’s sermon on the first Sunday of Advent that year, a month and a half before the devastating earthquake, he challenged all of us : “Take a spiritual journey to Haiti this Advent.” That was the advent of a journey that we have been on ever since. Led by our Service Ministry, we will continue to be on it for as long as we are welcomed and needed.
When we come together to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in the prayers, the Holy Spirit shapes us into the body of Christ. He moves us as a body to do awesome things in the world in Christ’s name. We serve a God who knows us each by name and who calls us to use our particular gifts for his work: Peter Doddema, Wisnel DeJardin. Yet the work of the church is never the work of only one or two individuals—some sow, others reap. The work goes on even as people change roles or leave. One former senior warden notes, “We have lost several leaders of our congregation from moving or death…it is always hard to say goodbye; but I am reminded of them in the face of the new leaders, strong and resilient, who keep coming forward.” As we send Peter and Wisnel forth, remember this: Whether we are in Herndon, VA, Haiti, or Harrodsburg, Kentucky, we are part of the same Body, the same Spirit by baptism. Wherever we are, we are to keep spending time with others in worship, in the breaking of bread, in learning, and in prayer. From these ordinary practices, the Spirit can do extraordinary things through us as one body in the name of Christ.