‘When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers […] Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 8:14-15a,17
Brothers and sisters, the pandemic has focussed the mind of humanity on many things which we had begun to overlook, and I believe this is especially true of ‘family’. In the western world people often no longer live close to their biological family, and instead have often thought of themselves as stand-alone individuals. This pandemic has - as we have thought about previously - undercut this individualism and forced us to rely again on one or other form of ‘family’. In Chorley we have, thankfully, largely stayed closer to our biological families and they have been a source of help and comfort, sometimes the younger dropping off food for the older, sometimes the older waving at their grandchildren from the bottom of the garden. Last week, with the marking of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, we remembered the coming together of a larger ‘family’ the British ‘family’. For others, their friends, their neighbours, or the local volunteers who have delivered food, have become their ‘family,’ those who care for us, and upon whom we lean in bad times.
Today’s reading points us toward the ultimate family. That to which all believers belong by faith and through the baptism: the universal Church. This is the God-given ‘family' to which all humanity is called to join. We do not choose our biological families. We do not, on the whole, choose our national ‘families’. But we DO have to choose this family. God offers to adopt each one of us, but leaves it up to us to accept or reject this offer. For most of us, I suspect, there is no memory of our baptism, when our parents made this choice for us. They chose to bring us up in the Church, to bring us up in the family of faith, trusting that we would never choose to leave. For those baptised as babies - including myself - belonging to the family of the Church remained a choice; it was a choice whether to opt out, rather than opt in - but it was choice all the same. When we make the choice to follow Christ, to opt-in or to remain in, the Church looks back to the actions of the Apostles in today’s passage as an example of what to do, and we call this ‘Confirmation’. In ‘normal’ times we would as a church be preparing people for confirmation, the decision of people who are old enough to choose for themselves whether to follow Christ. And, just as with baptism, we need to note that we are NOT confirmed into the Church of England. When we choose to belong to the Church, though we choose a local church to attend (St George’s), we are choosing to be baptised and confirmed into the universal Church - the catholic Church - and by doing so we are joining a worldwide family, spread across the ages. This family makes a claim on us, it calls us to put Christ and His family first before ALL things including our other ‘families’ (biological, national, or otherwise). As if illustrating this point, just before today’s reading, Stephen chooses to put Christ, and His Church, before even his own life.
Choosing this family, then, is a serious decision, indeed a life-changing decision, and not one to be made hastily. What we gain, though, is far better than any so-called loss. We become part of a family who will care for us, who will pray for us, and who will help us to follow Christ; not we pray just in times of trouble, but also in times of joy. As the rest of the Book of Acts goes on to show, those who choose this family, and who have thus received the Spirit, are then sent out to draw more people into the family of the universal, catholic Church. This week then, let us pray and act as family toward other Christians, for that is what we are, and let us seek to encourage others to choose the family, which we call the Church. Amen. (from Rev. Mike)