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Sermon – Faith Community

Faith Community

Sermon 7 in the series about ecclesiology of St Andrew’s.

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Sunday, 25 February 2024.

There are various sorts of communities within our general community – some of them open, some of them closed. Some people group themselves together in “communes” and these are very closed to everyone else. They have their own rules and regulation for living. The Amish in Pennsylvania and Indiana are such a group. The kibbutzim in Israel are another example of a community.

Communities are groups of people who agree to be together, based on a philosophy or belief system that they hold in common. They are united by their life together, and care for one another in friendship and fellowship. Such communities are of different sizes and different intensities of being together and of different age groups.

Jesus’ group of disciples were a “community.” There were the 12 chaps, but there were also the women followers as well. Frankly, when the chips were down, it was the women followers who were braver and stronger than the chaps. To coin an alliterative sentence, when the chips were down the chaps went down as well, and the “chapesses” came to the fore. This little community were held together by their common devotion to Christ.

The statement about St Andrew’s on the front cover of our pew sheet concludes by saying that St Andrew’s is a community … and a community of faith. We too are held together by our common devotion to Christ as expressed in our loved traditions and practices as Anglicans.

We are a diverse community here … diverse in age – from toddlers to venerable. We are a community diverse in energy levels. We are a community diverse in gifts and experience. We are a community diverse in history at St Andrew’s – from those who have been here all their lives to those who have newly joined us. We are a community diverse in attendance levels, from those who attend each week, and those who can attend less regularly, and those who choose to be sporadic – but we are still a community.

We are a community within which people use their skills for the good of the whole – administrative skills; musical skills; friendship skills; hospitality skills; gardening skills; artistic skills; serving skills.

We are a community within which people have their interests – those who love and preserve the history of St Andrew’s; those who appreciate the way things are done here; those who love church bells.

We are a community that holds together because we are friends, and because we know each other’s stories. We are a community that holds together because, sometimes by gritting our teeth and being completely stubborn, we refuse to allow someone else’s comments to hurt our relationship with the whole congregation. We are a community that has learned to forgive … to endure the hard times, the disappointments, the disagreements, the disasters we have had in our parish history … to move on and to move on together.

We are a community that allows people to come to the end of their active service, and not apply pressure on them to continue despite their wish to rest. We are a community that allows people to continue to do the things they love, even though they may not do those things as well or as efficiently as they used to in their younger days or in the way that we would do them. We are a community that recognises that the time does come for us to lay down our arms, and hand over what we have done to others because we recognise that we are tired, or we are needed in other areas of support and care.

We are a community that is happy to allow people simply to come and to “be” here … simply to sit and allow the phases of weekly worship to roll over them. We are happy to have people here bringing their hurts and pain, to have people here in their anonymity and quietness, to have people here in their confusion and enquiry, to have people here to be comforted and cossetted by our communal worship – and apply no pressure to them. That’s a part of the being welcome to visitors that the Parish Prayer talks about. It’s a part of community.

And somewhere in all this mix of people and skills and sitting and tolerating and serving … is you … and is me. You and I help to make up this diverse yet strong community. You and I belong here and worship here and have friendships here. Therefore you and I help to make up this community.

To live a community life is complicated – is caring – is compassionate. Under it all, and through it all and colouring it all is the spiritual fruit of love. And love in all the richness of its New Testament meanings – agape (αγαπη´) love, the deepest and best, the constant attitude that always seeks the benefit of the other person – storge (στοργη´) love, the family love and affection between mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers – philia (φιλια) love, affection towards others that is seen as between the very best of friends – philadelphia (φιλαδελφια) love – brotherly love as seen between colleagues, good friends, good mates. In any true community – in our community here – you will see love in all its manifestations and demonstrations.

You will see it in phone calls of concern … in emails of follow-up … in text messages of caring … in arms around shoulders … in enquiries about how people are … in casual and superficial conversations … in deep and meaningful interactions … over cups of coffee and in genuine tears … in comments of affirmation and encouragement. Whenever you and I have done these things, or received these things, we are part of this strong, loving community.

We are a community.

But we are more than that – we are a faith community. Faith that is belief ,… faith that is shown in lifestyle … faith that is seen in relationships … faith that is demonstrated in mission and in service … faith that is witnessed in familiar words that Christians have said for thousands of years.

The most powerful manifestation that we are a faith-community is when we say the creed together. Think about what is happening at that point in our service – we stand together … young and old … toddler and venerable … with all our diversity of gifts and interests … with our friendships and colleagueships … with our close relationships and our strained relationships … with our active membership and with our simply being here … with our multi-faceted love – – – we are standing as a community together. And because we are a community, we are inclusive.

And we say the words of the Creed together – this historic, important, but communal-and-personal statement of faith. “We believe in one God,” we say. That’s what marks us out from so many people in the population. “We believe in one God.” And as it goes on, the Creed takes us through the summary statement of our faith – We believe in one God … the Father … we believe in God the Son … we believe in God the Holy Spirit … we believe in the universal people of God, the Church.

And because we believe in God the Son, we are Christ-centred. And because we are centred on Christ who was engaged in God’s mission, we then are mission-oriented. And because we are mission-oriented, we are praying and prayerful people, praying with Jesus, ”Your kingdom come.”

So – at the end of this long and interrupted series of sermons – what have we confirmed about St Andrew’s Walkerville? St Andrew’s is a Christ-centred, sacramental, inclusive, thinking, praying and prayerful, mission-oriented, faith community.

In brief, we say “We are the body of Christ.”
For … truly … as the response says, “His Spirit I with us.”