I’ve mentioned before that the Church, in her wisdom, will sometimes designate particular Gospel and Epistle passages for feast day that are different than what they may usually be (like, for example, if the Transfiguration falls on a Sunday). You may have noticed that since Pascha we haven’t been reading Epistles but the Acts of the Apostles. This book tells the story of the early Christian Church, especially about the ministries of the Twelve and St. Paul’s conversion and work. In the Paschal season we’re reminded in these readings the missionary efforts, the great work, and unflinching faith of the Apostles, a small, fledgling group of men and women dedicated to the Glory of Christ. This month will be my twelfth month here at St. John; I think we’ve accomplished a lot! And as we continue moving forward we’re excited wondering what else we can do. Where can we go over the next three, five, ten years? What are our values here at St. John the Baptist? We can use the Apostles very example to shape our own mission and vision for this parish community. These are the acts that built the Christian Church!
First, the early Church had a heart for outreach. If it was preaching of Christ’s acts, establishing communities of believers, baptizing, correcting, or taking care of those who needed it, the Apostles and their followers were ready for the task! St. Paul made three missionary journeys around the Mediterranean (his Epistles give us a glimpse at what he experienced), Apostles went to Antioch, Egypt, Syria, Greece and other places. They did all of this out of love for Christ, thankfulness to God for his sacrifice, and devotion for others to come to know this love and sacrifice! Brothers and sisters, how are we reaching out as a community? How could we partner with other parishes in Kanawha City to address the hunger, addiction, and brokenness in our area? We have on an individual level given food to the church for Manna Meal, and the Philoptochos is making clothing for those who need it; what are some of our individual gifts that we might use as a community to feed the hungry or clothe the naked? We also have been blessed to have a great facility. The parish spent a good amount of money to refurbish our beautiful kitchen and hall – how can we use it for the Glory of God? If we begin to give back to God the gifts that he’s given us, we get bigger gifts. Christ says in the parable of the talents that if we’re faithful over little, we’ll be set over much.
Second, these people had zeal; they were excited. Did they always agree on what direction to take? No, they didn’t. Sts. Peter and Paul had a major falling out when deciding how to treat the Gentile converts. Sts. Paul and Barnabas argued about whether or not John Mark was fit to go on a missionary journey with them. But they were excited about their faith, excited about their ministry, excited about what they knew they could accomplish. Granted, we don’t have a full glimpse into their lives (as in, did any of them have other responsibilities) but it calls us to question our own responsibilities, both to the Church but also our personal devotions. Are we dedicated to holiness in our lives, or is it just a Sunday thing? Do we think it’s acceptable to only come to church every now again because we’ve burdened ourselves with loads of secular activities? Have we decided that Sundays are really more set apart for relaxing instead of worship? When we as a Church take our worship seriously, and dedicate ourselves to worshiping the Lord in holiness and beauty, it affects us. We want to take the blessing and grace given to us here and spread it outside of these walls! Another side of this coin is how are we serving one another? If we value our children in the parish then we should start a GOYA, or make sure our kids get to church on time and go to Sunday school. If we want to learn about the traditions of our church, and how it was shaped by our Hellenic heritage we should be making time available to learn these things. We all are responsible for the building up and strengthening of our community.
Along with their zeal for outreach, they had an unwavering faith in the face of scorn, persecution, or danger. They saw Christ in everyone and lived that way. What kind of danger? Let’s read a part of St. Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians:
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. (2 Cor. 11.25-26)
St. Paul didn’t have it so hot! Also we see St. Stephen, our first archdeacon also being our first martyr, stoned to death after standing before to the Sanhedrin to preach the history of Israel and their failure to recognize Christ as the messiah. In Acts 12 Herod captures many of the Faith and has them killed. Nothing would stop these believers from spreading the Good News of Christ, ignoring danger, embarrassment, or scorn, filled with boldness but in great humility. Are we ashamed to spread the Gospel? Are we too proud? Are we afraid to stand up for what we know to be right because our neighbors or friends of even other churches think we’re stupid? Or, here’s one that I’ve encountered: Do we cave to pressure that says every person who comes into our church looking for money should get it? Someone may have a comfort level and gift to do nighttime street ministry. When we begin to see Christ in everyone, our faith can give us the courage and knowledge to do what’s right for others. We can begin to say that there are unchanging truths and stand up for those truths with boldness in great humility.
Christ calls us all to holiness and to build the kingdom of God in this world. What I’m saying may seem like a radical shift in thinking, but Christ’s message is radical; it transcends race, color, ethnicity, gender, social status and wealth. And it doesn’t mean we have to open up a soup kitchen, or run clothing donations; a lot of people forget the myriad of little things that make up the ministry. We all are called to serve in our best capacity. This isn’t a pop quiz, dear ones; I’m not going to ask you to give me answers while I’m handing out antidoron. But these also aren’t rhetorical questions I’m posing to us. Right now it may seem like we’re small in number, but we are a mighty group, capable of great acts! And if we decide to dedicate ourselves as a parish and as individuals to holiness and service, to one another and our city, we are going to see a fire ignite among us. And as a strong fire can’t be contained, neither will it here in this parish, as we spread the love and glory of Christ to the people of this city.