‘What should the church look like?’ – 3rd May 2020 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 2.42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


John 10.1-10

‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The Sermon
By David, a Trainee Lay Reader at St Mary's.

What should the church look like?

It’s a question that has preoccupied the church for centuries, so much so that it, sometimes rightly, gets accused of navel gazing. Our reading from Acts gives us a pretty good blueprint for how it should be. We recognise that we will probably fall short but should not use this as an excuse not to aim high. Bishop Pete has made known on numerous occasions that he would rather set a challenging target and fall short than set and easy one and hit it. This is one of those times.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that every Christian should sell all their possessions and give the money away. There are those who are called to this, most notably monks and nuns. You don’t have to go much further in Acts before seeing that even in the early church, this wasn’t expected of everyone. The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 shows that church members still owned property, but we should not pretend to be more generous than we are, nor be deceitful in giving.

Moving beyond the verse on possessions, which tends to get highlighted in this passage, what struck me reading it was the emphasis on togetherness. There is little to no individuality here: “they”, “their”, “them” are used about the Christians. There is a corporateness about their way of being. They do things together, in the temple or their homes.

In our current situation that can really strike a nerve. What does togetherness mean? Particularly when we can’t physically meet?

I am a firm believer that the Eucharist connects us together through time and space and cuts across even the barrier of death, uniting us as it does with the saints in every age. But when most of us cannot even access this in our own homes?

I don’t have particular answers to some of these questions. I do have a newfound respect for our housebound fellow Christians, for we are all housebound at the moment. I and others can learn from those of us who are ordinarily housebound, and reflect, once our current crisis has lessened, what together we can absorb from this experience to be more inclusive.

We can also take this time, when the church is very definitely not how many of us would want it to be, to reflect on how we do want it to be. There are lessons to be learned which will help in the future. One take home point for me is that sometimes meeting by video conferencing is better than driving across the city. This is a small and rather practical revelation. There will be others, from all of us. God will have used this time to gently prod us to reflection; we are after all lacking some of our usual distractions.

When we do begin to come out of our cocoons, those of us who have had the luxury of sheltering at home, we need to hold before us this passage from Acts. We will need to return to devoting ourselves to “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and I’m sure we will. But I doubt the world will be quite the same as when we left it. There will be need of “glad and generous hearts”.

When we ask the question, what should the church look like, this is as good an answer as any.

The Prayers

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth, your saving health among all nations.
At this time, we pray especially for all those badly affected by the global pandemic and the resultant lockdowns.
We pray for those plunged into poverty, who are struggling to get enough to eat or to keep a roof over their heads.
We pray for all those who are suffering from Covid-19 themselves and especially for those who need or have needed hospital treatment for their illness. We pray for the families and friends of Covid-19 victims, who are unable to help or even see those in hospitals, in care homes, or living elsewhere.
We pray for those experiencing extreme isolation, either because they are ill or because they are shielding.
We pray for all families separated from their loved ones by lockdown.
Please help all of us to help each other in this time of crisis and through the recession which will follow.
Please help us also to take note of how much kinder we have been to our environment during this crisis that we may learn from this experience ways to decrease our contributions to climate change, both as individuals and as a nation.
Please help all governments around the world to find the best way through the crises of pandemic and climate change for all their people and all their neighbours throughout the world.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life.
We pray for your church both here in Sheffield and around the world. Please help us to continue to be your family at a time when we cannot meet as congregations.
Please help us here in the congregation of St Mary’s Walkley to learn how best to include everyone in our local church family in our efforts, including those without internet access.

We pray especially for our mission area, the churches of St. Mary’s Walkley, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. John’s Ranmoor, as we forge closer links following the retirement of Melanie FitzGerald. Please help us to get to know one another better and to learn how best to be your people over a wider geographical area than we are used to.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles. We remember to you in our hearts those we know who need the comfort of your presence at this time.

Lord, in your mercy
All hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints.
We remember with love your servant Betty McGrory, who we have known so well here at St. Mary’s. Please welcome her to your kingdom in heaven and comfort her friends and family, this we ask for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Merciful Father,
All accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.