The Community of the Church
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE
ON JANUARY 25th, 2009
Mark 1:15 “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”
What a curious mix of readings we have today! If you had been at our Friday Bible Study you would have heard much laughter and many questions – particularly about the first reading from Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 3: 21 – 4:2 seems a very strange and curious reading. If you look at it in detail you will see that it is in three parts. In the first part, Jeremiah is criticizing the Jews for following other gods. That’s the reference to the “heights” and “hills”. It was on the mountains that the pagan gods were worshipped, which often involved orgies, as Jeremiah condemned.
Then this is followed by a form of confession. Here we see a ritual form: “But from our youth……….we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God”. It is similar t the General Confession we say at Mass.
The third and final part is a promise of forgiveness. “Then nations shall bless themselves in him”.
Jeremiah’s themes of repentance, forgiveness, and confession are taken up by the wonderful words of Psalm 130. Firstly we find repentance: “If thou, O Lord, shouldst mark our iniquities, Lord, who shall stand?”. This is followed by forgiveness: “He shall redeem Israel from all his sins”. And there is also the note of trusting in God: “O Israel, trust in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption”.
So when we combine Jeremiah’s reading with Psalm 130, we see how they fit with the Gospel reading, Mark 1:14-20. Jesus enters on the scene and says “repent and believe in the Gospel”. Here Saint Mark gives his account of the call of the first apostles. As in the other Gospels we see two distinct things. First, it is a dramatic call. Then there is an instant response from those who are being called.
What did they think Jesus was offering them?
· A job as itinerant preachers with him?
· A call to repentance?
· A promise of seats in the new kingdom of God?
All these would come – but it was this call that they understood: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. They were fishermen, so they knew what this meant, and perhaps there was a bit of excitement as they heard Jesus talking to them in terms they could relate to. I imagine they were excited.
What Jesus was really inviting them to, is what he has invited us to – to be part of his community.
In the case of the twelve apostles it was the infant Church they were being invited to, the community of first Christians. In our case it is a much larger community – what we call the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We say that every Sunday in the Nicene Creed, but people confuse what it means. Some think it means we believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. But it doesn’t say “in” – it says we believe the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. That is, we believe what the Church teaches us and has handed on to us. It is about our faith, not just belonging to the organization.
The community to which we now belong by virtue of our baptism, has existed since that first invitation by the Sea of Galilee, that Saint Mark records today. Here at All Saints’ we are a part of that wider community of Christ, which is in every place and age. Going back in time, and also going forward even into heaven. As a part of that wider community, we here form our own local community – our parish of All Saints’. The building and the community, for which we have great affection, and which we give allegiance to.
Sometimes it’s easier just to the look at the local Church, rather than the wider community of the Church. Indeed, when we look wider we see other churches quite different to our own – often with strange and different practices – and we wonder what unites us with them. On the other hand we look at our own Episcopal Church and we see such a troubled national organization that it’s easier just to enjoy our own local parish – I am guilty of that myself. But we must not avoid the fact that we belong to a wider Church, not just a denomination. Indeed we belong to the Catholic Church which has no national churches in its essence. But as long as the Church is run by human beings it will never be perfect – both at a national level, and at our almost perfect All Saints’!
The second reading from 1 Corinthians 7 shows that such problems we facer today were faced by the first century Church. At the very beginning doctrines and customs in the Church at Corinth caused issues. Saint Paul makes it quite clear this is not the way it should be: “You were brought with a price; do not become slaves of men”. In other words, you have been redeemed – do not be a slave of the spirit of the age.
The community of the Holy Catholic Church has struggled in every century because we find ourselves caught up in the struggles and the spirits of each age. Doctrine and authority have always been something to argue about, or to disagree about, in every century. When people talk today about labyrinths and gnostic gospels and new ways of the spirit, we need to remember that the Church has heard it all before.
The Church in its struggle to deal with the world is an image of each one of us as we deal in our own lives with struggles both personal and spiritual, and with the struggles of the world. The Church reflects the world because it is part of the world – despite its calling to be in the world but not of the world.
The community of the Church is ultimately the symbolic community for the world and is the image of what the world’s community should be like. The Church gives the world the true meaning of community – because it is a community bound by love, compassion, and unity – but also founded on the sacrifice of Christ.
Here – our All Saints’ community is a reflection of that. We find the expression of this when we meet Sunday by Sunday for Mass – when we come as Christ’s community here to do what Christ’s community has always done, and which was ordained by Christ himself. Not only do we come to do what Christians have always done, at Mass we find the source of what we seek – here in Holy Communion we find the unity to which the Church is called, and to which we are called. Here we find that, like Peter, Andrew, James and John, we are also called to be in community.
Of course you can be a good person, all by yourself. Yes, you can pray, and read the Bible, all by yourself. But you can not learn to be united with Christ unless you are united with his community – for it is none other than his body. Just as you cannot learn to pray without praying with the Church – for then our prayer can be purely self-centered.
Today is our Parish Annual Meeting and we will consider the practical things about running a parish
· The nuts and bolts
· The finances and the property
· The things we have achieved
· The things we want to do going ahead
It will be a very good meeting – a happy meeting. We will feel that we have done a considerable amount for the Lord’s work in this part of the vineyard. But really it’s all pointless unless All Saints’ struggles and works to be a faithful part of the community of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Faithful in our belief, as well as in our praying and in our work.
Above all, we must be faithful to the call of Jesus: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel”.