A rare community for all ages, with everyone welcome
Mary Copping, 8 August 2021
1 Kings 19: 4–8; Ephesians 4: 25–5: 2; John 6: 35, 41–51
In the New Testament there are 13 letters written by St Paul to the churches. We heard part of the one written to the Ephesians. St Paul who, as Saul, uttered murderous threats to Christians and wanted them killed, after his conversion when he saw God’s light on the Damascus road, became a changed person. He went on many missionary journeys to tell people about Jesus and about all that he’d experienced of God.
In each city that Paul and his team visited, people heard Paul’s message about Jesus and became Christians. They met together and formed church communities in those cities. Paul had great love for those people and wanted to hear how the young churches were doing. Someone would bring him news about the church members in a particular city, then he’d write them a letter, usually answering some questions they had or teaching them something they needed to know about living as Christians.
Each of the letters is very different, showing how each church congregation was very different, with very different gifts and needs. These letters spoke to the churches then with encouragement and help, and they speak to us some 2,000 years later.
So in the letter to the Ephesians, St Paul’s main aim for this whole letter was urging the unity of the church, encouraging the mission of the church, and here in this chapter, about their daily conduct, urging them to act in love towards each other and towards others.
I wonder how we would describe the mission of our churches. On Friday, we had our regular toddler group. Many families came, including two baptism families with babies recently baptised at St Paul’s, one mum who had three children aged three and would normally not look after them on her own but felt safe here, and one mum new to the area saying that she loved singing, asking about our singing group and our church services. It was a relaxed time and people had fun and enjoyed chatting to each other. We’re building a good team of helpers, some from St Paul’s, a couple from other churches. No need to tell the families specifically about Jesus and his cross, or give them a religious tract, but just show them God’s love. That is mission.
Earlier in the week I went to a parish visitors’ social and enjoyed chatting with lots of parish visitors. They are all listeners to people who are alone, sometimes friendless, sometimes just in need of a listening ear; in all this, the parish visitors give of their time and show the love of God. This is mission.
Our church community is very special, and as we meet again face to face or online, we realise just how special the friendships we have here are, and how valuable this community is. It’s also very rare to find a community that’s for all ages and with everyone welcome, no matter who they are.
In his Lent book Candles in the Dark, Rowan Williams says about church community, ‘What Jesus has to say to the world is the very fact that a worldwide community is possible; the way Jesus is going to speak to the world from now on (that is, from Pentecost) is in the community gathered around his cross and resurrection’.
This is our church community, centred on Jesus and all that he has done for us through the cross and in his risen life, giving us his living bread to feed us and to feed the world. As an illustration, the human heart pumps blood to all areas of our body to keep us alive. Jesus is the living, vibrant centre of our lives and our churches, giving us all in the body of Christ his life, his strength, his love, his energy as we feed on him through the Eucharist and through his word, through prayer and fellowship.
As I meet with people at church meetings, at services and as I work in the parish office, I realise more and more what faithful people do each week, quietly, voluntarily, to keep the church community going, to enhance the church, to keep it clean, to keep the technical side going etc., etc. – a wonderful team of people giving of their valuable time to enrich and enhance the mission and outreach of our churches, serving God in the way that he is calling them to do and blessing our churches.
And in our church community, we all have a part to play in the mission of the church. Some take the love of God with them as they go into their jobs, their businesses; some are befrienders to neighbours; some quietly pray for the world, some give their time to volunteer for things in the church and beyond. All is mission, all done in the love of God. Another illustration, which I have used before, is of a mosaic with every piece important, the lighter background pieces as well as the more central pieces. So each of us is important and special in the life of the church and in our own communities.
In our gospel reading Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’. This is the first of his seven ‘I am’ sayings. He goes on to say, ‘Whoever feeds on me will never be hungry’. As we feed on Christ in this Eucharist and receive the life he came to bring us, we can go out into all the areas of the city and the world that God calls us to, to make a difference and most of all, to bring Christ’s life and love.
And it’s impossible not to mention the fact that Peter Seal will, very sadly, be leaving us in two weeks’ time – the time has gone so quickly. He it is who has been so pivotal in bringing about the sense of community in this parish, along with many others, of course. He has helped us to work together to build and bring about a strong sense of God’s love and peace so that, as people come into this church they say (as I have heard from many new people), ‘I felt so welcomed by everyone, I felt at home, I felt such acceptance and love’.
We thank Peter for all he has enabled this church community to be and to do, and we’ll continue this wonderful work as we go forward together as a community, led and guided by God’s Holy Spirit, in our mission to help people see God’s love in the world. Amen.