Sermon for Easter 7, Year B, May 16, 2021

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26                          Psalm 1                                                 1 John 5:9-13                      John 17:6-19

          In our reading from Acts, Peter is speaking to a crowd of over 100 people.  He speaks of the scripture being fulfilled and of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  Then, we are told, they – whoever “they” are in this story, propose a replacement for Judas. I want to note what this story tells us about being a disciple and being an apostle.

          The story, itself, is about selecting a new 12th apostle to replace Judas.  The people pray, saying, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship . . ..”   The role of an apostle is much like that of an ordained minister. 

The twelve apostles are selected by Jesus from among his followers, but now there are only eleven.  So Peter is proposing that they select a replacement for Judas from among those who have been with Jesus since his baptism.  The crowd proposes two names:  Joseph and Matthias.  They cast lots so that it will be God who determines which of the two will become the 12th apostle. 

We tend to use the words apostles and disciples interchangeably, but clearly there are more than 12 disciples.  So, there is a difference between being an apostle and being a disciple.  We are all disciples; we are all followers of Christ.  We may not cast lots today to determine who will serve as a priest or deacon in our church, but ministers and laity do have specific roles to play in the life of the church.  Mine is to lead the liturgy and administer the sacraments, yours is to serve Christ in one another, in others and in the community.  I am the preacher, you are the evangelist! 

Like the words apostle and disciple, the world evangelist is often misunderstood.  It is misunderstood because it is used too narrowly to refer to preachers who preach passionately about the saving grace of Jesus.  The word evangelism comes from Greek and refers to share the good news, or gospel, with others.  You are to share the good news to others.There are many ways to share the gospel with others, and there are many interpretations of the gospel. 

TV evangelists tend to preach the gospel as a choice between eternal salvation or eternal damnation.  We will go to hell if we don’t accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  This is not the type of evangelism I believe we, as Christians, are called to share with others.  As disciples of Christ, we are called to share the good news of God’s love and acceptance.  We are called to let others know they are loved, and we are called to invite them into our fellowship of believers.

The apostles are called to fulfill certain roles in the early church – the disciples are called to be the church!  The church, as the body of Christ, is called to express God’s love in tangible ways.  I attended a meeting this past week with people from Province VII of the Episcopal Church.  In this meeting, people from Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arkansas talked about what our bishops are referring to as “rebuilding the church” after the pandemic. 

We are literally restoring our church building – we’ve put on a new roof, we’re repairing the stone walls, and we will be re-plastering and repainting the inside.  This is not; however, what needs to happen to rebuild the church.  Prior to the pandemic attendance at churches everywhere was on the decline.  The number of people who say they are “spiritual, but not religious” has been growing for years.  I believe that now, more than ever, the church needs to focus on rebuilding the body of Christ.

The pandemic has been isolating, people have avoided being around others out of fear.  Now, as the number of people “fully vaccinated” increase and the spread of the COVID-19 virus is on the decline, the CDC is revising its guidelines.  The most recent revision allows people who are “fully vaccinated” to gather outdoors and indoors without masks and distancing.  Bishop Benfield has indicated he will revise his guidelines for churches this week after he has had an opportunity to review the CDC’s report.  Already, both the Men’s Group and ECW have resumed in-person meetings and did not wear masks because all present had been vaccinated.  Things are slowly returning to normal. 

We are beginning to rebuild the church, but to truly rebuild the church we need to find more ways for people, new people, to get involved.  If you did not grow up at St. Paul’s, I encourage you to remember why you chose to join our church.  And even if you have been a long-time member of St. Paul’s, I ask you to consider what St. Paul’s has to offer a new comer. Then answer the question: what  we might offer that would give you a reason to invite someone to come to our church.

In our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus is praying for his disciples and says, “the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you . . . [and] I have been glorified in them.” Jesus says he has been glorified in his disciples.  We glorify Christ when we love others, just as Christ loves us.  In this prayer, Jesus asks for their protection and then says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

To be sanctified in the truth, means to me that we are made holy, or sanctified, when we share the truth of God’s love for all with others.  I don’t know how you might answer the question I have asked about what might bring others to St. Paul’s, but I do know that people are lonely, feel isolated, and in need of friends and a place where they feel loved and accepted.  The church needs to be a place where all people can feel included and a part of the body of Christ. 

During this pandemic we have learned that to be sanctified in truth is to be the body of Christ that reaches out to others and bring them into our fold.  Being an evangelist can be as simple as inviting someone to be your guest at one of our activities or to join you in attending a service.  So, please, be an evangelist. If you are not comfortable inviting someone to what we offer, considering helping plan an activity or establish a group that you would feel comfortable inviting someone to join.  Church is not just about worship; it is about community.  Worship is a large part of what we do – but church is about relationships.  It’s about our relationship with one another, with others in our county and with God.

Let us pray.

          Loving God, help us use what we have learned during this pandemic about our need for relationships to rebuild St. Paul’s into a church that draws others into the Body of Christ.  Give us strength and fill us with your truth that those who come to us may know and experience your love.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.