Acts chapter 2 verses 42 – 47
John chapter 10 verses 1 - 10
‘(The early Christians) devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’
When I read those words earlier this week I thought - that’s really what faith is all about, it need not be difficult or complicated. We may make is so but really in its essence it’s just about the words of that sentence.
Daily Christian faith is about devoting ourselves to the teachings of Jesus. It’s about living in fellowship with one another – helping, caring, sharing, looking out for those in difficulty or distress. It’s about participating in the breaking of bread together with our fellow Christians, and it’s about attending to prayer –our own individual prayers, the prayers we share with family and friends, as well as the prayers of the community of Christians around the world. We might think of that as the prayers of the world which change the world. And all of those things are bound up and bound together by love.
Something else I was reading recently was Rowan Williams’ book ‘Lost Icons’ - subtitled ‘reflections on cultural bereavement,’ in which he explores some of the concepts and images which he believes to have been lost from modern culture – so he looks at images of childhood, our awkwardness at speaking about community and our unwillingness to think seriously about remorse.
He considers the lost, ancient meaning of the word charity – it’s not about money or doing good deeds, or being generous to a worthwhile cause. In days long gone the word charity meant something very different. It meant the reality of Christian love, or of simple affection, which came out of paying regard to ones fellow people; it meant a body of people who were seeking to embrace that way of living. It meant the love of God ‘in both directions’ – so God’s love for us and our love for God. For those of you who are familiar with the language of the Book of Common Prayer, this is where we see the depth of meaning to that familiar phrase, ‘you who are in love and charity with your neighbours.’
Today’s reading from John’s gospel speaks well into the disrupted and broken lives of today’s world and to our response to the shattered lives we watch on our screens, calling on our compassion, on our outrage - but sometimes calling also on our sense of drama.
‘He calls his sheep and leads them out. They follow him because they know his voice.’
Here is Jesus as the shepherd leading and guiding his people, protecting them from harm and keeping them safe, that’s a nice, cosy picture. Aren’t those familiar words from John’s gospel comforting? Aren’t they what it’s all about? Or have they become too familiar? Words can lose their meaning; lose their impact when they become too familiar.
John’s gospel tells us that Jesus calls his followers and they go with him. It’s easy enough to follow the gentle Jesus that we so often picture; the loving shepherd guiding and protecting us, our own personal safety blanket. But is it as easy to follow the angry Jesus when he’s consumed with rage at the exploitation of so many of the world’s poor people by so many of the world’s wealthy people?
The current world situation surely makes us aware of the desperate need of our fellow human beings around our shared world and we have the opportunity to offer charity in the modern sense; welcome gifts that give practical care and support to those in great need.
Rowan Williams reminds us that charity has that other, more ancient and deep rooted, meaning. It’s a way of living, a way of paying regard to how others live and how we live in harmony with others. It’s Christian love played out in community and it’s the reality that the love of God travels in both directions – from God to us and from us to God. And that which Rowan Williams calls us to embrace is played out for us way back in the early Christian church when St Paul declares in the reading from Acts that in living out a shared Christian life in the community the followers of Jesus, ‘devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship and to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’