Being Parish Church is a special calling: how are you doing?
Alleluia, Alleluia, the Lord is risen.
It was not at all obvious to the disciples who John describes as meeting on the first day of the week in Jerusalem that things were going well. They were caught in fear - held between the hope that the Easter event: the resurrection was indeed real and present, and the political certainty that they ‘were next against the wall’ to use a contemporary expression.
I wonder how similar we are with those, first disciples: uncertain of the meaning of Easter, hiding behind the wall, in fear, if not of persecution - then of our ridicule and an increasing social cost of being a public disciple of Christ.
To treat Jesus appearance to the gathered disciples briefly:
Christ's appearance, his materialisation among them meets fear with peace, the risk of persecution with blessing, doubt with great kindness and gentleness. Jesus donates to the disciples the very breath of God: the Spirit to sustain them, to authorise them as leaders of the church, and to give them wisdom.
The first followers of Jesus knew they leapt off a social and political cliff when they were baptised. In the promises they made they were denying the deity and lordship of the Emperor of Rome, and going against the teaching of the religious authorities in affirming the messiahship of King Jesus. These declarations were made under real threat to life.
Baptism is a curious instrument. Like of many of you I was baptised as an infant, Unlike most here I guess, in my case in a household service, by immersion in our bath. It was twenty one years later on the steps of All Saints Khartoum when the vital importance of all that is bound up in baptism began to strike home. The portable font - like the one in All Saints, but much much bigger (as befits a cathedral) was steaming gently as it dried on the steps.
The usual irrepresible cathedral clergy stood in a silent huddle. That dawn they had quietly baptised a student who had come to Christ. Ominously recalled to his home country, he was determined not to deny his Lord, and so in the waters of baptism having been buried with Christ, and raised in the working of God to a different order of life: the order of salvation, of healed and healing life, he was ready for that which was to come, most likely burial in cold earth.
In baptism, we turn to Christ, repent of our sins, and renounce evil. We have made or affirmed the same baptismal promises as he did on that morning in Sudan, and as Christians have done from the earliest days.
What is the cost of discipleship for us, here in Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley?
The narrow way we have received in Jesus is open ‘by faith, through grace’, but that grace is more costly than anything under the heavens. So how are we doing in living in the order of salvation - entered through the baptismal promises we have made or affirmed?
In the reading from Acts, we find the disciples no longer walled in and afraid, but rather rather fully fledged advocates for the order of salvation. They are living life in all its fullness and defending the message of Christ before the highest councils in the land, in a way which was remarkably different to their previous ability or behaviour. Indeed in Acts 4 records the council were amazed ‘for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus’
It’s always a slightly shocking thought: The same things that transformed the disciples into evangelists who strewed churches in their wake as they travelled around the whole Mediterranean, are available to all God’s people. The formula given in first century Jerusalem is unchanged: Repent, Believe and be Baptised, in the Name of the Lord Jesus. The resurrection of the crucified God is valid and effective. The giving of the Holy Spirit to advocate for us, and to enliven the people of God is valid and effective: today as it was then.
I want to steer this to the subject of our co-operating churches, these local churches rooted in the soil of Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley. Our churches are of the same scale as those first scattered communities of Christians from Corinth to Antioch.
You and me, we have the dirt of these communities under our nails. We have coffee in the the same places, we run to the village shop for milk and bread. We are embedded in a unique way. Being parish church is special and particular ministry of all the baptised - the people of God - in realising the transforming work of God to change communities for good.
So what is God calling us to today. How can we, equipped through our baptismal promises participate in the ministry of God’s own heart?
Be close to Jesus and always open to the prompting and power of the Holy Spirit. Meditate, Fast and seek the Lord’s will, study all God’s word.
Pray for the welfare of our places, for its very soil: for the coming of the kingdom, for the hallowing of God’s name in Ampfield, Chilworth and North Baddesley, and provision of bread for all.
Cherish your friends, your neighbours and those who you know and meet in our places. Hold their lives lovingly before God, Desire the fullness of life that comes by grace through faith for them.
Set aside deceit, renounce anger, and embrace the love of God, Be Holy. This is impossible in human strength alone: it is possible because of God’s work in you.
When you fail, return to the Lord, seeking forgiveness and begin again.
Whether this is the first time you’ve walked into this church, or you’ve been her so long that the floor bears the marks of your kneeling knees, God is always calling us onwards. Perhaps to make those promises of repentance and belief for the first time, or perhaps to receive an onward calling to another role or ministry, If you're feeling that pull, I urge you, indeed Sisters and Brothers I implore you to heed it. Revd Victoria is here, I’m here. Come and see us before you leave.
And finally: A reminder of just who it is who calls us, knows us and these places, and who has welcomed us into the family:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.