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Summary: A sermon for the 5th Sudnay of Easter, Series C

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5th Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2007 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, push us out beyond the safe confines of our congregation. Restore us to the great adventure of the Gospel, that leaps like wildfire over all boundaries, and makes families out of strangers. Give us the courage to follow your leading, wherever it takes us, even among people we don’t know, and to places we don’t think we want to go. Inspire us to be your apostles, to take the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to those around us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

As William H. Willimon states in his commentary on our first lesson for this morning, the book of Acts paints such a vibrant picture of the early church! Just think about the first worship service that Luke describes. The church gathers and the Spirit descends like tongues of fire upon the disciples, the whole building rumbles, and it is only 9:00 in the morning. But what an early service this was! Peter preaches a spectacularly short sermon. And the response – three thousand people come forward for baptism.

And then, in Acts 4 we read that the apostles performed mighty wonders and deeds. They had not a needy person among them. They shared their possessions. They went tot he temple every day to pray and praise God. They ate their bread with glad and generous hearts. And the Lord added to their number every day. [1]

And then, in our lesson for this morning, we find that Peter, through the prodding of God’s Spirit in a dream, takes the message of God’s grace in Christ’s death and resurrection to the Gentiles. And to those who asked him to account for actions, he exclaimed, “If God gave them the same gift (of the Holy Spirit), that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God? When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God all the more.” [Acts 11: 17-18]

Isn’t that some picture of the church, especially when we compare it to the picture of the church here in Northwestern Pennsylvania that Bishop Jones painted for us on his visit to our congregation. Here, we find the church declining in members, some having to be closed and many others needing to engage in shared ministry with other congregations in order to pay the bills.

Clearly, the church in our synod does not seem to exhibit the vibrancy that is pictured of the early church in Acts. Nor do the churches of our synod exhibit the vitality that was expressed by Bishop Boganza, in his description of the congregations in our sister synod in Tanzania, when he attended our synod assembly last year. In Tanzania, the church is growing so fast that they add thousands of persons each year to the membership roles. In fact, the growth has been so rapid, that some pastors have to serve as many as 8 congregations, some having as many as 3000 members. As a result, we can not assume that God’s Spirit, which empowered the early church to be so vibrant, is no longer present and at work in the church today. Bishop Boganza would certainly not agree with that thought.

In addition, even though our area has seen a significant decline in population over the past 20 or so years, there are still many people in our communities who have no church or religious affiliation. And the fact that many congregations have been declining in membership at a faster rate than the population, raises some interesting questions as to how we, who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, respond to the grace of God and the power of God’s Spirit that we have received.

I will confess to you, that as I was writing this sermon, I began with pen and tablet, working on the tonneau cover of my truck, with the garage door open, enjoying a cigar. It is one of those vices that I have. But in the process of this, a good friend backed his van into our driveway. Since I had so much more work, I was hoping he didn’t need me to help him at this time. After all, he has done so much for me over the years, that if he needed me, I would have thankfully done what was needed.

Instead, he opened the back doors of his van, and I helped him lift our lawnmower, which he had welded and repaired, to the ground. He had already traded me my broken mower for one he had given us, in exchange for the engine on our old one. But he had taken the time to fix our mower, in spite of the fact that he had lots of work to do from the windstorm that did a lot of damage to all of the structures on his family’s farm, just a couple of weeks ago.

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