‘Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn [the daily distribution of food] responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word […] So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly’ Acts 6:3-4, 7a
Brothers and sisters, one of the remarkable aspects of the response to the Coronavirus situation has been the way in which the nation has pulled together, sharing tasks, and taking on new ones. Parents have become teachers. Soldiers have become nurses. The furloughed have become deliverers of groceries, and the housebound have become those who call the lonely. Prior to the crisis, the British people, along with most of the Western world was becoming increasingly individualistic. The pandemic has altered that, as people have realised just how dependent we are on one another, and how vulnerable we are without one another. Before, it was easy to sit back and think ‘well that’s their job’; now the thinking has become ‘what can I do?’ and this change is most welcome.
This Sunday we continue our studies in the Book of Acts, if you’ve not yet begun reading it on your own now is the time to start! As we work our way through this fascinating true story, we get to see the early followers of Christ working out - with the help of God the Holy Spirit - just what the Church, the family of Jesus, should look like, and how it should exist and operate. We saw last week, the three basic tasks of the Church. This week the disciples are grappling with WHO should carry out those tasks, and, just as so often today, we see them working this out in the midst of a problem. Back then there was no welfare state, and widows with no husband or children to look after them could quite easily starve. The Church responds by sharing what they had and feeding the vulnerable. However, as the Church grows the tasks taken on by the Apostles are becoming too much. Perhaps, the ‘ordinary’ Christian was sitting back and letting the Apostles do the work, and they simply don’t have enough time in the day. So what do they do? Do the Apostles shout and scream? Do they call their unions and strike? No, they call together the Church (v.2) and they make a collective decision (v.5), based upon their shared understanding that there should be NO spectators amongst the baptised. Each and every Christian is given a gift by Christ and sent to serve those around them. As St Paul puts it, ‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ’ (1 Cor. 12:12). The body needs each part to work for the whole to be productive, and in the same way the Church - which is the body of Christ - needs each person to work if she is to be productive.
Look at v.2, the Apostles say: ’It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables [so] choose seven men from among you [and we] will turn this responsibility over to them’. The Apostles have their gift, to preach the word of God, and the Church needs them to do that job. Equally, the Church is to love those in need, and so other members need to step up to serve the vulnerable. No spectators; no one taking a back seat. Each to serve according to their gift. There are, as we can see, some tasks which are PRIMARILY for bishops and priests, there is, as it were, specialisation and responsibility. Bishops as successors to the Apostles, and the priests which they appoint to lead certain local churches are called primarily to do what?: to ‘give [their] attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ My job as your priest is first to pray and to teach. In some churches, there is a general feeling that the Vicar should do everything. My experience is that is NOT the case at St George’s. I have been allowed to keep my primary focus on prayer and teaching, because a relatively small number of people take care of the other tasks, which are just as important. I have my gifting, and it’s not singing, or teaching the Sunday School, or the other hundreds of important tasks that need completing each week. No, the Church has decided my gifting is to pray and to preach, and that is what I am called to focus upon. But there still is plenty to do, and for the church in Chorley to be what it should be, it requires each member to serve according to their gifts. Some will be able to teach kids. Some will be able to take care of buildings. Some will be able to visit the housebound. Some will be able to befriend the lonely. Some will be able to give lifts to those without transport. The list goes on and on. What is your gifting, and how can you serve? To return to St Paul’s metaphor, which part of the body are you? for there are NO spare parts.
As we look ahead to coming out of this lockdown, let us capitalise on our experience of pulling together, on our new found sense of being in this as a family, and find ways to serve the work of the Church and the people of our parish. If each part of the body of Christ - if the whole Church - mobilises and fulfils their calling, then we could well see just what the early Church saw: 'The number of disciples […] increas[ing] rapidly’. Amen. (from Rev. Mike)